Productivity, cloud collaboration, and getting things done

This blog was posted by Tom Beardshaw on July 27, 2015 as part of the CultureHive Digital Marketing Academy. You can find out more about the project here.

Something that has come up a few times in my mentoring sessions is that my Fellows are struggling to find the time to the work on CultureHive DMA projects, and so we begin to look at working practices, and how they can become more efficient at getting things done. An hour saved at work wins you an hour to work on the Digital Marketing Academy, so it make sense to up your productivity game if you’re taking on extra activities like this.

So I thought it might be useful to share some of my favourite productivity tips, tools and practices, in the hope that someone who is struggling with their workload is able to extract some value from this post.


The Eisenhower Matrix1. The Eisenhower Matrix

President Dwight Eisenhower is quoted as saying that he had two types of problem, the urgent and the important, and that the urgent was never important and the important was never urgent. So he developed a methodology for prioritising tasks as they came across his desk. This graphic illustrates it perfectly.

Tasks that are both urgent and important are no problem – our lives are dominated by them – you just have to do them now. Tasks that are unimportant and non-urgent are similarly simple to process – dump them (if it’s too important to dump, you’ve misjudged its importance!).

Lots of us tend to spend our time on the urgent, non-important tasks, and fail to prioritise the non-urgent, important things. Eisenhower’s solution was to delegate the former to someone else, and pull out his diary so that he could schedule some time to do the non-urgent important things.

Seems simple, eh? Well, it is, but it requires a bit of self discipline and practice.

2. Email processing

Email, once a cutting edge technology, has become the bane of many people’s lives. Being copied into things you don’t need to see, overlong emails that don’t get to the point, having hundreds (sometimes thousands) of unread emails sitting in your inbox are some of the problems that make people frustrated about email, and looking for better solutions, of which there are a few (more below). Merlin Mann, the author of 43 folders, has done a lot of thinking about email, has developed a system called “Inbox Zero” and his thoughts have been really useful to me. Here’s a video from 2007 when he presented his approach to email in a presentation to Google. Well worth an hour of your time if you’re struggling with email.

One of the key things to make this work is to separate your email from your task organisation (don’t organise tasks in email, or you’ll end up emailing yourself things to do!). Have a separate task list that works for you. To work effectively, it needs to be with you at all times, and if you use a digital tool, make sure it synchs across your devices. Once you’ve separated your tasks from your email, no individual email should take you more than two minutes, and if you schedule times in the day for batch processing incoming email, you can eliminate the build up of unattended emails in your inbox.

At NativeHQ, we’ve adapted Merlin’s approach… we think there’s even fewer than the 5 things he says you can do with an email – we have 4:

  1. Delete/Archive it
  2. Forward it
  3. Deal with it (tasks under 2 minutes)
  4. Put the task in your task list.

That’s it. It’s comforting to know that you can easily be on top of your email using this system. You then have a task list which you can use Eisenhower’s Matrix to prioritise. Watch Merlin’s video… it’s an hour of your time which could save you hundreds of hours in the future.


1. Google Drive

At NativeHQ, we haven’t used local hard drive based apps like Microsoft Word for over five years. I still come across files that I’ve been sent which have a title which looks something like “Presentation_FINAL_Version3.doc”, which tells me there’s still a lot of pain out there created by people  because they create numerous version control problems for themselves.

Think about it. Let’s count the versions you create in a simple workflow…. You write a draft (1). You save it on your hard drive (2). You then email it to four people (1 in your sent mail, 4 in their mail – that’s 7 total). They then comment on it and email a copy back to you (4 on their HD’s, 4 back to you – that’s 15 total). Very soon, this will get chaotic and dangerous… ever send the wrong version of a file to someone?

Google Drive, and other similar cloud platforms like Box or iCloud allow you to work on a document at the same time as your collaborators on the web, through a browser. Very often, my business partner and I will co-author a document while we have a Skype channel open so we can talk about it together while we write it. The first time you do this, you’ll find that watching someone else write on your computer is kinda spooky, but the benefits will become very clear in no time.

You can invite anyone to access the document/spreadsheet/presentation etc, and can give them permission to edit, comment or just view the file.  This is a great way to give people access to a document and feedback to you without having to send files over email. You just give them permission and make sure they have the link so that they can access it through their browser.

When you use  cloud based document authoring systems like Google Drive, there is only ever one latest copy of the document – on the cloud. You can download it whenever you want, as a Word doc or a PDF or whatever, but that will be just a snapshot of the document at a particular time… and often the only time you’ll ever need to download it will be when it’s done and it’s ready to send to the recipient.

Getting the hang of these cloud systems can take a while – it takes time to adapt to a new way of working, but it can save you a lot of time in the long term. If you’ve not used them before, I’d recommend that you try it out with your close collaborators… people you often co-author documents with, for example. Give it a go… I guarantee it’ll save you time and headaches.

2. Trello

Trello is a lovely, very useable project management tool that integrates beautifully with Google Drive and other document platforms, and it is a great system that a team can use to manage their communication around their project. Here’s a nice little introductory training video.

Trello is like a shared to do list. It enables a team of people to share a space where they keep all their project related communication, and ensure that only the people who need to see a message do see it. Successful use of Trello WILL massively reduce the amount of email that you receive (and send) because when you send a message, you place it in a context where all of the previous relevant conversation, files etc are in the same place, so you don’t need to write any lengthy catch up context. So it is massively efficient in helping teams within and across organisations to collaborate on tasks if you use it effectively.

Again, this takes a bit of practice and learning. It takes a bit of time to set up a Trello board, add members and tweak your notification settings so that it works – it’s worth the perseverance.

3. Slack

This is a tool which has been introduced to me recently, and I love it! Slack allows you to create a series of channels that you can invite people to. It has the ability to create software integrations within channels, for example, if you’re working on a software development, you can have a channel where you integrate updates from Trello board, a GitHub repository, a dropbox folder, as well as exchanging chat messages between the channel members.

Once you’ve set up a channel properly, like Trello, Slack has the ability to automate the sending of messages to only the people who need to see them. Again, here’s an introductory video which will explain the basics:

Now, I’m a bit of a newbie when it comes to Slack, but in the last couple of months, I’ve been wowed by its potential, and have even started paying them for an organisational account. Now, I’m a real fan of free stuff, so this just proves how useful it is!


The essence of great productivity lies in your practices, not the tools you use, but the above tools allow you to create new ways of working that can transform your ability to get things done together in a timely and efficient manner. If there’s anything here that you’ve not seen before, take a look. If there’s something that I’ve missed (and I’ve missed out loads), let me know what your favourite productivity tools are.

1 Comment

  1. […] blogged again on the CultureHive Academy website about productivity and cloud collaboration. I’ve set out some of the tools and practices that Carl and I are regularly training our […]

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *