Monthly Archives: June 2010


An article on, a website for recruiters, discusses two reasons why it’s important to give all employees business cards. Firstly, it makes them feel important. It’s a welcome to the company and a message that the new employee is worth at least $50 in discretionary spend.

Secondly, they argue, it’s a word-of-mouth enabler. In recruiting, a great deal of importance is put on recommendations as a source of hire. It’s cheap and tends to be better quality than other channels. When everyone in your company has a business card, and can keep in contact with the people they meet, the company increases potential hires via this channel.

This article made me think about other tools we use or don’t use within companies, which have or could have wider benefits than what is obvious at first glance. Is the corporate, sharp look of branded notebooks worth more than their cost when your staff are seen in hotels or traveling for example? One of the companies I used to work for had particularly good branded pens for their graduate scheme. Those pens traveled far and wide, as people discovered they were better than average, spreading the message that the company had a graduate scheme and invested in it. Have you had an similar or opposite experience?…

Green Tips: Improving Energy Efficiency at Home and on the Road

Improving energy efficiency is a doubly-positive proposition for any worker: It saves money and lowers environmental impact. Whether you are plugging into your home’s outlet or  working at your local hangout, options abound for saving electricity. Here are some Green Tips for reducing your electricity consumption and boosting your energy efficiency in the home or mobile office.

The Home Office


Reduce power usage in your home office using some simple common-sense remedies for typical energy drains. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy’s EnergyStar program has some good tips for eliminating wasteful energy use around the house. First, turn off your computer, monitor and printer (or at least have them go into standby mode) when they aren’t in use. Monitors should power down rather than run a screen saver.

When office equipment will be switched off for longer periods, use a power strip, or energy UFO, to avoid vampire appliances slowly draining electricity. Belkin makes a series of devices that prevent wasted power. Disconnect chargers for mobile devices when they are not being used; except for smart chargers, they all suck energy when plugged in. Replace lights with energy saving models; LEDs or CFLs.

A multifunction device that combines a printer, scanner and fax is more efficient than separate machines for each function and takes fewer resources to manufacture. (Think twice about sending or receiving paper faxes, too.)  If you are considering making new hardware purchases, invest in the most efficient computer available. More efficient computers generate less heat (and so lessen A/C usage) and use less electricity over their lifetimes. Collectively, more energy-efficient computing can add up to big savings.

Follow standard practices for keeping your environment temperature-controlled, like preventing drafts and using window shades; heating and cooling make up the largest portion of home energy consumption. Setting your thermostat a few degrees higher or lower, and using a programmable model that can automatically turn off while the house is unoccupied, can make a big difference in your energy consumption. You can also use your iPhone or iPad to control and monitor home power usage and smart thermostats while you’re out.

The Mobile Office

Working over the web on mobile devices actually offers a few advantages for energy efficiency. For one, working in a shared space, be it a café or communal office, saves on the total energy that goes into heating and cooling buildings. Charging up your portables at home and using them out of the house offers the choice to use renewable energy offerings from your power utility. You can also choose to use more efficient (and cheaper) off-peak electricity, reducing, however modestly, the peak load on the grid and, more significantly, the load on your electric bill.

Use power management settings on your laptop that save battery power and extend your battery’s life by reducing the power draw on it. Many of the same tips, such as dimming screens, can be applied to other mobile devices, too. Using less energy on the go means using less electricity for charging later.

There are several options for portable charging for your mobile device or iPhone using renewable energy like the Solio and Freeloader solar chargers or the HYmini wind generator. If you want to combine your free energy from the sun with some style and functionality, check out the solar powered bags from Reware or Noon Solar.

Your cell phone itself is another area where you can save electricity by making smart choices. Start saving electricity and resources by going for a green cell phone, like Samsung’s Reclaim. If you are going to be occupied for long chunks of time turn your cell phone entirely off – just remember to turn it back on when you’re done.

Lastly, as much as we all like staying connected 140 characters at a time, tweet less to save energy.

Share your tips for becoming more energy efficient in the comments.

Trenton DuVal has managed the online communications efforts of nonprofits focused on creating a more sustainable, just and equitable world since 2005. His varied experiences living and working on five continents have included professional gold farming, crossing the Atlantic by sailboat, a few meals with Nobel Laureates and a tragic run-in with a three-toed sloth.

Related GigaOM Pro content (sub. req.): The Smart Energy Home


Thinking Differently

In the last couple of Manager Tools podcasts we’ve talked about common wisdom that’s just not right. Whilst Praise in Public, Criticize in Public can be defended logically, the argument is based on a false premise and falls apart when we think about it really carefully.

