Categories
Prioritization

Free Decision-Making Tool and Structured Techniques

Taking the right decision can be difficult, especially when many possibilities come into play. This free decision-making tool helps you structure the core requirements and their specific weight to fit into a weighted overview of all possible choices.

While thinking about the right decision man holding his chin facing laptop computer
– If I just had a cool decision-making tool to structure my possibilities!

Structure your decision-making by defining the core requirements for the tool

Before jumping right into listing opportunities or scenarios to fuel the decision-making, one could structure the process by clarifying what is essential, e.g., what are the core requirements?

Let’s say you are looking for a car. Well, you have tons of opportunities, but many of the car models might be way over your budget? But the price itself is not all you have to take into account.

Gorilla thoughtfully thinking
– Hmm, what are seriously the essential aspects of this situation?

What about the fuel consumption, assurance, maintenance, available seats, color, and perhaps the amount of space in the trunk? Does the car have to be brand new, or could you be happy with a used car?

These days you will probably also consider the choice of a pure electrical car or perhaps a hybrid model. Things like mileage and charging possibilities follow as well.

Do you need a fast car, or is safety the most important factor for your decision–or how about a safe and fast car?

You see, many considerations are to be dealt with, and you will probably be able to add even more than the ones I’ve just mentioned?

How important is each requirement?

Before we are ready to do the puzzle, we need to determine how important each factor we put into play is? That’s what I call the weight.

woman holding sword statue during daytime
How much weight do you give to each of your essential requirements?

If you are still here with me, lets put all this into a simple example to get a grasp on this structured decision-making technique:

Buying a new bike – example

Ok, in this case, I’ve decided to buy a new bike; therefore, a used one is not an option.

selective focus photo of bicycle part
Let’s kick pedals in the search of an excellent new bike!

My core requirements could look like these:

  • Prize
  • Carbon vs. aluminum frame
  • Electronic vs. manual gear shift
  • Customizable colors

My next step would be to be crystal clear about the weights I give to each of my requirements. To make it a little more simple, I’ll go with these three straightforward weights:

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High

It may help if you think of the weights as “fixed settings” once you have defined them.

Adding weights to your requirements

Next, we’ll combine each of our requirement with a fixed weight, and that could be something like this:

  • I give the price a high weight since it matters a lot in this case
  • A top model aluminum frame can do the job, so a carbon frame gets a medium weight
  • The difference between electronic gears and a high-end manual gear system might even be noticeable; thus, a low weight may be sufficient
  • Customizable colors don’t mean a lot to me, hence a low weight here too.

Ok, now we’re almost ready to test our setup. But before we can do that, we need to throw in some numbers to support us.

black and red rectangular device
I hope you’re ready to add a few numbers and calculations?

Without numbers and a few calculations, we can’t get a helpful overview of the different scenarios. The latter is the whole idea behind this structured decision-making technique so let’s add some numbers to our simple calculations.

Defining your weights with numbers

Well, you can use whatever you want as numbers for your scores and weights, but the following might be sufficient in most cases:

  • Low = 1
  • Medium = 3
  • High = 5

The higher, the better!

Please notice that I’ve chosen two steps between Low and Medium and Medium and High to add “punch” to the results. This gearing effect makes the differences in our scenarios stand out more apparent, as we’ll see later.

Scoring your options vs. core requirements

When it comes to scoring how well different options fulfill our requirements, we’ll do it step by step.

Let’s say that we have found two exciting bikes that we call Bike1 and Bike2. For each bike, we’ll cycle through one criterion at a time, giving them scores like this:

Prize

  • Very expensive => Low score = 1
  • Fair prize => Medium = 3
  • Good prize => High score = 5

Carbon frame?

  • Yes => High score = 5
  • No => Low score = 1

Electronic gears?

  • Yes => High score = 5
  • No => Low score = 1

Customizable colors?

  • Yes => High score = 5
  • No => Low score = 1

How to do the math in the decision-making tool?

Now we have finally come to the magic part where we need to do a few calculations, so hang on.

black pencil on black background
Please sharpen your pencil and refill the mug with strong black coffee.

For each criterion, we multiply the score by the weight, i.e., the Value equals Weight times the Score. Not that difficult, right?

To help us get an overview, I’ve put it all into this matrix:

Bike1Bike1Bike2Bike2
CriteriaWeightScoreValueScoreValue
Prize531515
Carbon313515
Gear3515515
Color11111
Totals3436
Decision-making matrix with scores and weights | Value = Weight x Score

In this elementary example, we see that bike number two matches our criteria better than the first bike.

