Technology influences and informs the ways we express our identity and engage with others.

Interests Feed Identities, Which Grow Communities

A fascinating aspect of modern-day society is how we develop our interests and how these interests become a shorthand code for our identities. As people have more time and resources to flourish instead of being consumed by the plight of survival, our interests and identities are becoming increasingly complex, as we understand more about ourselves and each other.

A related point is how we associate with others based on our interests and identity affiliations [1]. Even in a professional environment, we tend to cluster with others who share our interests or who align with our identities. We create networks of connections based on the mutual understanding of shared or complementary interests and traits.

Technology has enabled us to widely publish our identities and provided new avenues of interaction within our communities. It has also changed how we synthesize and organize the never-ending stream of information and content, which further feeds and reinforces all these different interests. The way in which we process and assimilate content into our identities influences the connections we make within our social groups. In short, different people assemble information in different ways [2], and that affects who we connect with.

How We Connect

The method or manner of connection is almost as important as the content over which we connect. As our content evolves, so too do the platforms where we consume content and engage with one another. These platforms are becoming ever more digital; meeting someone new is as likely to happen online as it is to happen in a workplace, campus, or social meetup [3].

Communication and organization technology has come a long way, even in the past few years. Now we have incredibly sophisticated messaging and social media apps, integrative Kanban boards, collaborative calendars, endless online forums, and resource blogs. We have transitioned our physical tools and meeting spaces into a digital landscape, and we heavily rely on this landscape to support more and more of our daily functions.

The Digital Impact

Yet the convenience of life online has also resulted in digital experiences taking bigger and bigger bites out of our days. We have begun to notice the influence of digital platforms on our expressions of identity, as in the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis. This linguistics theory (also called Linguistic Relativity) suggests that the structure of our language shapes not only what we think, but how we think it. Which, in turn, influences how we perceive the world [4].

These technological conveniences have become life-altering tools, especially for marginalized groups whose access to resources has been historically curtailed. People can look up information, search for resources, learn more about their and other communities, develop new ways to play, work, and create, and find new methods to improve their quality of life.

This last point will be particularly significant as the global population continues to age; studies show that currently, over 1 billion people rely on assistive technology [5]. That market is projected to grow to nearly $8 billion between 2021 and 2025, with an extra boost from the COVID-19 pandemic [6].

The Tools that Shape Us

With that conceptual underpinning out of the way, let’s explore how we can use these tools to explore our interests, profess our identities, and assemble meaningful social groups without becoming lost in the blue light of our screens.

It comes down to the quality of the tool. The more streamlined and intuitive a tool is, the more we lose sight of the platform itself. With a smooth enough interface, a tool can become an extension of our own minds and bodies.

When we want to talk to a family member or friend, we don’t have to trace out all the steps involved in opening an app and typing the message. Our brains carry out these support tasks almost without thinking because we trained ourselves to use these devices. We spend our energy, instead, on the heart of communication – composition.

What am I going to say, and how am I going to say it?

Investing in User Experience

Companies designing our hardware and software technologies have invested in the “User Experience.” After all, the easier it is to use something, the more likely we are to do so. That means more money for the company, through paid services or advertising revenue.

One of the main strategies to reduce our awareness of technology is to have that tool become ubiquitous. We don’t notice something if it’s everywhere we look. Furthermore, we have positive reactions to tools when they spring to our fingertips to fulfill a need or task. All the better if these tools slip back under the surface of our awareness once we’re done with it. No mess, no fuss.

This is one reason why Google has developed its own digital toolkit through Google Workspace, which aims to supplant the familiar Microsoft applications. It has also pursued integrations with nearly every interface, adapting to the mobile lifestyles of its users [7].

Microsoft is also trying to expand its empire by building into cloud computing and AI, taking advantage of the computers, large and small, all around us [8]. By immersing us in “tech intensity”, the company aspires “to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more” [9].

The focus of these industry giants emphasizes the importance of application integrations. Businesses that provide these nimble responses to clients and consumers preserve profits and grow in the market.

A survey run by Cleo found that failure to support modern integrations leads to “annual revenue losses of $250,000 to $500,000 for 57 percent of those surveyed and upward of $1,000,000 for others” [10]. Similarly, the Forbes Technology Council cites “Near Perfect Digital Experience” as number five in their list of critical trends expected to dominate the software development industry. “Progressive Web Apps” and “User Experience Design” were also listed [11].

The Pandemic Effect

The COVID-19 pandemic painfully highlighted all the lackluster avenues of technology that failed to advance with the general tide. Even though we had access to communication and collaboration technologies, they weren’t enough to keep up with our need for such tools when we could no longer safely gather in person.

As companies adapted and new software tools were churned out, our reliance on technology increased. For those of us working from home (about 42% of the U.S. workforce, according to this analysis [12]), our professional and personal lives were almost entirely translated into the digital landscape.  

Voice-over-Internet-Protocols (VoIP) or videoconferencing are both prime examples of an avenue of sluggish advancement that exponentially improved in response to the pandemic. At first, the technological capability to call anyone in the world and chat over video – so long as you both had accounts and a solid internet connection – was revolutionary. Skype dominated this niche for years, with modest upgrades and improvements, particularly with Microsoft’s acquisition in 2011 [13].

Mostly though, this technology was implemented by consumers rather than businesses. Professionals preferred to meet in person or use phone conferencing to collaborate as these were the more stable options. When video conferencing was attempted, Skype For Business or Cisco’s WebEx filled the need.

In practice, these solutions could be difficult to implement, with unreliable performance. Yet there was no major push to innovate from the business market or from within the technology companies. They had other fish to fry, which promised greater returns on profit or tech development.

Advancing Technology

The pandemic forced huge populations of the workforce to work via remote connections and improvised desks at home. Meetings still had to happen though, and video and audio quality were no longer negotiable.

We can tolerate some degree of robot voice or having to reconnect after a dropped call when we’re chatting with a friend; when it’s a business deal literally on the line or a meeting with the team to discuss a project, we’re not so willing to chance misunderstandings and delays.

In these scenarios, a stable connection is a prerequisite to accurately present our professional identities, create rapport, and exchange information. That meant tech companies had to step up their game.

Microsoft had its own solution through the Teams application. Launched in 2017, this app was designed to compete with Slack as a collaborative messaging and file sharing platform. Mass conversion never really happened though. Google threatened to end Google Hangouts for years, in favor of splitting the service into two applications, Google Chats and Google Meet [14].

Hop into a Zoom Call

That was where Zoom came into the picture: a simple, feature-rich, and accessible video conferencing solution. As the pandemic continued to spread around the world, analysts cited Zoom as significantly outperforming financial expectations, with one of the most significant leaps in growth and implementation for a software development firm, possibly in recent history.

Following the surge in customers and necessary upgrades to respond to business requirements, Zoom’s stock skyrocketed, with an “all-time high of $223.87 at market close on June 3, up more than 200% from $68.04 at market close Dec. 31, 2019” [15]. In 2020, the company showed continued, exponential growth, with a net profit of $671 million [16].

The reliance on Zoom waned when security concerns came to light. These ranged from compromised data to a lack of encryption, as well as increasing incidents of “zoom-bombing”. The company implemented security patches, but for some consumers (especially those with ready access to other options), the damage was already done [17].

We Want it All

Security features, ease of access, coordination with existing software and applications – these components are critical for tech products entering the market now.

It’s not enough for software to solve a problem – it must do the job with such exceptional results that it beats out all the competition (to make the download worthwhile). Or, it must offer such a rich spread of features that the convenience is too tempting to ignore.

People may be willing to use a select handful of apps or tools, but it’s easy to become overloaded by all the choices out there. This overload kicks in earlier when the stakes are higher; for example, when our choices influence how we present ourselves to others and how others perceive us.

Add in factors of cost, redundancy, and specialization to the mix, and the choice becomes even harder to make. Evaluating all these options and features can be exhausting, resulting in people choosing not to choose at all [18].

Spoiled for Choice

The reality of decision fatigue is especially true for people trying to decide between similar paid technologies, like streaming services [19]. It’s one thing to have dozens of rarely-used apps on our phones. It’s another thing entirely to shell out money on a monthly basis (since most applications these days function on a subscription model).

Yet opting out of the decision-making process means we risk alienating our social connections, as we fail to meaningfully participate in the digital landscape.

If everyone in a social circle has a Netflix account and has been talking non-stop about Geralt’s moody vibes and how the stories compare to the game experience, anyone without this subscription will be left out of the conversation. It becomes a technological “keeping up with the Jones” balancing act. We can only afford (mentally and financially) to engage with certain platforms, but we must engage to feed our connections and perform our carefully cultivated identities.

The Solution?

The only way for a new technology to break through all that noise is to:

  • solve as many problems as possible (seamlessly),
  • have few to no barriers to access,
  • offer plenty of strong security measures,
  • feature a small learning curve, and
  • enable integrations with everything else we’re already using.

Simple.

The reality is that as technology products and tools have developed from their humble roots, their base functions no longer impress us. When MySpace and Facebook were released, we marveled at the ease with which we could connect and talk with friends and family. We could even form new communities with people online and share the things we love (or love to hate).

Then we turned these platforms into opportunities to mold, curate, and present our identities to friends, families, communities… and prospectively the world.

The App Web

Now, we have a plethora of specialized social media apps that intersect and yet are distinct enough that it’s not enough to just have one.

We use Instagram to upload (and modify) pictures of our vacation, which we then share with Facebook to talk to a different set of communities. We switch to Twitter for our regularly scheduled doom-scrolling; maybe we’ll run across an interesting link to an AMA on Reddit that takes us to a series of YouTube videos. Our “Recently Watched” serves as fodder for reaction videos that we record and share on Snapchat or TikTok, to see how our friends (or followers) react. There might be time for a Zoom birthday party or baby shower, because it’s still Pandemic Times™ (and perhaps we’ve forgotten how to interact with people in person anyway.)

There are scads of apps for every purpose imaginable, all competing for attention and downloads. Professional environments have seen a similar boom, with productivity and collaboration tools trying to outbid and out-feature their competition to earn lucrative enterprise contracts. These commercial apps have learned from the social media giants, offering simple implementation and flexible integrations, which directly contribute to a blending of our personal and professional identities while online.    

