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Confession time in the quest for Inbox Zero

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It’s like drug abuse, with similar implications for effectiveness, but the battle to triumph over email chaos can be won, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

I have a confession. I’ve been clean for eight weeks. Rid of a monkey on my back that threatened to engulf me and destroy my concentration, focus and productivity.

Yes, I was suffering from abuse of my email inbox. Dramatic steps were needed when I reached the unmagic mark of 2000 emails during March. They were all waiting to be answered, stored, or deleted. But they had to be read before I could make that decision.

I knew that if the number went much beyond 2000, there could well be no coming back. I was fortunate, though, that I faced that moment as a string of public holidays appeared on the calendar. That meant days of no interruption, and limited new email inflow.

With the help of a supportive family, I spent four days solidly working through the pile, and came out the other end clean. I am still clean as I start writing this confession.

Why is it such a big deal? Two years ago, in this column, I wrote:

“It’s the new holy grail of personal effectiveness and business productivity: an empty inbox in your e-mail.

“I know it sounds like a fantasy, and perhaps even smacks of the supernatural. But it exists. I’ve seen it twice in the past decade. The first time, around 2004, it brought such a sense of freedom that I neglected my e-mail for a few days, and never caught up again. Until last week.”

That also lasted only a few days, which is why the current achievement feels like a breakthrough. And why I feel somewhat more confident in offering the advice orignally proferred:

“A colleague gave me a simple piece of advice: take the office phone off the hook, put the cellphone on silent, shut the door, close all browsers and extraneous documents, and start. It doesn’t matter if you start with the oldest or the newest, as long as you begin to work through the pile in a systematic way.”

While I find that approach impossible on working days, the holidays simulated those conditions perfectly.

Merlin Mann, who is credited with coining the term Inbox Zero in a series of articles and a talk of the same name (you can watch it on YouTube), recommends you work methodically through your e-mail mound, not moving on until you’ve made one of five choices for each item: Delete or Archive, Delegate, Respond, Defer, Do.

Those who can and those who can’t, teach

In my seventh week of greater productivity brought about by inbox zero, I gave a talk at the annual convention of the Professional Speakers Association of Southern Africa. Several dozen of the most sought-after speakers in South Africa, ranging from firewalkers to organisational psychologists, all in one place.

These are people who face an endless barrage of email almost every time they give a talk. It was a golden opportunity: during the convention, I ran a snap survey to see the extent to which self-described professionals cope with email floods.

The results were fascinating.

No less than 60 per cent of respondents said they were overwhelmed by email most of the time or some of the time. The exact same percentage receive more than 50 emails a day, and 60% had more than 50 emails still waiting to be dealt with in their inboxes. An even larger 65% said their email load was a barrier to productivity, while a massive 75% said they wished they could manage their email better.

Bear in mind, these are people who make a living from giving advice to others.

Only 30% had between zero and 20 mails waiting to be handled, and only a third of these – 10 per cent of the total – had cleared their email the last time they had checked it. At the other end of the scale, 35% had more than one thousands emails waiting to be bludgeoned in their inboxes.

The most fascinating aspect of this survey – small as the sample might be – as that it didn’t show a gradual curve of email overload. People tended to have it under control – or it was completely out of control. This shows that, once you let it go, it becomes a monster. And that monster will eat up your focus and your productivity.

Like drug abuse and alcohol abuse, the inability to reach inbox zero is a self-limiting condition. It can be as difficult to fight, but the rewards can be as great.

* Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

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Earth 2050: memory chips for kids, telepathy for adults

An astonishing set of predictions for the next 30 years includes a major challenge to the privacy of our thoughts.

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Buy 2050, most kids may be fitted with the latest memory boosting implants, and adults will have replaced mobile devices with direct connectivity through brain implants, powered by thought.

These are some of the more dramatic forecasts in Earth 2050, an award-winning, interactive multimedia project that accumulates predictions about social and technological developments for the upcoming 30 years. The aim is to identify global challenges for humanity and possible ways of solving these challenges. The website was launched in 2017 to mark Kaspersky Lab’s 20th birthday. It comprises a rich variety of predictions and future scenarios, covering a wide range of topics.