Expanding the model to multiple requirements and numerous options

Even though our bike example was not that complicated, imagine how difficult it would be to handle all the parameters, their scores, and totals in your head.

And what happens if we are doubling our criteria and, let’s say, adding another four exciting bike options?

koala sleeping in the tree
It’s enough, please … I can’t take anymore without getting a headache!

That’ll be pretty overwhelming for most of us without writing it all down in some system.

The structured decision-making procedure we’ve gone through in this article is fully applicable for almost any situation and combination of scenarios you can imagine.

Summing up: Free Decision-Making Tool and Structured Techniques

Try getting a habit of breaking your decision-making techniques down to the following steps:

  1. Define your requirements
  2. Define your weights
  3. Combine the weights and requirement
  4. Score each option vs. their requirements

If you’re about to compare five or even more different scenarios–maybe each evaluated for, let’s say, ten core requirements–you’ll quickly melt down your brain without a scalable system and tool to assist you.

To help you save valuable time focusing on your scores of scenarios to compare, I’ve built a scalable decision-making matrix tool that I’ll give away for free to you, if interested?

I’ll be thrilled if you’ll share this article and perhaps leave a comment below.

Also, please remember to fill out the contact form to let me email the tool to you.

Categories
Emails Prioritization Productivity

10 Timesavers Managing Emails Effectively

Would you like to work more effectively with some of these timesavers when managing your emails? You may also be inspired to find new ways to enhance the way you’re utilizing your email application.

Gmail is great for managing emails effectively (Gmail Inbox screen dump)
Learn how you can manage all your emails with ease and speed like a professional.

Do you also get a lot of emails every day?

Most people receive a large amount of information in their Inbox every day. Some of it we judge right away as unnecessary information. We also get a lot of critical emails to handle, sometimes with expectations of immediate completion!

A lot of emails should instead have been conversations. Especially if critical and with a need for instant action!

Let’s write quality emails and have more conversations, right?

I think we all can save a lot of time writing fewer emails while having more conversations. Furthermore, striving to increase the quality of our emails will inevitably lead to more flawless communication.

But how to get better at writing quality emails?

First of all, I suggest a new and shared commitment to be using email in the workplace, even more productively and respectfully. Secondly, I think we need easy to follow guidelines to help us achieve such a joint effort.

We’re talking valuable time and cost savings per employee. Consequently, the larger the company or organization, the more significant savings to harvest!

Imagine receiving just a few but necessary emails in top quality every day at work. Furthermore, covering the remaining part of the information stream via verbal conversations. Wouldn’t that be a pleasant and productive place to work?

But what to do while “waiting” for those perfect conditions to arise? Let’s dive into the 10 Timesavers Managing Emails Effectively for your inspiration:

1. Develop your scanning skills to identify critical emails fast and accurate

Developing the capability to scan and judge large pieces of text improves reading speed and productivity. That’ll also help you extracting essential information buried in fluffy messages.

2. Disable notifications for incoming emails

Unless you have a specific demand to receive notifications, then turn them off! That’s a firm step toward a distraction-free working environment to manage emails productively.

Check the settings in your email application and disable all types of notifications for incoming mail. You’ll typically see notifications enabled by default.

3. Group emails into conversations for a complete overview of threads

Have you ever experienced email ping-pong between multiple recipients? The more people involved, the faster the ball flies back and forth.

Some may lose an answer or two, thus lacking information and the complete overview. The total waste of time and confusion can be significant in such a conversation.

If you haven’t changed the Inbox settings in your email application, then it’s most likely being sort by date.

I suggest enabling Conversation Mode or Conversation View. Be sure to show the latest email at the top of the conversation. Next time you receive new emails in a massive thread, you won’t miss any of them.

4. Searching for emails provides huge timesavers

Do you or your colleagues occasionally struggle to find specific emails? If so, then keep on reading:

It’s a tedious and time-consuming task to scroll down a large number of emails looking for a particular one. Such a manual approach is often the natural way for an average user.

Think about the way you search for topics on search engines like Google or Bing. You probably use one or multiple keywords or phrases in the search field.

It’s possible to search the same way using the search field in email applications. So, instead of stressing your eyes, you’re letting the machine do the hard work for you!

Depending on the email software, you’ve got different additional options and built-in search features. You should try them all out and use them to your taste and temperament.

Ready to do a searching exercise now?

Please find a piece of paper and a pencil before opening your email system.