Simply responding to and mimicking existing technology isn’t enough to survive though. Technology and software tools can’t afford to mess up or slow down. Otherwise, they’ll lose our attention and become buried under the mass of notifications.

The Joy of AirSend

Naturally, we here at CodeLathe believe AirSend is a real solution for real people. It’s the ideal collaboration and communication platform for the modern identity, suitable for any project, personal or professional.

The weight of our decisions makes itself known when we become aware of how much time we lose switching between tasks. We go from our email to our calendar to a word document and realize it’s already been an hour with little to show for it.

The weight increases when we struggle to find a file we know exists, but the file explorer is convinced it does not. Or when we try to share said file (resurrected from the email archives) during a video conference, but the “share-screen” option isn’t working. Even though we’re not in person, we can feel everyone’s eyes boring into our soul as they all wait for the technical difficulties to be sorted. Politely though, because they’ve been there too.

This is not a unique scenario. Nor is it ideal. As our connections become ever-more digital, technological issues or dysfunctions are harder to tolerate, because they stymy our communication and distort our identities. The technology we use can become a barrier rather than a facilitator. There are plenty of options, certainly, in the tech- and app-saturated landscape. Yet few give us a truly holistic solution.

Where AirSend Shines

AirSend integrates all the features we’ve come to rely on throughout the pandemic and all the best aspects from social media, content sharing apps, and VoIP tools, organized into a free, easy-to-use (and easy to look at) platform. Here are just a few features represented by the deceptively simple dandelion icon:

  • Security features and protected data (2FA, password-protected channels, encrypted file shares)
  • Ease of access through integrations with Google Workspace and Microsoft-365 (more in the works)
  • Responsive messaging platform between groups and individuals, with VoIP functionality
  • Kanban-style board to manage actions, reminders, and goals
  • Wiki section to store relevant information, files, and links

All-in-One Platform

The application is organized around the spirit of communication, which is the most important ingredient when it comes to collaboration. Open the account and the first screen is a view of all your channels, arranged in Kanban-style boards. By clicking on one of the channels, you can dive into some of the more sophisticated functions.

Within each channel, the main view enables users to easily send messages, links, or files to the channel recipients. You can also start or join a video call. Better yet, everyone can share their screen and use presentation tools, without the struggle of transferring host rights. You can even set up a channel for you alone, as a repository for information, reminders, and specific files.

The left sidebar provides a list of all your channels, which can be organized into groups. Select the options icon to add to a group or drag-and-drop for a more tactile experience.

The right sidebar includes tabs for Actions, Files and Links, and the Wiki. Saved reminders or tasks can be viewed under the Actions tab (with the option of adding due dates and assigning actions to team members). Shared files or links are found under Files and Links, auto-added when sent as a message in the channel. Last but not least, the Wiki fills a vital function as the channel’s unique library of reference material. As an added touch, you can format text and add separate pages or folders for better organization.

These channels are malleable and accessible, not just to peers within your network. Each channel has a unique email identifier, so anyone can send files and text to a channel. No account necessary. Channels can also be shared via link with external users, with the option of password-protecting it for extra security.

AirSend recognizes the value of your time and effort. For channels loaded with information that needs to be shared with new team members or external clients, AirSend offers the “Template” functionality. Channels can be duplicated for different sets of recipients while stripping out channel-specific messaging history. To protect and retain data, you can archive channels, and these channels can even be exported!

When you need to buckle down to accomplish major tasks or projects, it’s easy to swap the messaging platform for an expanded Kanban view of the Actions bar. This view enables drag-and-drop features for better sorting of actions and sub-actions.

Kanban view of Actions tab, with drag-and-drop

Conclusion

Choosing the right technological tools and apps to balance your diverse needs and interests can have a major impact on your life. They influence not only how you present yourself to the world but also how you interact with your communities. Why waste time entertaining sub-par solutions?

AirSend offers the best of both worlds through simple and dynamic features. With a constant eye toward optimization, this tool only gets better with time. To sign-up for a free account and explore what AirSend can do for you, click here.


References

[1] McLeod, S. A., Abrams, D., Otten, S., & Hinkle, S. (2019, October 24). Social Identity Theory. Simply Psychology. https://www.simplypsychology.org/social-identity-theory.html

Hogg, M.A. (2004) The Social Identity Perspective: Intergroup Relations, Self-Conception, and Small Groups. Small Group Research 25, 246-276. DOI: 10.1177/1046496404263424

[2] Vanderbilt, T., (2013, June). Why you like what you like. Smithsonian Magazine. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/why-you-like-what-you-like-73470150/

[3] Tankovska H. (2021, May). Online Dating in the United States. Statista.com. https://www.statista.com/topics/2158/online-dating/#:~:text=According%20to%20a%202019%20study,someone%20they%20had%20met%20online.

[4] Comrie, B. (2021). Language and Thought. Linguistic Society of America. https://www.linguisticsociety.org/resource/language-and-thought

[5] (2021, March). WIPO Report Finds Significant Growth in Assistive Technologies as They Find Greater Application in Consumer Goods. World Intellectual Property Organization.  https://www.wipo.int/pressroom/en/articles/2021/article_0003.html#:~:text=2021-,WIPO%20Report%20Finds%20Significant%20Growth%20in%20Assistive%20Technologies%20as,Greater%20Application%20in%20Consumer%20Goods&text=According%20to%20the%20WIPO%20Technology,next%20decade%20as%20populations%20age.

[6] (2021, March). Assistive Technology Market to Grow by Nearly $8 Billion During 2021-2025. TechnavioCision PR Newswire. https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/assistive-technology-market-to-grow-by-nearly–8-billion-during-2021-2025–insights-on-covid-19-impact-analysis-key-drivers-trends-and-products-offered-by-major-vendors–technavio-301250800.html

[7] Miller, C.C. (2012, Oct). Google Wants to Join the Party, Not Crash It. New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/15/technology/google-devices-integrated-daily-lives.html

[8] Wong, R. (2018). Microsoft’s new game plan: Powering tech that’s way beyond PCs. Mashable.com.  https://mashable.com/2018/05/09/microsoft-world-computer/

[9] Cupp, D. (2019, Dec). Microsoft’s Resolution for 2020 is to Empower Tech Intensity in its Customers and Partners. New.Microsoft.com. https://news.microsoft.com/transform/microsofts-resolution-for-2020-is-to-empower-tech-intensity-in-its-customers-and-partners/

[10] Cleo. (2019) Poor Integration Costs Businesses Half a Million Dollars Every Year, According to 2019 Market Report. Business Wire. https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20190122005564/en/Poor-Integration-Costs-Businesses-Half-a-Million-Dollars-Every-Year-According-to-2019-Market-Report

[11] Forbes Technology Council. (2019, Oct). 16 Software Development Trends That Will Soon Dominate the Tech Industry. Forbes.com. https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbestechcouncil/2020/10/06/16-software-development-trends-that-will-soon-dominate-the-tech-industry/?sh=461b1b164aa3

[12] Wong, M. (2020, June). Stanford Research Provides a Snapshot of a New Working-From-Home Economy. Stanford News. https://news.stanford.edu/2020/06/29/snapshot-new-working-home-economy/

[13] Microsoft News Center. (2011). Microsoft News. https://news.microsoft.com/2011/05/10/microsoft-to-acquire-skype/#:~:text=%C3%A0%20r.l%20today%20announced%20that,of%20both%20Microsoft%20and%20Skype.

[14] Google. (2021). FAQ: Google Meet, Google Chat, and Hangouts. Support.Google.com. https://support.google.com/a/users/answer/9845199/faq-google-meet-google-chat-and-hangouts?hl=en

[15] Haider, A. & Rasay, S.J. (2020, June). Zoom’s Massive Growth Amid COVID-19 Set to Continue After Pandemic, Analysts Say. SPGlobal.com. https://www.spglobal.com/marketintelligence/en/news-insights/latest-news-headlines/zoom-s-massive-growth-amid-covid-19-set-to-continue-after-pandemic-analysts-say-58907516

[16] Richter, F. (2021, June). Zoom Keeps Momentum as Workers Stay at Home. Statista.com. https://www.statista.com/chart/21906/zoom-revenue/

[17] Sherman, N. (2020). Zoom Sees Sales Boom Amid Pandemic. BBC.com. https://www.bbc.com/news/business-52884782

Molla, R. (2020, Dec). The pandemic was great for Zoom. What happens when there’s a vaccine? Vox – Recode. https://www.vox.com/recode/21726260/zoom-microsoft-teams-video-conferencing-post-pandemic-coronavirus

[18] Why Do We Make Worse Decisions at the End of the Day? The Decision Lab. https://thedecisionlab.com/biases/decision-fatigue/

[19] Holland, L. (2021, Mar). The Price Is Not Right: Are There Too Many Streaming Services? The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2021/mar/22/the-price-is-not-right-are-there-too-many-streaming-services


This is the fourth article in the remote work and productivity series, focusing on methodologies, best practices, and approaches that can be used to improve productivity.

Series Motto: Being busy is not the same as being productive

In the previous articles of the series, we described how our brains function, showed some of the most common approaches and methodologies that improve productivity, and described the Inbox0 approach. All those topics are extremely important, but they focus more on the current state and execution of productivity to address tasks that have already been planned.

This post explains how to improve another aspect of productivity – task selection. We will explore the subject of long-term planning, how to set ambitious, yet achievable goals, and how to act around those plans.

Align Goals With Your Interests

Let’s start with long-term goals, since these are the goals that shape your life and guide your actions throughout the years. For example, a decision to enter a university will determine the structure of several years of your life but will affect your whole adulthood.

The first important observation about long-term planning is related to perception. People usually overestimate how much can be accomplished in six months or even a year, even while they underestimate how much can be accomplished in a 3-, 5- or 10-year span. The reason is that people are usually optimistic about their capabilities, without considering their own constraints (i.e., unexpected events, side-tasks, etc.), but they do not operate well on a grander-scale of events. This makes sense though if you think about someone in their 30’s – five years is 1/6 of their entire lived experience!