There’s a couple of parts of our conferences where we think about some similar arguments. For instance, when we talk about delegation, the scenario is that we’re already busy, and the new activity just can’t be fitted into the week. There’s always someone who suggests refusing the assignment. It’s a good thing in that context, because we can use it as a teaching point. It’s not the right answer.

When the logic is explained, or the right answer given, it seems so obvious. Of course, PIPCIP doesn’t work. Of course, there’s a better way of handling new work. It can take some new suggestion or thought pattern though, for us to see the new way. That’s why exposing ourselves to books or podcasts, or new people is important. Only by having new inputs do we begin to think differently.

Quick Tip: Use Web Page-to-PDF Services to Circumvent Website-blocking Software

I really enjoy working at my local library; it gets me out of my home office and provides a more studious environment than, say, a coffee shop. However, one thing I don’t like is the library’s overzealous website filtering.

Occasionally, I’ll try to head to a totally innocuous website only to find that it’s been blocked for some reason. It’s very irritating if I need to access a particular page for research, and as Google’s cache of the page is usually also blocked it means that I can’t get at the content at all. While I could try to use a proxy to get around the blocking software, many of those are also blocked. Instead, I find the quickest and simplest solution is to use one of the many online services that convert web pages to PDFs.

I use, which is fast and works well, but there are plenty of options available if you find that your preferred service is also blocked. As a bonus, you’ll then have a nicely formatted PDF of the page that you can read at your leisure later (and which you can also view on a Kindle and other e-reader devices).

How do you get around website blocking software?

Photo courtesy stock.xchng user bbrouw83.

Related GigaOM Pro content (sub. req.): Enabling the Web Work Revolution

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Metrics: Corporate Web Working Effectiveness by the Numbers

As a community manager, I spend a fair amount of time thinking about metrics. I measure activity across the community to watch our progress in various areas that are important to the health of the community. Recently, I’ve been thinking about how my metrics approach could also apply to corporate web workers. I’ve discussed the need to demonstrate your effectiveness as a remote employee if you want to be able to continue to telecommute, and having some data and numbers as proof that you’re productive might be a big help.

In my job, I look at metrics in three major categories: awareness, membership and participation. I use website analytics and social media mentions to gauge whether people are aware of our activities. Membership is measured when people join the community or subscribe to mailing lists. Participation is the most important and most comprehensive set of measurements, looking at posts in our forums, mailing list participation, IRC activity and various developer activities, since I manage an open-source developer community. Most of these are measured and charted over time to show areas of growth or decline in the community on a monthly basis, which allows us to make adjustments if anything starts to stagnate. In addition to the numbers, I also do a fair amount of analysis to look for content trends and recommend potential areas for improvement based on how the community responds to certain activities. While this is a significant amount of work every month, all of these measurements allow me to justify my existence (and my paycheck) to the company and my manager while also helping me find areas where I can improve the community.

So how can metrics help you in your role? Many companies already have processes that require measurement of progress toward goals. The type of metrics that I’m thinking about would complement and augment those existing measurements with a few more details. While there are many good ways to measure effectiveness, there are also a few pitfalls, so let’s look at one approach to setting up some personal web working metrics.

Measure What Matters

Just because you can measure something doesn’t mean you should measure it! For example, I could measure something like the number or hours worked every day or the number of emails sent/received, but those measurements are irrelevant to my job.  As a community manager, many of the community’s metrics also serve as my personal metrics. You need to look at your position, job expectations and goals to find the best ways to measure whether or not you’ve been effective and productive as a web worker. If you don’t tie your metrics into your career goals and specific job requirements, you won’t be measuring the right things.

Pick What to Report

I consume a significant amount of information, and I measure many different activities. Less than half of my measurements or the data that I look at on a monthly basis make it into my report. Let me be clear, this is not about hiding information; it’s about finding a representative data set that can be consumed by most people without an excessive time commitment. I spend a lot of time looking at the numbers because that’s part of my job, but other people also have their jobs to do, so I need to distill the information down to only the most important information. I have a set of things that always go into the report — this is the baseline of activities that I track over time. A few others might be added if something unusual happens or if I notice something really interesting. In other words, measure some extra activities that you can use to determine how you’re performing, but make sure that what you deliver to your manager is a digestible amount of only the most important metrics.