Think of some emails you know for sure are in the Inbox or Sent Items. Write down the names of recipients and senders combined with matching words from subjects and body texts.

Place the cursor in the search field for the Inbox in Outlook, Gmail, or whatever you’re using.

Start typing the name of someone who sent you an email, then press Enter. You’ll then see the full list of emails from him or her.

Now we’ll add a single keyword matching at least one email from that person. In the search field, after the name, insert a space followed by the keyword. Then press Enter again to get a narrowed-down list of emails.

Next, we’ll search for the same sender combined with a phrase of two words. At the end of the search field, add another space followed by a single keyword and press Enter.

You’ll probably only have a few emails to scroll and maybe just THE email you need. Also, try the same method in your Sent Items.

You can see how powerful and fast you were able to search a massive amount of emails by typing very few pieces of information.

Experiment and develop this approach into a time-saving and productive habit.

5. Mark and organize emails with labels or categories

Many prefer to organize emails into folders. However, beware that the same email can only stay in one folder at a time! Therefore I prefer to use categories, tags, or labels to organize my emails. I’m doing it sparingly, and only when strictly needed as a supplement to search features.

It’s for you to decide which words or phrases that’ll suit your requirements to organize your emails. For inspiration I’ve listed some typical examples below:

  • Customer name/id
  • Project name/id
  • Department name/number

Put emails on a to-do list assigning labels or categories

You can quickly turn emails into to-dos with tags made from labels or categories. Let’s call them Action Flags since they specify any action you define for yourself.

I use four custom-made prioritized Action Flags for essential emails. Please note, I only use Action Flags on critical emails!

Here are my current Action Flags for myself:

  • 1 Do
  • 2 Plan
  • 3 Prepare
  • 4 Evaluate

Please try them out or make your preferred version. Remember to keep it simple from the start. You can always expand your system and toolbox if needed.

You might consider prefixing Action Flags with a particular character and perhaps a letter to ease grouping and sorting.

You can read more about the practical use of priorities in the 4-Step Prioritization Method.

6. Keeping an eye on other people’s responsibilities

Do you have an easy way to keep track of emails awaiting other people? The purpose could be an overview of actions from employees, colleagues, or anybody else.

Let’s say you need to mark an email as expecting action from your boss or the HR Department. You could label it @<your boss’ name> or @HRDept or whatever makes sense.

This tip makes it very easy to follow up without having to remember things. Utilize the search features effectively to trigger timesavers frequently when managing emails.

7. Save time with labels in the message list by Google Gmail

If using Gmail by Google, you can create and assign labels to emails for the quick lookup.

For every label you specify, you can choose to show them in the Gmail message list for easy access. These labels could be your Action Flags or any other frequently used tags.

8. Search Folders in Microsoft Outlook for frequent searches

If you’re using Microsoft Outlook, you can set up so-called Search Folders. Search Folders can show emails matching your tailored criteria.

For instance, you can define Search Folders for each frequently used category like Action Flags.

9. Automate tedious and repetitive work

Do you often repeat patterns of steps in your email system? If so, you should ask yourself, “Is it possible to automate this?”

It’s not essential whether you’re able to solve the technical challenge in the first place. The critical thing is to identify the need for automation.

When you’ve identified the need for automation, it’s quite easy to find solutions on the Internet. Don’t be reluctant to do that, just because you think it’s for nerds only.

You’ll very quickly learn how to utilize handy automation features. Always stay “hungry” to pick up timesavers for your workflow.

10. How to practice Inbox Zero to manage pending emails?

Let’s get a quick overview of the emails in your Inbox. Please notice the goal isn’t necessarily to answer all pending emails right away. It’s merely going through the Inbox deleting, archiving (maybe categorizing) and responding those you can do in no time.

When you’re beginning to master this discipline, it can also be a productive way to take a mental break. It’s similar to emptying your physical mailbox and sorting to keep or trash.

Even if you only have five minutes to spare now, let’s go harvesting some timesavers together by managing those emails in your Inbox effectively.

Before you continue this exercise, I suggest that you add four Action Flags in your email system. Add them from new labels or categories with the below names. You can always rename later to your need and taste:

  • 1 Do
  • 2 Plan
  • 3 Prepare
  • 4 Evaluate

Ask yourself the following sequence of questions for each email:

A) Is this important?

– If NO, then delete it or archive it for future lookup. Then open the next email and begin with A).

– If YES, continue to B):

B) Can I deal with it in less than a couple of minutes?

– If YES, then respond right away or perhaps forward wisely and value-adding to whom you decide to delegate. Then open the next email and begin with A).