As a result of this perspective skew, long-term goals should be planned over a long timeframe and SHOULD be ambitious – e.g., planning to complete a marathon in six months might be very ambitious for some, but planning to complete an ultramarathon in four years might be perfectly achievable. This looks like a paradox, but we’ll explain why this works later.

The second very important observation is that our long-term goals should be aligned as much as possible with our ideology, beliefs, and personality. This is not always possible, especially in work-related areas (unless you work at a company that you love like we do at CodeLathe), but the better you feel about what you do, the bigger the chance that you’ll reach your goals.

This observation is also very important when setting goals. Maybe you hate to run but you want to include some activity in your life. Set a different yet related goal like cycling or swimming. The idea here is to really think about what you enjoy and what is important to you and then to set goals around those concepts.

Another example – perhaps you want to earn a lot and you love cars. Having an abstract goal to earn millions of dollars per year may not be enough motivation, but envisioning a collection of luxury cars may do the trick. That’s what this whole exercise is about – we will aim to end with 20-30 long-term goals, grouped into categories like health, work, social life, personal growth, etc. These can change over time – these goals are meant to be easily reviewed in the following years and adjusted as needed.

Be SMART

I mentioned the list should contain around 20-30 ambitious goals. How can we determine whether those goals are good or not? This is relatively simple. A good goal should be SMART. Let’s explain the concept:

  • Specific – the goal is well-defined and leaves no room for interpretation
  • Measurable – it should be possible to measure progress toward the goal
  • Achievable – the goal should be possible to achieve (even while being ambitious!)
  • Relevant – it should have meaning for the person
  • Time-bound – the time-frame for completion should be predefined

Let’s discuss briefly why it is important for a single goal to be SMART. We’ll also go over some examples that are not SMART and may be harder to accomplish.

If a goal is not specific enough, it will be hard to plan the next steps. The statement “I want to own a company” doesn’t say much about the actual goal. In some countries, opening a company takes a couple of hours. This is also closely related to measurability – a goal that says “I want to travel more” is not really verifiable; we need to define what “more” means. For example, “I want to spend two months a year abroad for three years straight” has clear and measurable details.

As I mentioned before our goals should be ambitious, so there is always something pushing us forward. On the other hand, the goal has to be achievable; otherwise, it will inspire a feeling of failure and defeatism, which are major demotivators toward any goal.

Let’s take running as an example. Is completing the Ultra Trail Mount Blanc (UTMB) run ambitious? Sure, it is. Is it achievable? Of course – hundreds of runners complete this run each year. On the other hand, a plan to complete a Mars landing in the next three years is not achievable with the current state of our knowledge and technical capabilities. The same is true for swimming underwater for 45 minutes without the aid of diving gear – some things are just out of our technical and physical abilities, and we should set our goals accordingly.

We touched upon relevance in the previous section – once you align with your goal, it’s much easier to pursue it since you have that internal drive factor.

Setting time constraints on when the goal should be accomplished is another very important parameter. It’s human nature to procrastinate and push off actions, unless the deadline is close. With a well-defined boundary, it is easier to plan smaller steps that contribute to your overall goal within shorter timeframes.

Divide and Conquer

Once our long-term goals are defined, we need to start working toward completion. This is a critical step in all planning: what should be our next action? Time is limited, and productivity is mostly about being able to navigate between those limitations.

As mentioned in the previous paragraph, goals should be ambitious (remember – those are long-term goals). The problem is that they can seem unachievable when you start. Let’s use the UTMB run as an example for this section. This is a 170km run with a 10,000m elevation gain. Seems impossible when you think about it, doesn’t it?

The magic is to divide that “impossible” long-term goal into smaller, digestible chunks. The best way to do that is to set a couple of intermediate sub-goals. Let’s say that you’re able to run 10km without huge effort. The ideal first step might be to complete a half-marathon. This could be an appropriate six-month target. The next step might be to complete a marathon the following year. Another one, to complete a sky marathon in two years, and the last one before the main goal could be to complete a shorter ultra-marathon in four years. Considering this outline of goals, you could plan to complete the UTMB in 6-7 years.

With time and a lot of motivation, this goal suddenly becomes doable, which is the most important factor. You start preparing for the half-marathon, than for a marathon, and so on. In the end, you might not even finish the main goal, but the actions you’ll take on the path to completion will still benefit you in significant ways – you will create a healthy habit of running regularly and you will most likely adjust your lifestyle to find time for long activities.

So how do we define those intermediate steps? This is a very hard question with no golden rule. It depends on each task, and that’s why it is so important for each goal to be measurable.

Once we define a couple of in-between steps, we should start planning around them within a shorter timeframe. In our example, we’ve planned to complete the half-marathon in six months. That would most likely require three-four runs per week on average, each taking 30-90 min of your time. You find a good training schedule, apply it on top of your calendar and you’re good to go. If you do that for all 20-30 long-term goals, you’ll find yourself very busy, yet productive! All your actions will guide you toward accomplishing meaningful goals that enrich your life. And that’s a wonderful feeling!

 Execute

Once all shorter-term plans are identified and planned, you must then be responsible for carrying out these plans. This is really the hardest part – we are confronted with many random tasks and issues that show up on a daily basis. Take these into account and do not plan your days from 6 am to 11 pm. Giving yourself room in your schedule to respond to unexpected events will make your road less bumpy and easier to follow. You can use all the low-level techniques described in the previous blog posts.

There is another very good way to improve in many areas – create habits. This is an important topic and will be covered in the next article of the series.

Summary

In this blog post, we explained how to think about long-term planning. Set ambitious goals, aligned with your principles, and you’ll build a lighthouse that will guide you throughout your life. Additionally, you will gain a greater sense of meaning and purpose for all your actions.

Article written by Tomasz Formański

Working Remotely During the Pandemic

When the COVID pandemic first began many people thought that remote working would only be temporary—a week or two—and didn’t worry about getting tools together that would make remote working easier. After all, what was the point?

Now, we’re close to two years into the pandemic, and remote work isn’t slowing down. In fact, many companies are remaining remote even after they were able to return to traditional work settings. In fact, it’s estimated that in some advanced economies, 20-25% of the workforce might be working remotely most of the time.

Larger companies are taking note of this as well, with places like Slack, Dropbox, Twitter, and Google allowing employees to retain at least some (if not full-time) remote work.

There are many industries that thrive in a remote work environment, like marketing, media, and design, but there are other industries you might not have thought of that are also moving to remote work. These include project management, engineering, and construction.

Teams that are now working remotely either full or part-time are having to rethink many of their processes to facilitate remote teamwork. Many of these processes include the tools they need to succeed at business. 

Remote Work Benefits and Challenges

There are many benefits of working remotely, including the ability for employees to work anywhere in the world and not needing to pay for an office. Many employees enjoy the lack of a commute anymore and having more flexible hours as well as the ability to focus without the distractions of an office.

However, that doesn’t mean that remote work is not without its challenges, especially for companies that haven’t gotten the tools they need for their teams to succeed.

One of the biggest issues that can make remote work difficult is communication. It’s often easier to walk up to someone in an office and begin chatting or collaborating. It’s even simpler to ask a colleague where a file is or for help with a task. Remote teams, on the other hand, may struggle to communicate properly or engage in meaningful collaboration without the right tools.

The good news is, there are many tools that can help with remote team collaboration, sometimes with even better results than in-person processes.

 What Tools Are Available for Remote Work?

Teams use a variety of different systems to make remote work viable for their team. Some of the most important are video conferencing, collaboration tools, secure file sharing, and communication tools.

Video Conferencing

Teams mostly use video conferencing systems for meetings that used to be in-person.

There are many different video conferencing tools now, but the ones you’re probably familiar with are Zoom, Skype, and Google Meetups.

Other Communication Tools

Communication is a vital part of working on a remote team. There are many tools in place that help teams communicate. For daily interactions, many remote teams use email and/or other communication technology like Microsoft Teams, Slack, and Discord.

 Collaboration Tools for Task Management

Collaboration tools are used so that teams can work together on tasks, track the progress of projects, and generally know what everyone on the team is doing.

Commonly used tools are Trello, Basecamp, and Asana. 

Secure File Sharing

Secure file sharing is a critical element of the remote working world. Teams share files with each other constantly and often need to extend shares with clients or outside vendors. However, not all file sharing methods (like email) have the necessary security measures in place to protect your teams’ data. It’s important to consider security when selecting tools for remote teams.

Top options for secure file sharing include Dropbox, Google Drive, and FileCloud. In fact, your team can even get a free trial of FileCloud right now. 

What Tools Does My Remote Team Need?

Your head might be swimming after learning about all the different tools that are available, and often necessary, for remote work.

The problem with all these tools is that you usually need to purchase them to obtain full access to all of their features (though some have free options or trials).

 Another issue is that each one of your remote workers will need to have each of the systems downloaded and installed on their computers. You’ll also need to make sure each of these systems complies with your company’s security requirements.

It’s overwhelming to see all the options and decide which ones will work for your teams. The good news is, you don’t have to go through all of them to get the communication and collaboration you need for your remote team.

In fact, we created AirSend— our all-in-one, free collaboration tool—with remote teams in mind.

What is AirSend?

Here at CodeLathe, we all work remotely and have teams and employees across the globe. We understand both the benefits and challenges that come with remote work; one of the biggest challenges is context-switching.

Context switching (like constantly shifting from Slack to Zoom back to Slack) is tiring and kills productivity.

Research says context switching can cost up to 40% of your time (one to three hours of an eight-hour work day).


AirSend is an all-in-one tool that allows you to chat (via the video, voice, and messaging system), collaborate (via boards and customizable wikis), and share files securely, with integration available for your current systems.


Say goodbye to the lost productivity of context switching, and say hello to AirSend.

It’s going to change the way you work.

The Features of AirSend

AirSend can be used by teams anywhere they have an internet connection. It’s available in a web browser, as a desktop app, and also on iOS and Android, so you can stay connected, no matter where you are.

