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

Online contact forms are a crucial way for people to reach out to your business. Using a contact form on your website, current and potential customers can ask for help, give valuable feedback, and even request a demo.

The problem with many contact forms is that their responses are typically routed to an email inbox. There, customer queries get buried by a mountain of other emails. Or else, they are forwarded to other team members, and it’s unclear if the customer ever receives a response. The emails that are responded to often become long email chains that are difficult to organize or search through.

That is why AirSend gives you with the ability to create a contact form on your website that is connected to your AirSend account. When someone submits a query using the form, AirSend creates a channel for you and the person where you can easily chat and share files.

Below is a more detailed explanation of AirSend’s online contact forms.

How AirSend’s Online Contact Forms Work

What the Contact Form Looks Like In Your Website

There are customizable elements, but here is a basic preview of what an AirSend contact form looks like on a website.

Contact Us Button

There will be a “Contact Us” button at the bottom right corner of the web page.

Contact Form

When someone clicks on the button, an online contact form like the one below will pop up.

What Happens After a Contact Form Submission 

Submission Message

After the person clicks “Send,” a submission message will appear.

AirSend Connection

Then, a few things will happen:

  1. A Channel will be created in your AirSend account that includes you and the person who submitted the form.
  2. You will also receive an email letting you know that someone completed a contact form and that a new Channel has been made.
  3. An email will be sent to the person who submitted the form letting them know that the Channel has been created. They will need an AirSend account to chat directly in the Channel. If they do not have one, the person can send email messages into the Channel and receive your Channel messages by email as well.

How to Add a Contact Form to Your Website

Now that you know how it works, here is a step-by-step tutorial on how you can add a contact form to your website today.

Step 1: Go to Settings

In the upper-right corner of the AirSend screen, click on your username and choose Settings.

Step 2: Go to the Contact Form Tab

Click the Contact Form tab in the Settings window. There, you will see the script, theme color, and submission message sections.

Changing Your Form Color

If you want the “Contact Us” button and form to appear in a different color than the default blue, click Theme Color to change it.

Changing Your Submission Message

To display a different message on the website after the user clicks send, edit the text in Message to Show After Submission.

Step 3: Save and Copy

If you have made any changes to the theme color or submission message, click Save. After that, click Copy Script to copy the script that inserts the form into a web page.

Step 4: Paste Into Your Web Page

The final step is to open the source code of your web page and paste the script into the code before the end </body> tag.

And that’s it! You now have a contact form on your website that connects to your AirSend account.

Project management is a big part of our lives, whether we are students, business owners, or employees. A good project management tool can help students stay on top of homework and school projects. For business owners and employees, it streamlines workflows and keeps team members on the same page.

Our goal is to make AirSend the best all-in-one team collaboration tool. So, it made sense for us to include robust project management tools like an integrated Actions section with a Kanban view. The rest of this blog post will talk in detail about AirSend’s project management capabilities and how you can use them to make work easier.

Project Management Features

Create Actions from Messages

Did you know that you can create an action reminder from a message? You do this by clicking the lightning bolt icon next to any message. This feature makes it easy to turn conversations into trackable to-do lists.

Easily Add Actions

Next, we’re going to go into the Kanban view, AirSend’s newest and most powerful project management tool. The “Add Action” box in the top right corner of the Kanban view lets you quickly add actions. Each action becomes the main topic for a board.

Quickly Add Subactions

To break actions, or projects, into smaller tasks, you can add subactions. Just type them directly into a board and click the plus sign.

Assign People and Due Dates

Assigning people and due dates to actions and subactions is easy, too. Click the person and calendar icons that appear when you hover your cursor over an action or subaction to do so.

Add Action Details

To add action details, click the three dots icon and then choose “Action Details.” There you can let people know more about what needs to be completed.

Drag-and-Drop Boards

Dragging and dropping boards in your Kanban view is as easy as clicking and dragging.

View as a To-Do List

One of the greatest things about AirSend Actions is that it lets you organize your actions in many different ways so you can more easily visualize projects. To see your actions as a to-do list, click the list icon at the top, center of the view. To change back to the board view, just click the board icon next to it.

Sort Actions and Switch Between Channels

Other ways you can sort actions include sorting by Channel, Name, and Due Date. You can do this by using the drop-down menu labeled “Sort By.” You can also sort by action status using the menu labeled “Status.”

Finally, if you have multiple projects happening in different Channels – no problem! You can easily switch between the Actions sections of different Channels to view your projects using the drop-down menu labeled “Channels.”

Search Actions

AirSend’s powerful search function makes it easy to find anything fast, including actions.

Let’s Talk

How do you use AirSend to manage your projects? If you’d like to talk to us about how you use AirSend and be featured in the AirSend blog, please contact us.

It’s time for an update announcement for the iOS AirSend app. There are some exciting new features in this update that make collaborating on the go even easier! We also included some general updates and improvements to the app’s User Interface.

  • Message Notifications
  • Meeting Call Notifications
  • Pin/Unpin Channels
  • UI Improvements

Using AirSend just got even better. Read on for more details on these simple yet powerful updates.

Message Notifications

AirSend will now make use of your phone’s push notifications to let you know when a message is sent to a channel you’re in. A bonus feature – simply swipe down on the notification to type and send a reply. You don’t even need to open the app.