– If NO, continue to C):

C) Is it straightforward to-do when I have the time?

At this point, you’re judging whether it’s ready to be dealt with and completed in a row. Not necessarily now, but when you set aside time to handle your Do’s.

– If YES, categorize it as a Do. Then open the next email and begin with A).

– If NO, continue to D):

D) Needs a further evaluation?

If you can’t judge is as a Do, then it probably needs further evaluation (not now! But later)?

– If YES, categorize it as Evaluate. Then open the next email and begin with A).

– If NO, continue to E):

E) Needs more preparation?

If you’re not sure about the future effort on it, then it might need some preparation before planning its execution?

– If YES, you classify it as Prepare. Then open the next email and begin with A).

– If NO, then continue to F):

F) Ready to be planned, right?

Now you’re left with a task to be scheduled; thus mark it as Plan. Then open the next email and begin with A).

Are you enjoying your fresh overview of critical emails?

Maybe you’re surprised about the fast pace with which you were able to test the method? If you weren’t that fast, don’t worry: In the beginning, we tend to indulge in the core content of the emails. I guess it’s our natural eager to deal with it right away.

Enjoy the overview you gave yourself by scanning numerous emails instead of just reading a few. Don’t let it weigh on your conscience only having deleted, categorized, and “snoozed” emails without responding to them.

Now you’re prepared with a solid plan for your effort on critical emails assigned Action Flags. So, next time you open your email application start with the 1 Do’s. That’s focused and productive instead of habitually pinning our eyes at new emails.

I urge you to continue practicing this way of emptying your Inbox for unread or unfinished messages. It will shortly reveal true timesavers when you’re managing some of all those emails in continuous lengths more effectively.

Don’t ever be a slave desperately struggling for an empty Inbox!

While it can be entirely satisfactory to maintain and keep an empty Inbox, you must never be a slave to that goal. If you spend too much time in your Inbox, don’t just continue and accept the circumstances. Instead, you should ask yourself, “Do I receive emails without purpose, or could I benefit from automating tedious and repetitive tasks?”

Sometimes we need to unsubscribe from mailing lists we no longer need. If you need newsletters without disturbing your Inbox, use automation to categorize and archive them for later use.

Summing up: 10 Timesavers Managing Emails Effectively

Hopefully, you’ll experience a more enjoyable way of handling emails playing around with the tips mentioned above.

But to move up the maturity scale, I suggest a new and dedicated general focus to send quality emails only from now on.

Please contact me if you’ve any kinds of feedback or questions. Also do subscribe for new articles, if you’re ready for more.

Categories
Prioritization

4-Step Prioritization in Effective Ways

The 4-step prioritization method provides fast and effective ways to prioritize and manage essential tasks.

4-step prioritization staircase starting from Evaluate, Prepare, Plan, and to Do.
This 4-step prioritization method takes you through the steps Evaluate, Prepare, Plan and to Do.

Imagine a staircase with four steps where you always have to start from the bottom by evaluating the situation. Depending on the situation you can jump directly to any level!

We’ll come back to how you can implement the steps Evaluate, Prepare, Plan and to Do as categories or labels into your planning and time management system.

Now, we’ll focus on the four steps and see them in action.

The first step of prioritization: Evaluate the importance, urgency, and assignment

Please note, this method is for essential tasks only to help you keep focusing on the big stones in the vase. The less critical gravel, sand, and water will always find their way and fill the gaps.

man in black crew neck t-shirt
Please don’t take it all in, but be firm in your judgment of what’s a need or just nice!

First, you have to evaluate or judge whether the task is vital at all—for you or somebody else? Delete or skip (perhaps archive) if not being vital. Only spend time archiving, labeling, and categorizing things you will use in the future!

If the task is vital, but not for you, then delegate it to the right person. If urgent, please be sure to talk to that person for anchoring.

Remaining steps of prioritization explained

In case it’s your task, and you can complete it faster than it takes to write it down, then do it immediately. That’s what we call a Just Do It task.

If you need more time to complete the task, then you’ve identified an essential and time-consuming task for yourself.

Having all the information, knowledge and competencies to complete the task—considered urgent too— categorize it as ready to be done with Do.

If completion can wait until you’ve finished earlier urgent tasks, then you classify it as Plan. Which means you’ll schedule your effort on it being sure to meet its deadline.

If you need some prerequisites before you’re able to start working on and finishing the task, then you mark it as needs preparation with Prepare.

A final word about Just Do It tasks!

