Effective Manager Defined

February 14, 2009

From time to time I go back to some business books I’ve read that had big influences in my career, one of which is “The One Minute Manager”, by Ken Blanchard. There’s a specific passage I think is a great definition of effective managers, it reads:

Effective managers manage themselves and the people they work with so that both the organization and the people profit from their presence.

This is a simple but powerful thought. How are you making use of your time? How are you making use of your team’s time? Are the tasks you and your team working on going to directly affect the company’s ability to compete in the marketplace?  Are the marketing campaigns you are planning or have planned going to directly influence sales? What are the key items in your agenda as a marketer that can have a direct impact in the company’s bottom line? 

Food for thought.


Outlook Productivity Tips

February 12, 2009

How to use MS Outlook to become more productive

Most people have MS outlook as their business email client, but very few really know how to take full advantage of all the options Outlook offers. MS Outlook is also a great productivity tool when used correctly, and so I decided to share some productivity tips for those using this program. You will realize that the more you use it, the more you will like it. Below are some of the main options you should know exist in Outlook, I will cover some more specifics about using Tasks and time management tips on another post. I hope at least one of these tips can help you get more from Outlook.Outlook Productivity

1.       Turn emails into appointments: we all get emails asking us to schedule a meeting or asking us to participate in one. The easiest way to ensure you won’t forget to add the meeting to your calendar and at the same time get all the detailed information that came in the email right there when you need it is to transform the email itself in the outlook calendar item. Simply click on the email message, and drag it to the calendar icon on the left panel. Pronto! An outlook calendar item will open up on the window and the body will contain the same text as the email had. When you’re ready for the meeting, simply open the calendar item and check the content in the body.


2.       Turn emails into tasks: outlook is a great task management tool if you know how to use it. There are several ways in which you can flag emails with different colors and priorities, but I don’t like to keep them in my inbox (time management and productivity gurus all agree that you should try to empty your inbox, but this is another discussion) and so I simply drag the email to the task icon on the left panel and a task item will pop up containing in the body the whole of your email! Is that simple… now for those emails that require an action or follow-up, simply drag them to create a new task.

3.       Create tasks quickly: on the phone with the boss and he assigns a new project to you? In a meeting with your staff and want to ensure you follow-up on the activities you just delegated? Simply press CTRL+SHIFT+K. A new task window will open up waiting for your input.

4.       Create custom views to find emails quickly: let’s say you want to see all emails in your inbox that were sent by a particular person. You can quickly sort your emails by sender when you click the ‘from’ column at the top of your inbox screen but then the emails are not ordered by date anymore. If you need to see all emails sent by a particular person and still keep them sorted by date, you should create a custom view. This is an awesome way to quickly find messages from different people while still keeping the sorting by date active. Go to “view”, select “current view” and then select “define views”. Click “new” and type in a new name for this view (e.g. Messages from John). Leave ‘type of view’ as table and hit OK. On the next screen click on the “filter” button and in the filter dialog box click on the “from” button and select the person’s name from the contact list.  Hit OK and exit back to your inbox. This new view will be listed under the “View” menu, “Current View”. When you click on the new view it will be applied to your inbox and you can then easily locate the message(s) from that person. If you are like me and have a ton of messages sitting in your inbox, this is the quickest way to find a message or a message thread, create multiple views and save some time finding emails.

5.       Use favorite folders for quick access: most people I know end up creating multiple folders in order to archive messages and discussions relating to a particular project or subject. Eventually you end up with a lengthy tree structure with subfolders as well. You, however, are likely to be working more frequently with only a couple folders and have to keep browsing your folder tree searching for them. Well, stop that! Right click on that folder(s) you use most and select “Add to Favorites folder”. Now that folder will show up at the top of the left panel, easily accessible any time you want.

6.       Find emails quickly alternate method: if you don’t like the idea of creating custom views to find messages in your inbox, you have an alternate method that is very powerful; you can create “Search Folders”. Go to “File”, select “new” and the “search folder” option. The dialog window that pops up will have standard options like unread mail, mail from someone, etc. Once you customize the search folder, it will show up right next to “unread mail” and “sent items” that usually show up at the top of the left panel. You can create several search folders and when you need to find specific emails (e.g. all messages flagged high priority or all messages sent to a specific distribution list, etc.) you simply click on that search folder.

7.       Disable the reading pane: the reading pane can be customized to show up at the bottom of the screen or the right. I liked the reading pane but it always bothered me for the space it used up even when I resized it… so I decided to work smarter and remove it completely. What I do instead is I selected my “view” option (under “view” menu, “current view”) to be “messages with auto-preview”. This way messages I haven’t read show up with a summary right below them. I can easily scan incoming messages and decide if I need to open them right at that moment. And messages I have read don’t display the summary anymore so it gives me a quick visual representation of read and unread messages. It took me a while to get used to this view but it helped me so much that is now my standard view for Outlook.