Meetings and Calls

With AirSend, there’s no need for other video conferencing tools. Instead, just click the call button within any channel and choose whether you want a voice or video call. You can also use this functionality to share your screen and show team members what you’re working on.

Collaborate with your Team

Team collaboration is one of the places where AirSend really shines. It’s easy to work with your teams in simple-to-create channels that you can use for one-on-one collaboration or for a team hubs. Other collaboration tools include:

File sharing

Quickly and easily share files with anyone in your AirSend channels, and use the search function to quickly find previously shared links, media, and files.

Messaging

One of the core functions of AirSend is the messaging system. Use it to collaborate on projects or for some old-fashioned water cooler chatting. You can react to messages to show you got them, tag specific people, and use common emojis.

Project Management

It’s easy to manage all your projects within AirSend’s system. Create Trello-style boards, assign people tasks, and create to-dos all within your channels.

File Storage

We at CodeLathe created AirSend, but we also created FileCloud, a secure file sharing and cloud storage solution—so we understand the vital importance of secure file sharing. With AirSend, you can send and receive documents and media securely within your channels and easily search and find the documents and media with our file management system.

Wiki/Note Taking

Say goodbye to sticky notes. Within AirSend you can create team Wikis for important information like style guides, or create your own personal Wikis for project notes or personal reminders.

Integrations

AirSend allows you to keep your current systems in place, with Office 365, Outlook, and Gmail  integrations.

AirSend allows you to stop context switching and focus on your real work, allowing your remote team to become productive and stay that way. It’s great for a variety of different teams doing different tasks, but these teams can use the AirSend system in ways that suit their unique needs.

How Teams Use AirSend

Marketing Teams:

Marketing teams use AirSend to collaborate with team members, agencies, and clients. They also use it to track content, create style guides, and track projects.

Community Building Teams

These teams use AirSend because it’s a great way to build community with unlimited messaging, free guest accounts, and customizable and public channels.

Consultants

Consultants use AirSend to meet and work individually with clients, create roadmaps, and track projects and deadlines.

Lawyers

Lawyers can use AirSend to share and receive documents, collaborate with colleagues on tough cases, create Wikis for case notes, and to-dos for interns and paralegals.

Many different teams use and love AirSend. You can see just a few of the brands that trust us below and check out our reviews here.  

Remote Work is Here to Stay

Remote work isn’t going anywhere. It’s vital for all remote teams to collaborate and communicate without constantly context switching, costing your teams time and money.

As an all-in-one application, AirSend has all the tools you need for success in a remote world. Get your free version of AirSend today and support your remote team on the path of successful productivity and rich collaboration.

After many months of hard work, we are proud to present to you Airsend Teams – a robust feature built to simplify work for people who manage companies, nonprofits, and other organizations.

With AirSend Teams, you can:

Create a Shared Space for Your Team or Business

Make a shared space where members can see announcements, join public team channels, and find relevant channels and teammates quickly and easily.

Whether you’re a business, nonprofit, or school group, your team space is the digital hub where work happens. Team members come here to have discussions via chat and voice/video calls, share files, plan projects, and more.

Have Public Team Channels

Members can make and join public team channels (PTCs), which are channels available to join for all team members. Some of our PTCs include the Codelathe Book Club, Spanish Language Exchange Group, and All About Photography! Even though our PTCs are mostly for fun, there are many other use cases for public team channels. These include:

  • Company Brainstorming Groups
  • Study Groups for Products, Industries, and/or Skills
  • Work-related Book Clubs

Manage Data Usage and Members

Team owners and managers can easily add and remove members to and from the team and team channels. They can also track storage utilization of the team and specific channels and members with just a few clicks.

Post Global Announcements

Managers can post announcements that will show up at the top of the team page for every member. Some ideas for team announcements include:

  • Welcome Messages
  • Company Vision, Mission, and Principles
  • Important Dates
  • Key Milestones
  • Major Goals
  • Team Member Wins
  • Holiday Announcements
  • Birthday Celebrations

Color Tag Channels

Team channels can be color tagged so that it is easy to differentiate between team channels and non-team channels in the main channel view.

As you can see, Airsend Teams is a useful tool for anyone who manages companies, nonprofits, and other organizations.

Transfer Channel Ownership

Managers can transfer the ownership of team channels to other members. Some use cases for this are:

  • Transferring ownership of key channels from a team member that is leaving the company to a newly responsible team member.
  • Asking team members to set up channels and transfer ownership to the manager or vice versa.
  • Adjusting ownership of channels upon team member promotion or role change.

What’s Next?

AirSend Teams is a big step in making AirSend the best collaboration app, but we’re not stopping here. There are many more exciting improvements on the horizon, so stay tuned, and thank you so much for joining us on the AirSend journey.

This is the third article in the remote work and productivity series, focusing on methodologies, best practices, and approaches that can be used to improve productivity.

Series Motto: Being busy is not the same as being productive

In the previous article of the series, we described how our brains function and showed some of the most common approaches and methodologies that improve productivity. One of the biggest productivity killers is our constant struggle with the inbox. It’s easy for inboxes to become cluttered, leading to a massive amount of time spent sorting through correspondence to find what is needed.

This post focuses on several techniques to deal with that clutter, which leads to improved productivity. We’ll start by discussing the Inbox0 approach and presenting available enhancements (using Gmail as an example) to organize emails and better manage your work.

Inbox0

The idea behind Inbox0 is very simple – keep your inbox empty. Maintaining an empty inbox means that any new emails have not yet been seen or sorted. When reviewing new emails as part of Inbox0, we also ensure that we’re working on a small number of items in one go. This approach empowers cognitive functions of our brain, so we don’t become overwhelmed by the amount of different content.

The other great point of this methodology is that it forces us to maintain an organization system for our emails. We won’t need to sift through messages to find what we’re looking for, because we’ll already know exactly where to go.

How to Use Inbox0

The best way to apply this methodology is to schedule some time per day or even every couple of days to process your inbox (depending on the type of work you do and how responsive you must be). A general productivity rule is that the less often we glimpse our inbox, the better. Sometimes it is impossible to avoid looking through emails for more than a couple of hours, depending on the scope and pace of work, but if we can afford to look away, we should.

Once we reach our designated time to check emails, we follow the only rule of Inbox0: leave your inbox with zero messages at the end of the task. That means we should go email by email and decide whether we want to reply to that email immediately, whether it requires any action, or whether it should be immediately removed or archived.

Seems hard? Fortunately, there are many useful tools and features available for most email clients that allow us to highly automate this process and deal with notifications (more on that later in this post). The outcome is a tidy (empty) inbox and the feeling that we’ve handled all emails. The cascading result is a brain free from the subconscious need to remember lingering tasks and rewarded by a clear list of action items.

How to Organize Email Effectively

The hardest part of applying the Inbox0 methodology is to come up with the process of organizing emails. In this section, I’ll show a sample approach that works wonders and facilitates a sense of control. Below is the sample screen from one of my Gmail accounts:

As you can see, this doesn’t look like a regular Gmail inbox. The first visible detail is that my inbox is empty, even though some of the items on the right-hand side haven’t been opened yet. In the left column, you can see different labels organized into nested levels; this helps organize emails, leading to an easy search, even for “prehistoric” threads if needed.

The most interesting detail, and the most important one from a productivity standpoint, is the right-hand column, which organizes emails into five different sections. When dealing with each new email in the inbox, I follow this process:

  1. Read an email
  2. Does it need any follow-up action?
    • No – archive it, add a label if this is relevant and might be needed for the future
    • Yes – star it with one of the available marks (Yes – Gmail allows that). Apply labels if needed.

Actions

For my needs, I’ve created five different actions, each defined by a different mark that allows me to organize emails efficiently:

  • Needs Action/Reply – emails that require some follow-up action, i.e. opening a new ticket, thinking about a solution or approach, scheduling a meeting, etc.
  • Awaiting Reply – active threads that require input from another person. This is a great way to free your mind from the need to remember such conversations. It is visible at a glimpse that we’re waiting for input.
  • To Write – emails that require a response. It is important to understand that Inbox0 is about clearing the inbox and assigning action items to each email, not about performing that action in that particular moment! In some way, this is similar to the “Getting Things Done” task management strategy described in the previous blog post.
  • To Read – emails, articles, and newsletters to be read when more time is available.
  • Delegated – tasks or items delegated to other people. Due to the ticketing system we have in CodeLathe, I don’t often use this action, but it may be highly relevant for your work.

A great aspect of Gmail (and most available email clients) is the ability to automate processes for applying labels, archiving incoming emails, and filtering based on subject or content. This automation leads to a partially clean inbox without any intervention.

In the screenshot, you can see that unread emails from the ticketing system marked with the Tickets label are assigned to the To read section automatically. This is great, since I can quickly go through all the emails in that section and review incoming issues. This is a massive productivity boost!

How to Empower Your Gmail Account

After seeing what’s possible, let’s jump in and explain how this organization can be achieved in Gmail. To begin, everything can be configured in the Advanced Settings (Gear Icon -> All Settings in Gmail).

Labels

Labels can be quickly organized from the Labels tab in the Settings screen or directly from the left Gmail panel. New labels or sub-labels can be added, existing labels can be organized into a tree structure, and different colors can be applied to each label.

Sections

This element is a real game-changer. When I read about this option for the first time, my initial thought was “Wow, I have to try that!” – and that’s how my organizational journey started.

In fact, sections are other inboxes! Yes, Gmail allows the use of multiple inboxes. Here is the configuration that enables the view I’m using.

Let’s explain what happens here:

  • First, we must enable “Multiple Inboxes” by selecting that option from the dropdown.
  • We can define up to five custom sections that will be viewed alongside the main inbox. Each section can have a custom name and will show emails matching provided queries. This is extremely powerful. You’re working on a big contract with an important customer? Simply create a label and search for all emails marked with the label and name that section with your customer’s name. Simple!

Gmail has a very powerful search engine allowing to compose fully customized queries. In the example above, the magical has:green-star syntax searches for all emails with the green star symbol. Gmail names all these symbols, so they’re easy to customize. What’s more, we can use multiple marks for one section (e.g., To Read and Needs Action/Reply in the above example) to add priorities to individual actions. Options are almost limitless.

