Category Archives: connecting

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Setting e-mail expectations: Roughly once a week

hamster-wheelI’ve seen the e-mail hamster-wheel that other people are stuck on, and I don’t want to go there. As for me, e-mail doesn’t make me feel important or needed or valued. E-mail is… well… it’s conversations that are hidden from the world, thoughts that I’m going to forget because no one else is going to come across them in a search engine and post comments. As lots of people have observed (including Luis Suarez, whom I knew at IBM): “E-mail is where knowledge goes to die.”

Still, e-mail is useful. I keep e-mail for following up with clients, coordinating with W- or with meetup organizers, introducing people, handling quick tech support for my mom, and answering the occasional private question that usually doesn’t have to be private anyway. I like getting quick questions, especially if I can send people links (although getting those questions as public comments works even better!). I like getting in-depth questions too, which I try to answer in blog posts whenever possible, add a note to my outline with the name of the person requesting it.

I reply to e-mail roughly once a week, although I check it more often to see if there’s anything that needs attention. Here’s how I work. Maybe you’ll pick up some ideas or tips! =)

I use my phone to quickly check e-mail while I’m walking or waiting. I get a lot of e-mail that I don’t particularly care about, even though I periodically unsubscribe from lists. The phone’s limited interface means that I generally don’t use it to reply to e-mail (unless I can say what I need in one or two sentences with no links), but I can delete unneeded messages and add stars to messages that need action.

Friday is my “catch up” day. I balance my company books, follow up on tasks I’m waiting for, and go through my e-mail, writing blog posts (like this one!) and e-mailing replies. The Share a Draft plugin for WordPress helps here because I can keep my ~1-post-a-day schedule while still giving people a sneak preview of any upcoming blog posts related to their question.

If there are important conversations I need to follow up on, I use Boomerang for Gmail. This archives the message for now, returning it to my inbox in case I haven’t received a reply within the specified timeframe. I also use Boomerang for Gmail’s “Send Later” feature to schedule e-mails so that I don’t have to set a reminder.

There are lots of other ways that people handle e-mail. There’s the idea of “Touch it once” – check mail only when you’re ready to handle it, and move important information to your to-do list. That would probably mean checking it more frequently, though, and I don’t want to commit time every day to do that. There’s being strict about checking only at specified times (such as once a day, or even once a week) and always having an Out of Office message turned on or putting that in your signature, but that felt odd too.  So here we are – I check mail frequently, respond occasionally, and try to move things into blog posts as much as possible.

There are trade-offs for my approach, of course. I could probably drum up more business and build more connections if I had a reputation for being instantly responsive… but I wouldn’t want to be shackled to my e-mail and I wouldn’t want my task list to be rearranged with every incoming message, so I’m fine with what I have.

Also, if it takes you a few weeks to reply too, no need to apologize. Almost all of my mail isn’t time-sensitive, and if it’s important to me, I’ll indicate the date I need a response by and I’ll follow up if time has passed.

E-mail doesn’t have to be a slave-driver. =)

Virtual hang-out experiments: Notes on AnyMeeting

We did the first virtual hang-out experiment with Google Hangout, since… well, virtual hangout, right, so it makes sense. Google Hangout limited interaction to the first 10 people. Since more than 10 people wanted to join that, the rest ended up just watching the video stream, which is less fun, and they didn’t have a way to participate in the embedded text chat either. (If you’re paying for Google Apps for business, government, or school, you can have up to 15 people interacting.)

AnyMeeting has the advantage of letting more than 15 people join and interact (up to 200, actually, which is not a huge deal because I’m not that popular anyway). I don’t like turning people away at the (virtual) door, so it was worth a try. Besides, the ad-supported version is free.

Video worked okay, but audio conferencing was a little laggy for us, and some people’s microphones didn’t work (maybe Linux is not fully supported?). We switched to text chat instead, making do with the small chat box in the lower right corner. The chat box couldn’t be resized or undocked, but it was enough for interesting conversations. People swapped tips, I picked up a couple of good ideas, and all of that worked out.