8.       Group messages by conversation: this is a big shift if you are used to simply listing messages by their received date because it changes the way messages are displayed, but helps a lot when there are emails going back and forth about a specific subject that you need to keep track of. In addition to my previous suggestion of disabling the reading pane and using the ‘messages with auto-preview’ option, I went to “View – current view – customize current view” menu and set the “Group by” to be “Conversation (ascending)”. By doing this, all messages in my inbox are grouped by conversation (meaning similar subjects), allowing me to see all threads related to a particular subject grouped together on the screen. When I’m copied in messages that go back and forth between other people in my company, I can see the whole discussion without having to search for messages and decide whether someone has already replied to the last email or not. Very easy and fast way to keep track of conversations about the same subject.

9.       Color code important emails: need to respond to your boss’ emails before you do anything else? Want to ensure that email about the bonus plan doesn’t get lost among all your other messages? Use color! Go to “View”, choose “Current View”, and select “customize current view”. Click on the “automatic formatting” button on the window that pops-up and click on “add” button. Type in a name for the new formatting rule (e.g. Messages from Charlie) and click on the Font button to choose a different font size, type, or color then click on Condition and select the criteria you want (e.g. if you want all of Charlie’s messages to appear in bold red, click the “from” button and choose him from the contact list, then in the Formatting option select bold red). If you want all your unread emails to appear blue instead of the default black bold, that’s where you can change it. Play around and choose wisely. Colorful messages help you distinguish them from all others, but use it sparingly otherwise the carnival of colors will only confuse you.

10.   Create new emails without your mouse: this is a quick and easy one. Instead of clicking on the “new” icon at the top, just press CTRL+N to create a new email message. It saves you a few seconds, but at the end of the day those seconds add up!

Stay tuned for additional tips related to how to use Outlook Tasks for better time management and to get things done.

P.S.: I will be uploading a document with some screenshots illustrating the tips above to make it easier for you to understand and do it yourself.

Effective Marketer Principle 7: Run Productive Meetings

January 25, 2009

Meetings are a necessity of today’s work environment. And are also good source of humoristic material (see Dilbert cartoons) for the fact that they are often badly run and take way too much time. If you have ever asked yourself the following questions during a meeting, then is fair to assume the meeting wasn’t productive at al

  • Why am in this meeting?
  •  Why are all these people in this meeting?
  • Why are we meeting?
  • Haven’t we already discussed this in another meeting?
  • Shouldn’t [name of person] also participate in this meeting?
  • What are we trying to accomplish?
  • Who did we decide will take care of the action items?
  • Will anyone notice if I slip out of the room before the meeting ends?

So it is no surprise that one of the principles for effective marketers has to do with productive meetings. Drucker, of course, was right on target when included this principle in his article for effective managers (“What Makes an Effective Executive”, Harvard Business Review, June 2004) since one of the most important aspects one should be able to master in order to become effective is time management, and meetings are, as a general rule, a time drag.meeting1

Following Drucker’s advice, you should first identify what type of meeting is needed, since different meetings require different kinds of preparation. There are meetings to prepare a statement or press release, meetings where team members report the status of their tasks, meetings to inform other executives, and so on. From a marketing perspective, the principle still holds true and you will certainly be able to recognize in your organization all those different meeting types and should be able to prepare beforehand and run them according to their individual characteristics. For example:

Meeting to discuss campaign goals and strategy: this meeting should require attendees to be prepared beforehand by knowing the target market the campaign will focus on, reading results from similar campaigns or from campaigns targeting the same market, and assessing competitors’ actions towards the said market. If this kind of preparation is expected and understood by all participants, the meeting itself will be more productive since everyone will be able to come prepared to discuss the strategy rather than basic principles and background data.

Another example might be a meeting to review artwork, design, or other conceptual diagram related to marketing collateral or advertising. The requirements for this meeting differ from the previous one in the sense that previous preparation may involve having everyone review the proposed artwork or design beforehand and come prepared to the meeting with their observations. The meeting itself can be run also more focused on the specific artwork/design at hand, discussing that element in detail and how it relates to the overall message.

Finally, let’s take the example of a marketing staff meeting where you will review the results of the last quarter campaigns with the team. The way you will run this meeting will undoubtedly differ from the two types of meetings described above.

The takeaway from this principle is that once you realize that each meeting has its own purpose and structure, you can start organizing, preparing, and running meetings more effectively. But regardless of the type of meeting you will have, my personal experience is that you need at least the following:

  1. An agenda:  prepared and distributed prior to the meeting.
  2. An assigned note-taker: someone everyone agrees will write notes during the meeting, avoiding the all too common “oh, I thought you were taking notes so I didn’t take any!” problem.
  3. Published action items: sometimes referred as meeting minutes, it really doesn’t matter what you call it as long as it contains clear action items from the meeting, indicating who will do what by when. The note-taker is the person usually responsible for putting together the action items and sending it to everyone (after all, that’s why he was taking the notes!)

 Sounds simple and it really should be. Don’t let other people take you down with their useless meetings, you have more important things to do. Instead, teach them how to run effective meetings!

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