  • Next, we need to specify how many messages will be displayed in a single page of that section.
  • Last, we specify where that section should be presented. Personally, I prefer the right side of the view, but this is configurable. 

Filters

Filters are extremely important for inbox processing automation. In my primary inbox, I currently have around 20 custom filtering rules defined. Each rule follows a very simple if-then approach.

When adding a rule, the first step is to define the match criteria for messages for the given rule. The screen looks like the one below:

In this case, we’re looking for the Subject to contain the “YouTrack” keyword. Gmail allows us to perform the search in the process of defining the rule to confirm the filter applies to relevant emails.

The next step is to define actions that need to happen to email matching the criteria:

This is the real power of filtering. With automation, we can accomplish such tasks as:

  • archiving messages (remove from the inbox, which is what Inbox0 is really about)
  • marking items as read if needed (i.e., we know we don’t need to read incoming notifications from the build system)
  • starring items
  • applying labels

By combining various actions, we can automatically mark items with the build system label and archive them, we can mark tickets with a star (to read), apply the label archive but leave as unread, or we can simply mark items as Junk and send to the abyss. By checking the “Also apply filter to matching conversations” option, we can process existing emails from our inbox. This is extremely useful when reaching the Inbox0 state for the first time.

Summary

The concept of Inbox0 is an easy yet extremely powerful tool in your productivity toolbox. Applying this concept successfully saves time, organizes emails, and automatically builds action lists, which collectively contribute to a general feeling of control. As mentioned in the previous posts from this series, this sensation of control is extremely important to empower our brains to achieve higher rates of productivity.

I highly recommend trying this approach. It’s easy to set up, highly flexible, and can be adjusted based on performance, industry, and individual needs. These features make it so that anyone can benefit from this strategy. Let’s zero your Inboxes!

Article written by Tomasz Formański

Our working lives already take up a considerable portion of time and energy. Muscling through IT problems or resolving communication barriers are serious and unwelcome drains on our mental and physical resources.

But that doesn’t have to be the case! As industries sorted out the challenges of working during a pandemic, we witnessed a smorgasbord of collaborative communication technologies and software to make our working hours so much better.  

This collaborative software creates digital spaces for more engaged conversations between peers, managers, and teams, even when we cannot gather in person. Additionally, it aims to solve communication problems stemming from our historical reliance on email and in-person meetings.

These digital workspaces help reduce context switching, frustration, and boredom at work, while boosting productivity and revenues. By vastly improving our modes of communication, the rest of our energy can be invested in meaningful and efficient progress.

There are several options available on the market to make this change. We’ll be evaluating two of them: AirSend and Slack. Specifically, we will go over the software development history, pricing plans, user interface, and unique features. By the end of this article, you will have gained an understanding of both products and be able to determine if these products can help improve your communication and collaboration.

Who is this article for?

This article is intended for individuals, teams, or companies searching for a communication and collaboration software tool that will support their business operations. Slack is likely a familiar name, as many large-scale companies made the switch even before the pandemic. AirSend, launched in 2020, is the newcomer to the field, offering staunch competition.

About Slack

Slack was initially developed as an internal chat feature for the game Glitch, made by Tiny Speck. The company was run by Stewart Butterfield, who also founded Flickr. (Incidentally, this platform also started as an in-game feature that was later developed separately for photographers and content curators.)

Glitch was never released, but in 2014, Slack was released as a standalone software technology for team communication, based on Internet Relay Chat (IRC) software. This software is defined by persistent chat rooms, called channels, organized by topic, private groups, and direct messaging.

In June 2019, Slack went public through a direct public offering; in 2021, it was acquired by Salesforce for $27.7 billion. There are currently around 12 million active users, with 119,000 paid customers. Slack serves 65 of the Fortune 100 and operates in more than 150 countries.

This prestigious clientele includes Ameritrade, Target, Uber, Netflix, US Department of Veterans Affairs, Intuit, and Expedia. Slack also partners with major SaaS companies and has developed thousands of applications and integrations to extend Slack’s functionality.

Cost

Slack is available for free, though certain advanced features are unavailable, and the storage is limited compared to paid versions. Users on free plans have acess to:

  • 5 GB of storage
  • up to 10,000 searchable messages
  • up to 10 apps and integrations
  • 1-to-1 video calls
  • Two-factor authentication.

The paid version of Slack starts at $6.67 per month for Pro, which includes:

  • 10 GB of storage per member
  • unlimited message archival
  • unlimited apps
  • group video calls with screen sharing
  • Slack Connect to work with other organizations.

The Slack Business version is $12.50 per month, which includes:

  • 20 GB of storage per member
  • 99.99% guaranteed uptime SLA
  • User provisioning and de-provisioning
  • SAML-based single sign-on (SSO)
  • Data exports for all messages.

Enterprise Grid is the version of Slack optimized for major organizations. Organizations interested in this version must request a quote directly from the Slack sales team. Features include:

  • 1 TB of storage per member
  • unlimited number of workspaces
  • Data Loss Prevention (DLP) support
  • e-Discovery and offline backup providers
  • Designated customer success teams
  • HIPAA-compliant messaging and file sharing.

We evaluated the free version for this review.

UX and Interface

Signing up for Slack is easy. Potential users can go to the Slack website and click the sign-up button. A quick email verification takes the user to their Slack workspace in the web browser. The email also includes links to user guides and the download button for the desktop app.

Before getting to the main page, Slack asks some pre-emptive questions to help set up the workspace. The setup process will also ask about a main project in the works, which will become the first channel. Lastly, users can add the email addresses to populate their Slack account with Direct Message channels.

Once this information has been provided, Slack opens to the main view. The left sidebar includes all the channels and direct messages. These menus can be minimized for a cleaner look by clicking on the arrow next to the header. This sidebar can also be customized with different navigation options. 

Some of these headers only appear once the action occurs for the first time. For example, the header “Threads” only appears after a user replies to a message. From that point on, “Threads” will appear in perpetuity. Select the options menu to access these hidden headers before they’re triggered (or to hide them after they appear). This menu can be found by clicking on the company name at the top of the sidebar. Then click “Preferences.”

This will open to a large menu. Select “Sidebar” to add or simply view more of the organizational options.

As shown above, Slack’s features are often tucked away behind buttons and dropdown menus. This makes learning the platform a bit more challenging. The company does offer a Slackbot inside the interface to help answer simple questions and a dedicated, searchable help page for more complex ones.

Another potential drawback for users with more than one employer or client is the need to switch workspaces to see updates in each one. The ability for one account to have multiple workplaces is a newer feature since Slack was built for team collaboration within one company. This makes Slack more tedious to use for those who need to work with multiple parties.

Features

Messaging

Slack was created as a communication-centered tool and offers a variety of options when it comes to conversations. Users can start direct messages, as well as public or private channels. Unread messages or updates are easy to see thanks to Slack’s labeling conventions: the names change from un-bolded grey to bolded white. A red notification symbol also appears with the number of changes to the right.

Conversations can be further separated into threads, which occurs when someone replies to a message within a channel. This action opens a sidebar within the channel that other members can participate in; this ensures the main conversation is not interrupted by tangents or side-conversations.

Customization

Keyboard shortcuts for various commands are built into Slack to enable certain actions (such as searching for and posting a gif). Slack also allows users to create a searchable library of unique emojis by uploading images into the interface. This is one aspect of otherwise limited customization offered by Slack to users. Additional customization includes switching between light and dark modes and changing the color of the top bar.

Voice and Video Calls

Slack has integrations for Zoom and other video conferencing tools. More recently though, the software has built its own video conferencing feature. However, the current limitations may prevent users from putting these calls into practice.

The free version enables 1:1 voice and video calls in DMs, as well as screen sharing. Only the paid versions of Slack currently enable voice calls, video calls, and screen sharing for channels (up to 14 people). Furthermore, Google Chrome is the only browser that supports Slack calls; users who prefer to work with a different browser are out of luck. For users joining a call using their mobile device, the call will be limited to audio. If a screen is being shared, they won’t see it.

File Storage and Sharing

When it comes to collaboration, it is easy to share files and images to a Slack channel. However, Slack was not built to serve as file storage, and users will find that storage capacity is limited unless they upgrade to a paid version. Slack’s free plan offers 5 GB of file storage per team.

There are also differences between the free and paid versions when it comes to searching within the app. The search function is powerful, but the free version limits that functionality to 10,000 messages. After a certain point (or with a particularly verbose team), the search function becomes obsolete.

Integrations

Users will have to rely on external software or integrations like Trello or Asana to track tasks and assignments. However, integrations are a major strength for Slack, with over 1,500 available through their app directory. The communication tool can easily be linked with other apps to cover the functions not offered, including cloud storage, task tracking, and scheduling.

Mobile Application

The mobile version of Slack is similarly easy to install, and in fact, both the browser and desktop versions of the app encourage the mobile download for new users. Notifications are streamlined, and conversations are updated automatically between the mobile and the desktop or web browser application. This enables the user the flexibility of staying up to date without having to be tied to the computer. Another feature that some users may appreciate – certain features can be toggled independently of each other on the mobile and desktop applications. This includes notifications and dark vs. light modes. These independent configurations ensure that users can set up their mobile and desktop versions to work best for them in varying situations.

Summary of Slack

As one of the foremost communication apps on the market, Slack has made a good show of creating an accessible interface that doesn’t overwhelm new users. It’s easy to implement, especially for small- to medium-sized teams and businesses. Some of the more compelling features are harder to find, but the Slackbot or a quick search on Slack’s help page provides quick answers. Shifting between the different mediums (web browser, mobile, and desktop application) is also simple and efficient.

Slack specializes in communication, so any functionalities beyond that are not included in the interface; however, Slack has recognized that limitation and developed integrations with thousands of other applications. Users can pair Slack with the productivity apps they already use.

Some drawbacks come into play though for users who need to use the platform to communicate with multiple employers or clients. Switching between workspaces breaks up the efficiency promised by the application.