I wasn’t sure if I could get the chat transcript afterwards and the chat box wouldn’t let me select all the text, so I copied everything one by one just in case. It turns out that you can get a copy of the chat log from the Past Meetings tab, so that’s convenient. It does say that the chat log is only available if the meeting was recorded, so that might go away if I’m actually on a limited trial and my account reverts to the regular free account after a week or a month or so.

I tried GotoWebinar with someone else and that didn’t work for what I had in mind either, since people couldn’t chat with each other unless you made everyone panelists. Maybe GotoMeeting someday? It’s pricey, though.

Here’s what I want for the hangouts:

  • At minimum, a text chat where people can freely talk to other people, so that we don’t worry about interrupting each other.
  • Video and audio conferencing would be nice. I like the way Google Hangout shows the video of whoever’s talking.

So, probably Google Hangout for general hangouts (first come first served!), streamed and recorded, with AnyMeeting for structured webinars with one or two presenters that more people might be interested in.

  • IF we regularly hit the limit of Google Hangout with active participants
  • AND I build the habit of having these regularly
  • AND we do something with these conversations (blog posts? questions? tips? lessons learned? webinars? workshops?),
  • THEN it might make sense to spring for a premium solution, and I’ll mentally account for it as equivalent to the cost of taking a few people out for lunch each month. (The connection fund!)

Wild success would look like:

  • We’ve got several of these scheduled, so people can sign up for whenever they want.
  • The hangouts alternate timezones so that it’s easier for people to get to them.
  • I don’t feel awkward or nervous whether I’m chatting with just one person or chatting with nine other people; I accept what is in the moment.
  • People feel like they know me better (not just words on a page or an RSS feed), and I feel like I know them better too. I think video and audio are very useful for this, which is why I want to keep those options open.
  • We have more ongoing conversations through blogs, comments, social networks, or e-mail.
  • For the unstructured hangouts, people feel comfortable dropping by with something they want to teach me or ask me (or ask other people, too).
  • For the structured presentations, I regularly present something that can help people save time or do awesome things, and people’s questions help me refine it further. We harvest the recordings as screencasts and blog posts.
  • People don’t think it’s a waste of time. =) Maybe they’re learning cool things, maybe they’re glad about being able to share something that will turn into a blog post even if they don’t do the writing, maybe they’re experimenting with social interaction too.
  • We have a smooth and nonconfusing flow – people know how to join the hangout and what to do if it’s full.
  • There’s a way for people to find out about upcoming chats – Google Calendar? a mailing list? Google Plus? http://sach.ac/hangout ?

Here’s the chat transcript from the July 3 chat, if you’re curious or want to follow up:

https://gist.github.com/sachac/5918573

Next steps: I’ll set up a Google Hangout on Air for the upcoming hangout, and I’ll also work on setting up an “editorial calendar” for more structured webinars.

Thinking about small talk at networking events

There’s always something happening in Toronto, and I go to one or two events each week. Most events have a social portion where people network. I’ve found this part difficult in the past. I tend to treat events as mainly opportunities to catch up with people I already know from the Internet or previous interactions, with the occasional introduction to someone new or a serendipitously overheard conversation that leads to more thoughts.

When it comes to meeting new people, I find it easier to focus on what people are interested in or what people need, and to promise to send them my notes from the event. That’s what I wanted to share in the The Shy Connector. Now that I’m moving even further away from the standard model of people who go to these events, it would be great to figure out how to structure the conversation in order to give the most value. If I let the conversation take the path of least resistance to the “So, what do you do?” question, it seems to end up going nowhere particularly useful.

Basic thoughts I can focus on:

  • People are interesting and have fascinatingly quirky details. (Ex: JJ’s story about shipping his car to Europe.) Learning about these things lets me understand more about life, and possibly discover people I want to keep in touch with along the way.
  • I might be able to help people, such as by researching a topic of common interest and blogging about it.
  • People can be difficult to keep in touch with, so it helps to find a good excuse to take the conversation forward. Sharing my notes is one way to do that. If people blog, that’s usually a great way to learn more about what they think. Not that many people blog, though.

What do I really want out of these small-talk conversations? I’ve enjoyed it the most when people recognize me from previous events’ sketchnotes or my blog, and we can launch into a conversation with a clear, common interest. I can’t always have that, and I should take the initiative to make other people feel more comfortable. What do I want?

