My Toolbox for Managing the Noise


Every minute, every second of our lives, we are swamped with tons of information.

Emails from your manager, your team members, your colleagues.
An interesting post your friend sent you; a Ted video that everyone is talking about; or just a new idea that crossed your mind and you have to write it down before someone catches you in the hall and you’ll forget about it.

We are constantly struggling to make some sense in all of this noise and be on top of everything.
This insanity triples once you get to a managerial position — because when you need to be in a wider context, the noise gets even bigger.

Managing the Noise

Since I became a team leader, I experimented with various tools to manage the noise. Some worked, some required practice in order to make them work and some just failed for me.
I’m constantly experimenting, but I got to the point where there are some basic tools and methods that work for me and might also work for you.

So here is my Toolbox for managing the noise:

Quiet time each morning

  1. Morning shower:
    Not sure why-and it has to be a scientific reason-a morning shower is the best time to get ideas.
    Most of the time, the result of a 10-minute morning shower is 5 minutes of email writing to myself or my teammates, about ideas and random thoughts that crossed my mind or stuff that I want to accomplish.
    Most of the time, those thoughts are the best I have at any given time.
  2. Arranging your day:
    I’ve realised that one of the things that helps me manage the noise is to find 10 minutes each morning in order to plan my day.
    This is crucial in order to be focused, set up a goals for the day and get that feeling of accomplishment at the end of the day.
    When I don’t do this exercise, I find myself “going with the flow” and having a nonproductive day.
    For me, 10 minutes at the beach on the way to work each morning did the trick and helped me to organise my thoughts and start the day.
    It can be 10 minutes with the morning coffee or 10 minutes with a cigarette -what ever works for you — but those simple 10 minutes will do miracles for your day.
    In those 10 minutes I create a list of tasks I need to accomplish. Some of it is for today, some of it is more long term and some of it I delegate to the team.

(Almost) Inbox Zero

When I started as a manager, I used rules and folders to organize my emails. During the years when I become better at managing myself and my time, I started to remove more and more rules in order to be on top of more things in parallel. Today I hardly use any folders.
This method allows me to use my inbox as a list of tasks I need to accomplish.
In general, I strive to have less than 10 unread messages in my inbox at any given time.
The unread messages at any given time are tasks/issues I need to follow up and want to make sure I don’t drop the ball on.

Tools and Productivity Apps

I’ve experimented with tons of productivity apps and tools that can help me manage the noise. The list of apps/tools below is the current list I use on a daily basis.

  1. iOS VIP Users:
    I’m a mobile person. I use my mobile a lot more then I use my Mac and sometimes I find myself sitting near my mac but answering emails from my iPhone.
    One of the downsides of having all the emails coming to your inbox is the email notifications that flood your screen and create a lot of noise.
    Most people just turn them off. But because I want to stay very responsive and give very good SLAs to my team members or colleagues, I’m using another method — a dedicated VIP users list.
    The VIP list includes my team, my managers, (My wife…) and some important interfaces. Only emails from those contacts will appear on my screen.
    This method makes sure I see only the really important stuff on my screen and allows me to be very responsive to any issue.
    At the same time, it doesn’t bother me with every incoming email.
  2. FollowUpThen:
    A service that returns any email you send it after a given time period.
    For example, if you send an email to oneday@followupthen.com they will send you that email back after one day.
    This service helps me clean my inbox of stuff that I just want to make sure happens, but I don’t need to follow up on every day.
    If I want to follow up with an assignment I gave to one of my team members, I send him an email and send a copy to “threedays@followupthen.com”.
    Three days later, I will get a reply from the service and all I need to do is ping my team member about the task and ask for a status update.
  3. GetPocket:
    Another tool to clean my inbox-when I don’t have time to read all the great stuff that people are sending (articles, ted videos, benchmarks), I just send an email to “add@getpocket.com” and it automatically saves it to Pocket for a later time.
  4. Note to self:
    When I don’t want to forget something, I just send an email to myself, because I’m in inbox zero:it’s just another task I need to close.
  5. A pen and a notebook:
    Call me old-fashioned, but I have a no-laptop-in-meetings rule.
    I don’t like people playing with their laptops/smartphones in a meeting.
    On the other hand, I still want to be able to write down notes to myself about the meeting or any other thing that crosses my mind (in case the meeting isn’t that interesting….).
    A pen and a notebook give me the ability to do exactly that. The meeting moderator will also appreciate it (and think that you are writing notes from the meeting).
  6. Trello
    Trello is a great service for managing and organizing your personal and work-related projects.
    It has a great, easy-to-use mobile app that allows you to control everything just like you were near your computer.
    I use it’s service as a “To-do” list for my personal stuff, add ad-hoc work tasks and also manage bigger work-related efforts.
  7. IM:
    It can be the team’s Telegram/WhatsApp/Skype group or whatever solution you like (Slack?) — the bottom line is that a messaging solution really helps manage the noise by quickly delegating any issue to the team.
    Don’t forget- delegation will set you free.

That is it.
Those are the main methods and tools I use day to day.
I’m experimenting and constantly changing stuff that doesn’t work for me.

I hope that these tools will also help you control the stream of information you need to process day to day.

Netanel