Most of us have jobs that span several different areas, and you probably need to measure your performance across a couple of categories. For my community, I break it out into awareness, membership and participation, which boils down to three levels of engagement for community members. As a web worker, you might have a category or two for your core job function and another category for learning, training or other measures related to career advancement. By categorizing your metrics, you can make sure you aren’t neglecting an important area. For example, neglecting training or learning new skills might not matter in the short term, but if you neglect them too long, you might find that your skills are no longer the ones that your employer requires. It’s part of our human nature to categorize, but be careful not to go overboard here. For most people, two to four categories are all you need if you pick the right ones.

This is just one possible approach to using a metrics or numbers-based approach to measuring your effectiveness, but don’t get too caught up in the process. Stay focused on measuring a few of the most important things for your job and build on it over time.

How have you used metrics and numbers to demonstrate your effectiveness as a web worker?

Image by Flickr user Tom Woodward used under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license.

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Something New

Several times in the past few days we’ve been asked: what do I do when I send a peer an email to ask them to do something for me, and they don’t do it? You might guess our answer, based on the importance we place on relationships: don’t send an email, go talk to the guy.

There’s a bigger lesson here though. When you’re in it, it’s hard to see, but from the outside it’s easier. If the thing you’re doing isn’t working, try something else. There is no reason to stick with a strategy which doesn’t work for you. It’s the most obvious advice, but as the question we got proves, it isn’t obvious to those struggling with the situation.

So this weekend, think about some different ways to approach the problem you’re having. Better yet, don’t struggle alone. Post on the forums and see if someone outside your situation can help. By Monday, you could have a whole new perspective.

CintaNotes: A Fast, Free Windows Note-taking App

Regular readers will know that I’m a big fan of the note-taking combo of Notational Velocity on my Mac and Simplenote on my iPhone, because they’re exceedingly quick to use and they let me access my notes from anywhere. But if you’re a Windows user, you should check out CintaNotes, as it provides a similarly fast, lightweight, access-anywhere note-taking experience for the PC.

CintaNotes is unobtrusive and doesn’t interrupt your workflow — you can leave it minimized in the system tray when you’re not actively using it. It lets you clip snippets of text (quotes, blog posts, article excerpts, etc.) quickly from whatever application you’re using: Just highlight the text, then hit the CintaNotes hotkey (Ctrl+F12 by default, although you can change it if you prefer) and the text will be stored as a note.

Your notes are listed in the app in chronological order, and you can organize notes using tags. Like Notational Velocity, CintaNotes has find-as-you-type searching to help retrieve notes, with advanced search options (searching by title, or the URL the note is from) also available.

CintaNotes is available as a portable app, so you can carry it with you on a USB Flash drive. And because it plays nicely with services like Dropbox — you just have to store your CintaNotes database in a folder on your file sync service — you can easily keep your notes synchronized across all of your PCs and access them from anywhere.

If you’re looking for a simple, lightweight, easy-to-use and, above all, fast Windows note-taking app that won’t interrupt your workflow, CintaNotes is recommended. CintaNotes is free to download and works on Windows 2000 and later.

What note-taking app do you use?

Secrets of Success

There was an article in May’s Fast Company about Mike Mullen, the US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff which included his itinerary for a ‘pretty generic’ day, which is interesting from a number of perspectives. Firstly, just how hard he works. His day begins at 4.30 with the gym and ends at midnight. Many of us would like success, but just aren’t willing to work that hard for it. It’s ok to decide that your family needs you there more than four and a half hours, or even that you need to sleep more that that, but never kid yourself that just doing what you’re supposed to is enough. It’s enough to earn your salary in most places, but not to get ahead.

Secondly, his staff regularly review his diary to ensure that his days match his priorities, and not to a rough two or three priority level. 2% of his time is dedicated to the President. 9% of his time to outreach to the general public. 6% to the media. That’s an incredible level of detail to which to know your priorities. The article says as a result of the last calendar review, they know he only spent 8% of his time on outreach. I’d call that success. Apparently, he doesn’t.

Thirdly, he starts his day with standup and ends it with end of day, just like we do at Manager Tools. If you have an assistant, and you’re not doing standups, you’re missing out. Between the benefits of checking in each day, getting the little things off your plate and moving, and freeing up time in your O3’s, standups are the oil which keeps the machine running smoothly. Every day we miss one, is a day which could have been better.

Like lots of what we teach, these are simple, regular tasks. The hard thing is doing them every day. The rewards are longer term, and the difficulties daily, a combination which seems to be incredibly hard for humans to get on with. If you want to be successful though, you have to be one of the people who gets past that difficulty.