  • I want to learn from other people’s perspectives.
  • I want to find particularly fascinating people (for example, people who love learning and continuous improvement) and learn from them.
  • I want to help people save time by sharing what I’ve learned.
  • I want to learn along with people by exploring topics of common interest.

For the next few events I’m going to, I’ll try these conversational approaches:

  • “What are you looking forward to learning?” There must be some reason why people are picking this event over other things they could do with their time.
  • “What do you plan to do with it after the talk?” This might be a little harder, but it will be interesting to find people who plan to translate ideas into actions.
  • “Have you been to other events like this?” Comparisons can be enlightening, too.
  • “What else would you like to see presented?” Might turn into blog post or presentation ideas…

Getting to know people who read this blog–hooray for hangout experiment #1!

Quick link to details of upcoming hangouts: http://sachachua.com/hangout

*squee!* It turns out that virtually hanging out with people–no pre-planned presentation, not even a fully-tested understanding of the platform, and only the roughest idea of an agenda–can be totally awesome. Not at all as scary as I’d imagined, and more fun than I thought it could be!

It felt amazing, like having a bunch of friends over for tea, except without the temptation to keep cooking. People were freely chatting with each other, and I didn’t have to worry about filling in the silences. In fact, the combination of a voice/video/text chat worked out wonderfully – I could listen to people share their insights, and I could chime in without interrupting. I picked up lots of ideas for things I want to learn more about or share, and I learned all sorts of interesting things about people who participated.

It was a great shared learning experience, too. People talked me through dealing with the platform’s technical limitations – changing the Hangout to a Hangout on Air, remembering to start the broadcast… We played around with some of the features of Google Hangout. Hangout Toolbox’s “Lower Third” adds a newscast-like attribution to your video, which makes it easier to see who’s speaking. Google Drive’s shared documents and sketchpad real-time editing sparked ideas about collaboration.

NEXT STEPS IN TERMS OF HANGING OUT

So this was fun, and we should definitely do an experiment #2. =) I’m so glad people joined me in this experiment, and I’m looking forward to the next one! Which will be… hmm… I’ve promised to organize ones in other timezones as well, so July 3 9 PM PHT / 1 PM GMT / 9 AM EDT, and another one on July 17  at 8:30 PM EDT.  =) I think a fun way to make this work is to sort out the scheduling details with at least one other person who can be there. That way, even if no one else shows up and it’s a short conversation, I won’t feel like I’m talking to myself. Winking smile 

For the next virtual hangout, I want to try using AnyMeeting so that people don’t get turned away at the (virtual) door. Google Hangouts are limited to ten people, although more people can watch the video stream. (They don’t have access to the text chat, though!) I can imagine that audio/video gets chaotic past a certain number of people, but if people can toggle their audio/video on as needed and we use the text chat to let any number of people ask and answer… I think that would be a great possibility to explore.

In the meantime, people can discuss topics or connect with each other through Google+ or other channels. Once the recording is up there, it’ll be easier for people to remember what we talked about. Since it’s difficult to take notes and listen and talk and type all at the same time, my memory’s all fuzzy until I get a chance to review the recording, too! I look forward to digging into some of the ideas (see “Next steps in terms of blogging” below for the ones I remember), and maybe people can connect with other people to follow up on things that sparked their interest.

Maybe I’ll inch my way up towards regularly doing this every month, every two weeks (or even every week!) in various timezones. I like the idea of hanging out, getting to know people, hearing what’s on people’s minds and what’s going on in people’s lives, and watching people connect with others. I’ve learned so much from people through blog comments and e-mail through the years. Maybe it’s like an open house, like the way I structure my get-togethers so that people can come any time they want and leave any time they need to. I can just sit down with a cup of tea and hear from whoever wants to share what’s going on in their life – maybe anchored with one conversation that I know I’m going to have, but opened up to anyone who wants to drop by. I don’t know whether public recording or unknown participation will get in the way of sharing, but maybe it’s worth a try.