As mentioned above, if you’re able to complete a task faster than you can write it down on a piece of paper—or transfer it to your electronic time management system—then you shall probably do it right away depending on its importance.

Just remember that numerous small—even though very speedy tasks—surely add up during a day!

Also, beware of the pitfall being “superficially productive” continually seeking and completing Just Do It tasks. It might be an excuse for procrastinating other tasks!

Next, we’ll have a look below at a typically hectic day at the office.

Practical examples of 4-step prioritization during a hectic workday

Let’s say you have an unread email from a significant customer, Bob. Bob sent it three days ago, but you’ve just now got a few minutes to spend on it:

First, you skim it for an overview of importance and urgency. You realize you lack information to answer it right away. Furthermore, you judge the importance a bit vague. Now, it’s clear the task needs preparation before responding. Therefore it can’t be a Just Do It task!

A taxi is waiting for you, so you can’t spend more time on that email right now. Finally, you mark it Prepare for its further preparation later on.

Please check out the article 10 Timesavers Managing Emails Effectively to see how you can implement this method into your email system to put emails on a to-do list.

The next morning you enter the office with your boss waiting at your desk. He gives you a high priority assignment with a three-day deadline. Since you’ve got other important and more urgent tasks to complete first, you categorize the new job as Plan.

Ten minutes later, you receive a phone call from your boss’s superior concerning a job to complete before lunch, no matter what! Well, that’s a visible Do to start working on right now.

While you’re finishing the phone call, one of your employee’s approaches. He needs your immediate (low effort) approval in an it-system. His purpose is to solve a critical and urgent problem for your boss.

What to do in which order to be productive?

Well, your system approval sounds like a critical yet swift Just Do It task: You need to login to the system and complete your part in less than a minute.

Then you start working on the task of your boss’ boss and complete it before lunch.

Since you don’t have any other Do tasks waiting for you, you start working on the Plan task from your boss.

After fifteen minutes of concentrated work, you’re almost ready to complete your boss’ task. To finish it you need a technical verification from a specialist. The specialist isn’t available, but you’ll meet him anyway the next day. You categorize it as Do since it’s ready for termination.

After a short coffee break and a chat with an employee, you’re back at your desk to answer some phone calls.

Next, you continue with the email from Bob. Having read it more thoroughly, it turns out Bob is on holiday until next week.

You do have some answers ready to Bob combined with a few questions to him. You prefer to speak with Bob in this situation, which unfortunately isn’t an option due to his vacation. Instead, you choose an email with your current input also asking him to call you when possible.

While you were working on the email to Bob, numerous emails appear in your Inbox. They didn’t distract you having all such notifications disabled.

Again you briefly scan through some unread emails answering one of them with a short and clear answer. Another obligation you delegate to an employee. The last message you judge unimportant, although archiving it for future access.

Is Last In First Out (LIFO) your natural priority?

Some people develop a pattern “living” their workdays in the Inbox, and I’ve been there myself! One day I found myself following a service-minded yet very distracting and undetermined Last In First Out (LIFO) pattern. I did choose to change right away and develop a more productive habit.

Being present and helpful is indeed my desired attitude combined with sharp focus and respect for other obligations and involvements.

It’s almost like a law of nature to focus on what seems to be THE most urgent and essential task around us. It can be even more prominent when striving to be extra cooperative and service-minded.

Very easily, we get involved in the feelings of our colleagues or surroundings. Almost by reflex—especially when capable of supporting—we tend to jump directly into the assisting mode.

Often it’s unclear whether a task’s assumed urgency goes before its actual value, especially if served with a lot of enthusiasm or weight.

If we add our feelings too, we may perceive a task as both important and urgent, thus jumping right on it.

Do you satisfactorily own your workday?

We can’t go through the workdays inviting others to throw us tasks. Beware getting too involved, always alert and extremely helpful! Otherwise, you might end up severely stressed with a wrong work-life balance.

Your desired work-life balance depends on your ability to prioritize and plan your schedule realistically.

Summing up: 4-Step Prioritization in Effective Ways

Our modern working environment is hectic and packed with sudden changes in scope and priorities. That’s why we must always observe and take care of our mental well-being and work-life balance.

At Productivity Hints, we advocate a sound foundation for staying both sane and highly productive. We believe in doing the right things in a prioritized and respectful manner.

Hopefully, you’re a bit inspired now to test this 4-step prioritization method in your working environment. If so, you’re more than welcome to share outcomes and experiences with us.

Also, please subscribe for new articles if you find the content useful.