Additionally, users may be hampered by the limitations of the free version of the software. Since this is not an all-in-one style platform, the cost of Slack, in tandem with subscription costs for other productivity apps, may quickly outstrip a business’s budget. Compared to other communication applications, Slack is one of the most expensive options on the market.

About AirSend

AirSend was launched in 2020 by CodeLathe as an all-in-one collaboration and communication software platform. It was a natural extension of the company’s work on FileCloud, one of the fastest-growing enterprise file sharing and management solutions.

FileCloud provides users with streamlined collaboration and sharing, file streaming and synchronization, Microsoft Office 365 integration, endpoint backup, data classification, and federated search, among many other sophisticated features.

CodeLathe also develops and distributes Tonido, a remote access and home server software for network-attached storage, which turns someone’s personal computer into their personal cloud.

Between AirSend, Tonido, and FileCloud, the company has a trifecta of software solutions that can support anyone, from corporate teams and organizations working in diverse industries to consumers like stay-at-home parents or university students trying to keep up with their schoolwork.

AirSend integrates the knowledge developed from CodeLathe’s preceding software solutions. With a unique focus on facilitating collaboration and productivity, AirSend was designed as “a people-centric digital collaborative workspace.” As a result, the software incorporates various features beyond the messaging platform that defines Slack. These features include file storage and management, task tracking, note-keeping through a Wiki tab, and integrations with Microsoft 365 and Google Workspaces.

Cost

AirSend has a major advantage over other communication and productivity apps: it’s currently entirely free. One tier of service includes lifetime access to all of AirSend’s features, including up to 100 GB of storage for every account, without a subscription or licensing fee. This includes upgrades and UI improvements.

The range of functionality makes AirSend hot competition for other productivity and communication platforms, including Slack; the fact that all these functions are available without going through a paywall is a significant pro. 

UX and Interface

With AirSend, the interface is easy to understand because of its simplicity. All the features are immediately visible and intuitively placed. The main page of the AirSend interface offers a clear view of all channels. Channel notifications appear at the top of each board and in the notification bell at the top of the screen.

As updates appear in channels, the boards shift to ensure the most active channel remains at the top of the page for ease of access. Users can also opt to change this automatic sorting to “Unread Count” or “New Channels” by clicking on the “Sort by” dropdown menu at the top of the page. The “Channels” dropdown menu changes which channels are displayed (options include “show all,” “show active,” and “show closed.”)

For users with a large array of active channels, the overview includes a search bar at the top of the page. This search bar scans channels and files stored on the platform, which makes life a lot easier if the user knows they uploaded a file but can’t recall the channel it’s hiding in.  

Starting a new channel is similarly efficient. Users can click “Create New Channel” to bring up the new channel dialog box in the channel overview.

If the user is already in a channel, they can create a new one by clicking on the blue plus icon found at the top of the left sidebar menu.

Channels are defined as public or private based on how new members are added. For a secure, private channel, users can create a new channel and invite members based on their username on the platform.

To create a public channel, users can choose to invite members using a link. People who click on the link will be redirected to create their own AirSend account. Once their account is set up, the channel will automatically populate with the channel.

Users can even copy pre-existing channels thanks to the template option. This can be found by clicking on the “Advanced” button within the “Create New Channel” dialog box. By enabling channels to serve as templates, users can easily set up channels for certain purposes (like employee- or client-onboarding). All the notes, links, and URLs stored within the channel are duplicated, sparing the user time and energy. None of the messages are copied over, though, so private conversations remain so. 

This aspect of the interface is an important distinction for AirSend when compared to other communication-only solutions. AirSend was designed to be lightweight, easy to implement, and flexible for various work conditions. Channels can just as easily serve an internal team working on a project as they can a manager or business owner working with external clients. That is because all the functionalities are built around the channels, which operate as independent, modular workspaces.

For guidance on leveraging the full, functional power of AirSend, AirSend provides information through their “Getting Started with AirSend” page. Users can also access tutorial videos through the dedicated YouTube channel. These support features ensure that users can utilize AirSend to its maximum capacity.

Features

Messaging

In AirSend, conversations happen in public or private channels, similar to Slack. These channels can be sorted into user-defined groups, which offers a level of flexibility and customization. Within the channels, users can post messages, emojis, and images and share files, URLs, pictures, and gifs. They can also reply to other messages, which will quote the message, so everyone can stay on the same page, even in a busy channel.

All uploaded files, links, and media can be viewed easily in the right-hand sidebar, under the Files and Links tab. Alternatively, users can expand this tab for a full-screen view. This view includes upload and add folder buttons, which ensures the user can organize everything they share through the channel.

Additionally, AirSend’s powerful search function is not limited to a certain number of messages, as in Slack’s free version. Any content within AirSend can be pulled through the search bar.

Customization

In the channel overview, users can switch between light and dark modes and adjust email notifications. More customizations become available within specific channels. Users can change each channel’s title, background, and logo to reflect a unique brand or personal aesthetic.

Voice and Video Calls

AirSend also enables 1:1 and group voice and video conferencing. Within each channel is a phone icon; by clicking on it, users can choose to start a call with the channel members. Alternatively, they can also choose to create a public call. Selecting this button creates a shareable link that people outside the channel can use to join the conference. This provides users with a high level of functionality and flexibility in setting up voice and video calls.

File Storage and Sharing

One of the places where AirSend goes above and beyond is the fully functional file storage and management system. AirSend currently offers up to 100 GB of free storage per user. Users who don’t need terabytes of storage capacity can use AirSend as an all-in-one tool that replaces other cloud storage services.

Wiki/Note-Keeping

In tandem with this powerful file storage and sharing and the search function, AirSend also offers a space within each channel to store notes (called a Wiki). The Wiki can be found on the right-hand sidebar, under the “Wiki” tab. This section can be organized by adding folders, and formatting shortcuts make text easy to read.

Task Management

As a multi-functional, efficient communication and collaboration tool, AirSend includes a task-management feature through the Actions tab. Users can create tasks or “actions,” set due dates, and add support details. Individuals can also assign actions to other members in the channel for clear delegation of duties. To change an action from “active” to “completed”, simply click on the box next to the action.

This action menu can be found in the right-hand sidebar, specifically under the “Actions” tab. Users can expand this sidebar into a full-screen Kanban view, with drag-and-drop boards for each action. Users can also move subactions between boards. Lastly, this full-screen view includes a search bar and the ability to filter based on completion status and channel.

These functions (Actions, Files and Links, and Wiki) can also be accessed through the channel overview screen without entering a specific channel. The three-bar icon at the top right of the screen (next to the AirSend logo) pulls up the navigation menu. This menu has dedicated links for “Channels,” “Files,” and “Actions.”

Integrations

One of AirSend’s possible drawbacks is its lack of integrations, especially compared to Slack. However, considering the comprehensive features built into the platform, many apps and integrations may become redundant.

AirSend does include integrations with Outlook and Microsoft 365. For example, clients and team members can send and receive messages to and from AirSend Channels using their Outlook email. Through the AirSend-Microsoft 365 integration, users can edit documents directly in AirSend Channels without downloading, editing, and re-uploading files to make changes. AirSend satisfies a wide swathe of communication and collaboration needs between these major services and the rich, all-in-one platform.

Mobile Application

AirSend carries its minimalistic and streamlined design into its mobile application. Available on iOS and Android, users can access all of AirSend’s functionalities, with no limitations on messaging, calling, file storage or sharing, or Wiki updates. 

Summary of AirSend

AirSend goes beyond a simple communication application thanks to its plethora of built-in functionalities arranged in an attractive, minimalistic design. The interface and features make AirSend a truly streamlined collaboration and productivity platform that answers many needs of small and large-scale businesses alike.

AirSend’s feature-rich platform is user-friendly, with many of the features in plain view. Advanced features are intuitively placed and easy to adjust, and users can easily discover them as they use the platform.  

One of AirSend’s major strengths is its flexibility for different situations, from internal teams within a large-scale organization to a small-business owner working directly with clients. All the features are streamlined, with logical overlaps (e.g., you can create an action directly from a message in the channel chat.)

AirSend is also currently free, which is a major pro for this solution, especially considering everything a user can accomplish within the app. 

Conclusion

Slack

ProsCons
Easy sign-up and set-up Search function limited to 10,000 messages
Slackbot for in-app support, Slack help page for more advanced supportOnly 5 GB of storage per team
Emoji customizationTedious to switch between different workspaces
Thousands of integrationsPaid versions are expensive
Streamlined mobile appFew meaningful customization options
2FA optionFeatures hidden in dropdown menus
Limited voice/video calling

AirSend

ProsCons
Easy sign-up and set-upLimited integrations
Simple, clean interfaceNo option to add custom emojis
Able to view notifications across workspaces all at onceDoes not currently support 2FA/MFA
Intuitive and accessible features
Robust support documentation
Unlimited voice/video calls
100 GB storage per user
Wiki-style note-keeping
Kanban-style task management
Unique customization options within channels
Streamlined mobile app
Currently free to use!

There are pros and cons to Slack and AirSend, which fluctuate depending on a user’s unique circumstances or workspace. If a company has already subscribed to other productivity applications and solutions, with a hefty budget to handle these costs, then adding Slack to the roster might make sense.

However, for companies hoping to make their budgets more efficient or users who want a more streamlined solution that goes beyond communication, AirSend is the obvious choice. It provides users with flexible, intuitive, and feature-rich collaboration solutions, including file storage, task management, and accessible workspaces.

Find out if AirSend is right for you by signing up here!

This is the second article in the remote work and productivity series, focusing on methodologies, best practices, and approaches that can be used to improve productivity.

Series Motto: Being busy is not the same as being productive

In the first article of the series, we explored how our brains function and the biggest limitations to staying focused and productive. In essence, our brain is not very good at multi-tasking or context switching and tends to be easily distracted. To become productive, we must first mitigate those obstacles.

The goal of this post is to discuss, in a very basic way, various approaches and methodologies that can be used in daily life to make our workspace more productive. One disclaimer before we proceed: there is no golden bullet or ideal solution to how people should work to be more productive because everyone’s brain is a little different. The only way to find the solution that suits you the best is to experiment and try different approaches, mixing them, sticking with some of them or coming up with a completely new idea. This article presents different methods to help people ease into the journey of better productivity.