Another way to look at it—probably an even better way—maybe this is about creating more opportunities to learn from people, and by learning from people, I can help those people learn even more. Most people don’t blog, or they feel self-conscious about writing when they don’t know who’s reading. One of my favourite ads is this IBM Linux one from 2003, where lots of people teach this young boy about life. I often feel that my life is like that, except maybe with more facial expressions and sound effects. ;) If you help me (or the other people who come to these hangouts), you help lots of other people, and maybe those tips get turned into blog posts or visual notes too. So maybe we pick things we want to learn about together, and people volunteer to share what they’ve learned, and we all move forward while also telling stories and swapping tips… =)

NEXT IN TERMS OF BLOGGING

More collaboration: It might be interesting to put my to-blog list out there in a form that other people can add to—maybe a Google Doc? And maybe if I develop closer connections with people reading this blog, then people will feel comfortable pushing back when I don’t explain something clearly or I take something for granted so that I can learn how to write better. =) Maybe I can collaborate with people on outlines and questions for things that I should write or make: that Emacs book that I ended up passing to someone else (who also procrastinated it)? a guide to sketchnoting? tips on how to live an awesome life?

I’d love to learn more about speech recognition. I’ve been thinking about it as a way to make my posts sound more conversational. (I read much more than I talk, so I tend to sound bookish.) Because I need to train the speech recognition model, I’ll probably be slower in the beginning. If I can get it to be reasonably accurate, it might be a good way to get thoughts out quickly someday.

Helping people get better at blogging: While I don’t have the One Right Answer, I can share what’s working for me, and I might be able to help people—especially if they can figure out what kind of help they need, like a little bit of social accountability or a friendly person they can ask when they have questions. =)

Onward and upward! I’ve created a new page at sachachua.com/hangout that will include details for upcoming hangouts. Looking forward to more experiments!

Web experiments this week: Webinar on “How to Improve Your Visual Thinking” and a Google Hangout on blogging; would love to connect with you!

This Wednesday, I’m experimenting with two virtual ways to connect, and I hope you’ll join me in figuring things out!

From 3 PM EDT to 4 PM EDT on June 19 (Wed), I’m joining Augustin Soler and Chuck Frey to give a visual thinking webinar organized by Matt Tanguay. We’re each giving a 15-minute presentation with Q&A. Augustin will talk about Lean UX Process at Mural.ly, Chuck will talk about 5 Brainstorming Tasks You Can Manage with Mindmapping Software, and I’ll talk about How to Use Evernote to Improve Your Visual Thinking. There’s a nominal fee of $5, but you can register for free with the promotional code “sachachua”.

Spoiler alert! Here are my notes. Winking smile 

image

By the way, you can find my public Evernote notebook of sketchnotes at https://www.evernote.com/pub/sachac/sketchnotes .

I’ll do a quick demo of my Evernote setup and processes, and I hope people will pick up lots of timesavers and interesting ideas from the short talk. It builds on my previous blog post about how I use Evernote to support my sketchnoting. Since a lot of people don’t know that you can use Evernote to search image notes or publish notebooks of your sketches, it’s good to share these tips.

15 minutes each is not much time for demo/Q&A, but if people ask lots of questions in the webinar chat, I’d love to answer those questions in follow-up blog posts and conversations. I’ll be recording it on my side, and Matt will probably record it on his side as well. Looking forward to sharing the notes afterwards too!

In addition to the webinar, I’m also experimenting with an open Google Hangout about blogging from 8PM to 9PM EDT on Wednesday, June 19. I’ve been thinking about where we can take this blog and what I can do to make it better, and I’d love to hear from people. Google Hangout seems like an interesting way to connect. =) If I can get to know people through that – what are you here for? what would you like to learn more about? – and get lots of questions either over video or in the text chat, I think that would totally rock. Shall we give it a try?

To give you a sense of what it’ll be like, here’s a rough sketch that I’ll use at the start of the hangout:

20130619 Living an Awesome Life - Hangout 1

I’m really interested in virtual meetups and communities because I don’t want good ideas to be limited to geographic locations. I want to help figure out ways that people can connect and share—visual thinking, sketchnoting, Quantified Self, Emacs, blogging… Although Toronto has a very active in-person meet-up scene, there are all sorts of interesting people around the world, and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be able to bump into each other online. Can you help me experiment with these ways and figure out how to do even better?