Video demonstrating AirSend’s push notification feature.

Meeting Call Notifications

If a meeting starts in one of your channels, you can participate directly through your device’s call function. This feature means you can field meetings directly through your device, without having to open the app. You can also decline the call if you’re not available. You can also view a record of your AirSend meetings through your phone call log/history.

Image of AirSend’s call notification feature. A bar appears at the top of the screen with the option to accept or decline the meeting audio.

Pin and Unpin Channels

AirSend users can now pin or unpin channels in the channel list. By pinning a channel, you can ensure the channels you want to see are always at the top. If the channel is no longer a priority, simply click to unpin, and let the natural sort take care of the rest.

Video demonstrating AirSend’s pin/unpin channel feature.

General Updates and Improvements

In our effort to constantly refine and optimize AirSend, we’ve made a few small changes that can make a big difference. To name just a few, the format for reactions has been adjusted. We’ve also updated the color scheme for messages. Between these two changes, the overall display is more visible and appealing. The reply swipe action has also been updated, so one fluid motion opens the reply bar.

How to Leave us Feedback

We are always seeking to improve our product, so all feedback is appreciated. To find out where to leave comments and/or suggestions, you can visit our public channel or visit us at our support page.

AirSend is a versatile digital workspace that allows users to share files, send messages, and complete tasks. See how AirSend can help you.

When was the last time you created a note? Was it today when you wrote down a grocery list on a napkin, or maybe yesterday at a meeting with a client? Writing down information that we want to remember at a later time has been ingrained in us since our days in school. That is why we knew we wanted to include a Wiki, or Notes, section in AirSend even when we first started developing the app.

Since those days, the Wiki has improved leaps and bounds, now including capabilities like the ability to share pages using a unique link. Here are a few other cool things you can do with your AirSend Wiki.

AirSend Wiki Ideas

Take Notes on the Fly

If you’re someone who’s always on the go, the ability to take, save, and share notes from your phone is great. You can also quickly and easily search for notes later, so you never lose anything again.

Develop and Share SOPs

Many of our clients use the Wiki to create and share business SOPs. Some even have an SOP Channel where they have written all of the SOPs in the Wiki and added their employees. If you’re using AirSend for your business, this is a great use case.

Create a Guidebook

Related to developing and sharing SOPs is creating a guidebook on something. What are you an expert in? Is it baking? Machine learning? Cheap travel? Whatever it is, you can write a guidebook about it in your Wiki and share it with the world.

Work Together

This final idea is something we personally love about AirSend’s Wiki. We have used the Wiki to collaborate on articles, email campaigns, and so much more. It’s a great collaboration tool that lets everyone write down ideas that we can then discuss in real-time using the chat section or AirSend’s voice and video calling.

Let’s Talk

These are just some of the many possibilities out there. How do you use AirSend’s Wiki section? If you’d like to talk to us about how you use AirSend and be featured in the AirSend blog, please contact us.

We recently had the chance to talk to Derek Neuts, Software Developer and Founder of IronGlove Studio, a full-service boutique agency specializing in data-driven, holistic design services for websites and applications. He provides a keen review of how AirSend supports collaboration and project fulfillment for his small business

Here’s a transcript of our conversation (edited for clarity):

ME: Can you tell me a little bit about what you do and how you’re using AirSend?

DEREK: I own a small web development software firm. There’s somewhere between, I think 12 or 13 of us here right now. So we’re small, super small. But you know, we take quality over quantity, and we’ve been growing for the past three years.

What I really wanted was a way for everybody to collaborate on each project. My team is distributed. Most of them are offshore, but I have some U.S. contractors, and it works out really well, because now we’re able to get in there. There’s no lag, it’s super smooth. The interface is very simple, and nobody feels like they need to be a network administrator to figure this out.

For the small guys like me, we need a solution that has a degree of affordability or free for a period of time to kind of get into it, to see if you like it without purging a lot of money out. I just feel like a lot of these solutions are geared towards enterprise customers and very few solutions were geared towards small, working agencies.

ME: Which parts are you finding that you use more, and then which ones are you finding that you use less?

DEREK: I set up a group called “agency”. The agencies are set up so I could notify all three of them that something specific to them. It’s really helpful to have groups like that. I have another group just for me, for internal notes and documents. Then I have another tab of groups called client projects. I have seven channels, and that’s kind of helpful because, with a smaller team like ours, certain people are working on certain projects. I assign them to those channels, and I can make them aware of certain tasks, like contacting the client or discussing budgets. Or just general project updates.

We’ve shared files, and maybe once so far I attempted to use the telephone option to have an in-person conference. It was easier than getting a zoom link; It’s like, ‘I need to talk to you and you’re 4,000 miles away, let’s just talk real quick’.

I like the Wiki, by the way, I’m going to start using that to note procedures for certain clients in each one of those channels, to remind them, ‘this is where you go to find this.’

I feel kind of like I found a home for the team; the biggest seller is the interface.

Me: Thank you so much for your time.

If you want to learn more about Derek and the projects IronGlove Studio works on, you can visit his website here: https://www.ironglove.studio/

AirSend is a versatile digital workspace for professionals to share files, send messages, and complete tasks. See how AirSend can help you as your business grows here.