Deep Work

As we discussed earlier, our brains like to be fed with “quick-win candies”, which leads us to  focus too much on small, repetitive, easy tasks that provide quick results. However, these easy tasks do not often contribute to bigger projects or do not add much long-term value.

The concept of “deep work” can be understood as the ability to focus on longer, harder tasks that are not easy to complete but offer high value. Most of the methodologies we discuss in this post aim to enable deep work.

In simple words, deep work can be treated as a block of uninterrupted time spent on a single task. Usually that block involves 60 to 120 minutes of constant work. After each block, a break is recommended (i.e. a walk), with no more than three deep work blocks per day. Anything more might result in a drop in productivity and focus because the brain becomes overtaxed. The most important aspect is that the block is uninterrupted. Research says that a single context switch requires around 23 minutes for a person to regain full focus!

The rest of this article will try to explain how to create time and space for those three deep work blocks. We will also cover how to decide what we should work on during that dedicated time and how to squeeze in additional tasks between those blocks.

Planning

The planning phase is a frequently skipped step when discussing productivity. As we’ve mentioned before, our brains have limited short-term memory capacity, which can lead to context-switching and that nasty feeling that you’re forgetting something. The goal of planning is to remove the need to constantly think about non-important tasks and allow our brain to focus on that single, important task.

For the scope of this article, we focus on short-term planning only. The monthly and yearly planning perspectives will be covered by our next blog post.

Daily or weekly planning can involve different approaches or strategies. For example, a common practice is called Weekly-5, Daily-3. The idea is that we select the five most important tasks we want to complete by the end of the week that require deep focus. Ideally, only a single task should be assigned to a single day but it’s not a necessity.

Once we block time (more on that later) for deep work on our selected tasks, we can think about additional tasks that can be added to the Daily-3 list. The Daily-3 list should reflect what is currently required, since flexibility is one of the keys to becoming productive. We do not want to push any of the predefined Weekly-5 tasks unless absolutely necessary (i.e., a critical task came in during the week). Taking the time to plan at the end of each day allows us to set up our next day for success. We can evaluate our progress, tweak our Daily-3 list, and adjust our goals accordingly.

Time Management

One of the best and hardest ways to boost productivity is to practice time management. Different methodologies emphasize different aspects of time management, which means time management is a skill that can be customized for individual success. Some prefer a very flexible schedule whereas others favor a fully booked calendar. By testing different approaches, we can find our ideal balance between blocked and flexible time. Below are various concepts that can be utilized:

Theme of the Day

This approach is interesting but can be hard to implement properly. The idea is that each day of the week has a main theme, and we try to group tasks that are as close to that theme as possible. For example, one day we put more focus on feature discussion. Another can be dedicated to Design work, while yet another can focus on marketing or team management.

Obviously, it is impossible to work only on tasks from the given theme but this approach helps in the planning phase. Instead of having one to two meetings each day, separated by 15-30 minute breaks, we can try to schedule all calls in 1-2 days at most. This frees up the rest of the week for deep work blocks.

Time Blocking

Time blocking is a similar concept to the theme of the day but on a smaller scale. The idea is to group similar tasks and assign each group to a time slot (various in length). Time blocking is a major element to successful deep work, by reserving blocks of time in the calendar to protect and preserve focus. This method also typically includes a 30-minute window each day for emails and asynchronous communication. Some methodologies use time blocking to the extreme, with all blocks on the calendar filled. However, this can be quite dangerous since there is no flexibility in the schedule to accommodate schedule changes, crises, or shifting priorities.

Flexible Schedule

This approach is heavily used in the Getting Things Done® methodology created by David Allen. Instead of scheduling tasks, we store lists of tasks that are organized by area, type, time/effort requirement, etc. (whatever dividers make the most sense for you). Whenever a task is finished, we select the next most relevant task from the list given the actual circumstances. When properly executed, this approach can massively boost productivity as well as the number of tasks that can be completed during the day. It can also be combined with time blocking for deep work, for those who need a bit more structure to support focus.

Task Management

Another method to support productivity is through Task Management. Every single day brings new tasks that we must handle. These sudden tasks can become a huge productivity killer. They take up valuable space in our short-term memory, pulling our attention from more important tasks. Fortunately, there is a simple, generic way to deal with this problem – notation.

Interestingly, once a task or item is noted (either on paper or digitally), our brain can release the tension and concern associated with it. The burden of remembering has been delegated to the preferred notation medium. Obviously, those tasks should be analyzed, categorized, and acted upon in spare time. This is where the GTD® methodology can really shine.

The details of this methodology are quite complex, and I fully recommend reading the official book written by David Allen. Here are just a few  task management tips:

Use sub-folders in the email inbox to support task organization. The inbox becomes the collection area for new tasks that need to be completed or sorted. After sorting the task (email) into the appropriate subfolder, the task leaves our brain and is no longer a source of distraction.

In our spare time (ideally a couple of times per day) we can return to the inbox and sort through ALL the items on the list. The following algorithm should be applied:

  1. If the task takes less than two minutes, complete it. The idea is that it will take more time and effort to go back to that task in the future. That can be anything like replying to an email, making a short phone call, etc.
  2. If the task takes more than two minutes, assign how much effort (time) it will require, label the task with appropriate areas or type of activity, assign to a project, etc. Sorting tasks with labels and tags makes it much easier to leverage the grouping strategy during the planning phase. For example, if we assign multiple tasks with the phone call label, we can easily search for these kinds of tasks later. Then we can come up with a plan to complete the calls (all at once in its own block or between larger tasks to offer the brain some variety).  
  3. Assign a ‘milestone’ to each task that takes one of the following values: Next, Scheduled, Waiting, or Someday.
    1. Next represents all tasks that should be worked on now (without any real time constraint though!).
    1. Waiting is for tasks that are delegated; we’re waiting for a reply or follow-up.
    1. Scheduled reflects tasks that are represented in the calendar (meetings, task blocks, etc.).
    1. Someday designates tasks that we want to track but don’t need to address immediately.

To successfully use this approach, one must be prepared to regularly review all items across all lists, re-assigning and reorganizing as needed.

Task prioritization

In this article, we’ve explained how to organize our time and tasks to plan our days and weeks. One of the hardest parts is how to decide which tasks are important and prioritizing them. There are many ways to accomplish this feat; here are just a few of them:

Eisenhower’s Matrix

The name of this approach comes from a former president of the United States. The matrix has two axes – Urgency and Importance – and represents four different types of tasks.

  1. Urgent but not Important – these tasks can be delegated or do not require deep focus but may have a higher priority.
  2. Urgent and Important – critical tasks that should be addressed as soon as possible.
  3. not Urgent and not Important – these tasks should be deleted and not worked on at all (if possible). Lowest priority.
  4. Important, not urgent – tasks that have long-term value and require planning.

In an ideal world, we would work mostly on important tasks rather than urgent ones (a pitfall of urgency). Of course that’s easier said than done, but this chart can serve as a guideline.

In some literature on the Eisenhower Matrix, the following naming conventions for each quarter may appear (the 4 Ds):

  1. Delegate
  2. Do
  3. Delete
  4. Decide

These conventions provide a shorthand code to help allocate and label tasks appropriately.

Impact/Effort Matrix

This approach is similar to the Eisenhower matrix, but Urgency and Importance are replaced by Impact and Effort. This results in the following types of tasks:

  1. Big gains, small effort – quick, big wins
  2. Big gains, big effort – main projects
  3. Small gains, small effort – simple, necessary tasks
  4. Small gains, big effort – tasks that we want to skip

ABCDE method

The last approach to task prioritization is called the ABCDE method. The idea is to write down the list of tasks and assign each one a letter: A – the highest priority, E – the lowest priority. Different tasks can have the same letter assigned. Once this is done, if multiple tasks have the same letter, we need to add digits. This will result in a list like A1, A2, B1, B2, B3, …, E1, E2, which creates a cascading list of prioritized tasks.

Summary

This post touches on many different ideas and ways to improve productivity, from task management and prioritization to week/day planning and time scheduling. Unfortunately, this is one of the areas where theory is much easier than practice. Experiment with various approaches can help us find what works best.

In the next post, we’ll try to put a wider perspective on productivity and how to fit everything we’ve learned into long-term planning and goals.

Article written by Tomasz Formański

It’s official! You can now create public calls in AirSend.

Public calls let people join meetings via a link and participate without needing an AirSend account. Calls can be changed from private to public, and public calls include an ephemeral chat which you can download.

Why Public Calls?

One of the best things about AirSend is that it’s easy to work with many different parties, whether they are teammates or external clients. We wanted to make it even easier to collaborate with people outside your organization by adding public calls.

Now, you can easily have voice and video calls (plus ephemeral chat) with anyone, even if they do not have an AirSend account. All they need to do is click the link that you provide, and you’re talking in no time.

How to Start a Public Call

Step 1: Click on the phone icon at the top of your screen.

Step 2: Choose the “Start Public Meeting” option.

Step 3: Share your meeting link with others so they can join you.

How to Change a Private Call into Public One

Step 1: Click on the cog icon at the bottom of the call screen.

Step 2: Click “Create Link” or “Copy Link” in the section titled “Allow users to join the meeting with a link.”

Step 3: Share the link with others so they can join the call.

How to Download Public Call Chat History

Messages sent through the chat window in a public call are not saved once the call is over. If you want a record of those messages, you can download the chat history before the call ends.

Just click the download icon at the bottom right corner of the chat window.

Happy Calling!

AirSend is a collaborative workspace where you can share files, send messages, have calls, and manage projects. Sign up for your free account today.

Here are the top 15 books all founders of startups should read in 2021.

No matter where you are in your startup journey, a good book about startups, entrepreneurship, or productivity in general can help. Which is why we put together a list of 15 of the best startup books to inspire, motivate, and guide you and your startup to success. Whether you are just starting out with an idea, pitching to VCs, or managing a company as a veteran entrepreneur, there is something for you on this list.