If you’re interested, you can register for the visual thinking webinar (again, free with the promotional code sachachua, but paying for admission helps the organizer defray the cost of the online meeting service) or sign up for the Google Hangout (when it’s time for the event, just click on the “Hangouts” link to join the call!). I’d love to hear your questions and suggestions about the topics, and your meta-feedback about these ways to connect online!

Time enough for friends

Eric and I were talking about the ways of making friends, and I wanted to reflect on it further. Here’s what I’ve learned so far!

Friendship is good, at least according to Aristotle and a whole bunch of other philosophers, psychologists, and researchers. Some people seem to develop friendships effortlessly. Others don’t particularly focus on it. W- says that I’m better at it than I think I am, but it’s useful for me to think of this as something in which I’m a relative beginner. That way, I can see the parts and learn more about how they fit together.

I like developing friendships because:

  • Other people are awesome and I’m glad that they exist. Spending time with good people makes me feel even happier about life.
  • Conversations, letters, questions, and ideas help me learn all sorts of things that I might not have come across myself.
  • Working with friends helps make bigger things happen.
  • Life has its zigs and zags, and it’s good to share the journey with people. We can be sounding boards and safety nets for each other.

What are some of the key actions or stages? Where do I do things well, and how can I make things even better?

  • Meeting new people: I meet lots of people through presentations, meetups, blog posts, social media, and introductions. Sometimes friends bring interesting people to my tea parties, too. It’s easy for me to bump into new people.
  • Getting to know people: Chatting with someone at a meetup is one thing. Continuing the conversation over e-mail or coffee is another. In between, there’s the first hook: Is this someone I’d like to get to know? What common interests can we start with?Will we have interesting and comfortable conversations? Blog posts and presentations are great shortcuts for this because people can easily identify common interests. (“I’m a visual thinker too!”) I tend to respond better to people who are confident and who share some of the things they’ve been learning about too. If it’s just the surface details (who you are and what do you do?), it can be hard to go from there. I try to focus on getting to know quirky or inspiring things about other people as a way of making it easier to follow up with them.
  • Bumping into people frequently: Meetups are great for this because I can get to know the regulars. If people blog or are active in social media, I can bump into them there and learn more about their interests.
  • Getting to know people one-on-one: Coffee, lunch, or Skype chats let me learn more about what makes people tick. I’ve gotten to the point of having a one-hour chat with someone without worrying too much about imposing or about wasting people’s time. It feels a little awkward sometimes, but I figure that will go away with practice. Scheduling these is much better now that my assistant handles the details. For remote friends, e-mails and letters tend to be a great fit.
  • More conversations: Did we click? More conversations/letters/etc. can help us bounce ideas around or find out what’s going on in people’s lives. Most people don’t post as frequently as I do, so if I want to find out what they’re thinking about, I have to ask them. I’m decent at this and tend to be the one to reach out. Sharing things about myself and asking questions are good ways to encourage other people to share parts of their life too.
  • Mixing with other friends: I really like mixing friends because I get to know other aspects of people – things we’d probably have never gotten around to talking about on our own. Besides, it means I don’t have to worry about carrying half the conversation. I can mostly ask questions and share the occasional story or two. I’d like to get into the habit of hosting tea parties every other month or every quarter. I’d also like to have a clique of close friends who are close friends with each other, but I’m not sure how to establish that without the built-in affiliations of college, company, or accommodations (like the way housemates often become good friends). Anyway!

One thing I’m working on is creating more space to spend with people or working towards their welfare. I prefer spending my weekends with W-, so I rarely make it out to weekend things. I keep Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays generally free of consulting, so I can schedule lunches or coffees then. Weekday evenings are the best for getting together with people whose schedules aren’t as flexible. Weekends are great for writing letters. I’d like to grow into a wonderfully thoughtful sort of person, and thoughtfulness requires thought and time.

I’m pretty comfortable where I am, socially. I’m no longer as worried about losing touch with my friends from the Philippines (yay Facebook and letters and blogging), and I have frequent non-work conversations with people here as well as around the world. I think it’ll be fascinating to get even better at deepening friendships, learning more about other people’s lives, and being there for people. I’ve got a long way yet to go, but there’s time enough for friends.

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