Best Startup Books

# 1. “The Startup Owner’s Manual” by Steve Blank

  • Step-by-step process for starting a business
  • Taught at top universities like Stanford and Columbia
  • Over 100 charts / graphs and 77 checklists

# 2. “Who” by Geoff Smart and Randy Street

  • Teaches how to hire the best people
  • Can be helpful at any point in your startup journey

# 3. “Leading at the Speed of Growth” by Katherine Catlin and Jana Matthews

  • Stories from over 500 entrepreneurs
  • Can help you navigate periods of intense growth 
  • Guide for three stages of business growth – initial, rapid, and continuous

# 4. “Zero to One” by Peter Thiel

  • Written by the founder of PayPal 
  • Full of interesting concepts for any type of startup
  • Gives you an idea of startup life

# 5. “Hacking Growth: How Today’s Fastest-Growing Companies Drive Breakout Success” by Morgan Brown and Sean Ellis

  • Written by CEO / co-founder of GrowthHackers.com and COO of Inman News
  • Toolkit to help you grow your market share / customer base
  • Walks you through process of making your own growth hacking strategy

Click Here to See the Full List

This is the first article in the remote work series focusing on the brain, how it functions, how these functions affect productivity and what strategies can be used to improve productivity.

Series Motto: Being busy is not the same as being productive

The topic of productivity has become popular in recent years. Many different methodologies have emerged, and tons of blog posts and articles have been written on the subject. This is especially true as the world continues to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. Workplaces have implemented new, flexible strategies to comply with health codes and guidelines, which has changed how we identify “productivity”. Learning to connect and collaborate with each other efficiently through novel or optimized technologies has become a critical skill to succeed in our new reality.

This article is the first in a new series that seeks to explain basic concepts of how our brain functions. We will also explore how these functions affect our daily productivity and learn simple strategies to become more productive. The next articles in the series will explore some productivity-related methodologies and approaches that can be used in day-to-day life. Before we dive deep into these concepts though, it’s important to understand the main hero behind productivity: our brain.

 What does it mean to be productive?

Productivity, in very simple words, is the ability to do more (in terms of impact) in a given timeframe. This sounds simple but is extremely hard to tackle on a daily basis because of how our brains work. The art of productivity can be translated into a different task – how to organize our work to function around our brain’s limitations.

Our brain has a couple of interesting features that heavily influence productivity. In fact, these features indicate that our relatively modern concept of productivity is antithetical to the brain’s functional patterns and requirements:

  1. As a part of the body, it must be maintained.
  2. It wants to consume as little energy as possible.
  3. It is not designed for multi-tasking.
  4. It is easily distracted.
  5. It tends to store extraneous info.
  6. It craves rewards as frequently as possible.

Next, we’ll examine each of these points to improve our understanding of brain mechanics and how these mechanics influence our rates of productivity. Fortunately, there are ways to mitigate the functional limitations to improve our productivity.

Maintaining the brain

This might sound trivial at first, but the brain is affected by the body’s overall health as much as any other organs (maybe moreso). If we’re tired or frustrated, hungry or upset, these feelings affect the brain’s capabilities, including concentration, problem solving and memorization. This effect is especially intensified by lack of sleep or poor quality of sleep (often due to unhealthy sleeping habits).

A varied and nutrient-rich diet, physical activity, periods of rest, and healthy sleeping behaviors play an enormous role in productivity. We’ve all experienced difficulty focusing after a truncated night of sleep; With the boundary between work and play continuing to erode, and the perpetual connections offered by computers and smartphones, it becomes increasingly difficult to prioritize rest. In the long run, this pattern of behavior can destroy our productivity, and, more importantly, our health.

When discussing productivity, the brain-body connection is often skipped. It is also one of the hardest to address, since it requires self-discipline across different aspects of life and is heavily influenced by factors outside our control. In general, taking care of yourself is the best way to take care of your brain. Eating well, regularly exercising, and getting enough sleep are universal solutions to elevate how your body – and brain – perform. A healthy brain can stay focused, which is critical when talking about productivity.

Additionally, healthy brains can be trained. Stretching our brain through creative tasks, learning new skills, working through logic puzzles, and similar mental activities keep our brain in good shape. Ideally, those exercises shouldn’t be too connected to your daily work, so your brain can rest and train other areas.

Energy consumption

This tendency is a natural consequence of how living beings function. Keeping energy consumption at a minimum is a basic survival strategy implemented by plants and animal all over the world. Food provisioning might be hard at times, so it’s always better to save energy whenever possible. Our brain is one of the biggest energy consumers in our body. For the sake of efficiency, it can’t (and won’t) operate on maximum output all the time.

When a brain is engaged by a task that requires focus, it will stay switched on. If that focus is overextended or if the task fails to engage the brain, it will power down to conserve energy. This element of productivity is challenging to address because it requires an optimal balance between environment, internal engagement, and time.  

How can these factors be balanced to support productivity at work? Training and exercise, like the examples listed above, are one strategy. As with muscles, a well-trained brain will be able to work more efficiently and for longer periods of time. Other methods include reducing context switching and multi-tasking, which can help preserve energy levels.

Multitasking at a loss

This might not be clear at first but from a productivity perspective, our brain is not designed for real multitasking. It is amazing in terms of parallel input/signal processing (i.e. real-time image recognition, ability to manage all organs and limbs imperceptibly, etc.), but have you ever tried to recite the alphabet aloud and mentally count to ten at the same time? Even though both tasks are learned by small children, it is almost impossible to do both at the same time. Trying to force the brain to multi-task often leads to poor productivity outcomes.

Since our brain is not great at multi-tasking, we must engage in context switching. Context switching is the process of switching gears between tasks, tools, and projects. The costs of context switching include elevated risk of distraction and time wasted warming up to each new activity.

The solution is simple – reduce context switching as much as possible by focusing on one task at a time. Yet this simple solution is much more difficult to practice. In a modern work environment, many decisions must be made constantly, to both organize and execute tasks. This is a massive multi-tasking challenge for our brain; the solutions involve training the brain and structuring work processes and include time blocking, task grouping, and good planning. These strategies will be covered in the next articles in the series; for now, let’s say that we should limit multi-tasking and context switching as much as possible.

Primed for distraction

Here is a common scenario: you are “in the zone”, working on the next paragraph, speeding through lines of code, or unraveling a complex data set. Suddenly, something as simple as a notification or a call for a meeting destroys that flow completely.

Unfortunately, it is difficult to remain fully focused for long periods of time. This is especially true when the task is challenging or boring.

Thanks to other biomechanics in play, such as energy consumption, our brain is easily distracted by external triggers. In comparison, finding the same focused state or flow after being interrupted takes a lot more time and effort. This tendency toward distraction poses significant problems in the workplace, particularly when working on a major project that requires intense focus to complete.

In theory, removing distractions as much as possible will immediately boost productivity. Easier said than done. The problem lies in how to limit those distractions. This solution, again, requires self-discipline, a mental shift, and upfront investment in both environmental and functional processes. First, we need to have a comfortable, non-disruptive workspace. Second, we should try to limit external triggers as much as possible. If a quiet work environment is not possible, we can use headphones to remove external noise distractions.

The biggest distractor of them all is the stream of constant notifications from our devices. It’s a useful practice to disable notifications from email clients, mobile apps, chats, etc., at least during the time set aside for deep work. Doing so helps protect the engaged state of mind.

Dumping extraneous info

Our brain is an interesting beast. It is capable of processing and storing significant quantities of data. However, not all of that data is useful. In fact, information storage in the brain is comparatively inefficient, because the selected data can be quite random. We’ve all experienced the moment when a completely unrelated memory or piece of knowledge bubbles up to the surface. On the other hand, the brain can blank out entirely, so we have the uncomfortable feeling that we’re forgetting something important…

This is completely natural and revolves around how the brain actually stores ‘data’. However, these random, intrusive thoughts can be their own source of distraction, and struggling to recall information taxes the brain’s resources. This struggle becomes a mental pain point we nurse like a toothache, fracturing our focus and cutting into our productivity.

Our brain tends to remember everything (it is called a short memory) but only if it must. This, in fact, is one of the easiest problems to address by removing the burden of remembering from our brain. We can accomplish this feat by creating notes (manual or digitalized), using task boards like AirSend, or converting incoming requests into actionable items. Using these support systems immediately frees up your brain’s resources and alleviates that on-edge feeling from struggling to recall information.

What the brain craves

The brain craves frequent prizes and rewards, much like a young toddler. This can be a physical prize (sugar, salt, or oil-based foods) or a mental one (binge-watching a favorite Netflix series). However, these cravings can become their own highly-effective, internal distractions; when paired with external distractions,  cravings have a major, detrimental impact on productivity.

Since the brain wants the easy reward, it’ll reach for low-hanging fruit. This often takes the form of replying to emails or messages. This action results in immediate, positive feedback from having completed a task.

However, this is a huge trap for long-term productivity. The work has been done, but there’s a good chance it wasn’t the most important task. What’s more, our brain constantly tempts us to shift to easy-win tasks, which again leads to context switching and distractions.

Our brains need to be rewarded to stay motivated and attached to bigger targets and goals. The problem comes from the brain’s desire for yet another “success” hit, leading to the formation of unproductive patterns. When we routinely opt to complete low-priority tasks, we waste time and energy that we could have spent making real progress on a meaningful project.

In terms of productivity, the important element is to keep these low-priority tasks from affecting deep work sessions. Another strategy is to divide huge tasks that are hard to grasp into smaller, action items. These smaller-scale tasks can be addressed in a shorter period of time, giving us that needed mental reward while working toward a larger goal.

Summary

Through this article, we have reviewed some of the brain’s functions and limitations, how those limitations impact our work and focus, and some general approaches to improve our productivity. Some of the approaches mentioned above are simple to apply; some are extremely hard, requiring self-discipline, consistency, and specific training goals. All in all, these strategies are worth the effort to achieve the payout of productivity: the ability to do more in the same amount of time. This definition leads to a rather interesting conclusion – you can stop being busy by becoming productive.

Article written by Tomasz Formański