Recently a number of new contributions have been added to the site. Among them Lord Martin Rees, the UK’s Astronomer Royal, Professor at Cambridge University and former President of the Royal Society; investor and entrepreneur Steven Hoffman, Peter Tatchell, human rights campaigner, along withDmitry Galov, security researcher and Alexey Malanov, malware analyst at Kaspersky Lab.

The new visions for 2050 consider, among other things:

  • The replacement of mobile devices with direct connectivity through brain implants, powered by thought – able to upload skills and knowledge in return – and the impact of this on individual consciousness and privacy of thought.
  • The ability to transform all life at the genetic level through gene editing.
  • The potential impact of mistakes made by advanced machine-learning systems/AI.
  • The demise of current political systems and the rise of ‘citizen governments’, where ordinary people are co-opted to approve legislation.
  • The end of the techno-industrial age as the world runs out of fossil fuels, leading to economic and environmental devastation.
  • The end of industrial-scale meat production, as most people become vegan and meat is cultured from biopsies taken from living, outdoor reared livestock.

The hypothetical prediction for 2050 from Dmitry Galov, security researcher at Kaspersky Lab is as follows: “By 2050, our knowledge of how the brain works, and our ability to enhance or repair it is so advanced that being able to remember everything and learn new things at an outrageous speed has become commonplace. Most kids are fitted with the latest memory boosting implants to support their learning and this makes education easier than it has ever been. 

“Brain damage as a result of head injury is easily repaired; memory loss is no longer a medical condition, and people suffering from mental illnesses, such as depression, are quickly cured.  The technologies that underpin this have existed in some form since the late 2010s. Memory implants are in fact a natural progression from the connected deep brain stimulation implants of 2018.

“But every technology has another side – a dark side. In 2050, the medical, social and economic impact of memory boosting implants are significant, but they are also vulnerable to exploitation and cyber-abuse. New threats that have appeared in the last decade include the mass manipulation of groups through implanted or erased memories of political events or conflicts, and even the creation of ‘human botnets’. 

“These botnets connect people’s brains into a network of agents controlled and operated by cybercriminals, without the knowledge of the victims themselves.  Repurposed cyberthreats from previous decades are targeting the memories of world leaders for cyber-espionage, as well as those of celebrities, ordinary people and businesses with the aim of memory theft, deletion of or ‘locking’ of memories (for example, in return for a ransom).  

“This landscape is only possible because, in the late 2010s when the technologies began to evolve, the potential future security vulnerabilities were not considered a priority, and the various players: healthcare, security, policy makers and more, didn’t come together to understand and address future risks.”

For more information and the full suite of inspirational and thought-provoking predictions, visit Earth 2050.

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SAFTA awards get first streaming video nominees

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The 2019 nominations for The South African Film and Television Awards (SAFTAs) were announced late last week, and for the first time in the 13-year history of the awards, a TV series produced for a video-on-demand service was in contention. The result was a surprise boost to streaming service Showmax.

The comedy series Tali’s Wedding Diary, which premiered in December 2017, represented a major step for the then two-year old streaming service. It was the debut Showmax Original, the first time Showmax ventured into producing its own content. The gamble paid off, with the show becoming the most watched of any series on its first day on Showmax, and now Tali’s Wedding Diary has been further recognised with seven SAFTA nominations, making it this year’s most nominated comedy.

“When we first floated the idea of Tali’s Wedding Diary, we joked about winning awards,” says Candice Fangueiro, Showmax’s head of content. “At that point, just getting our first Showmax Original off the ground was already a major challenge and it was more than we could hope for to actually hit it out of the park. I was stunned when I heard the news about the nominations – it’s amazing to be considered in the same company as these other shows and thanks to this we’re already seeing a fresh spike in Tali views.”

Tali’s Wedding Diary was also a first for co-creator and star Julia Anastasopoulos, who until then was best known as YouTube star SuzelleDIY. “I am so thrilled about the SAFTA nominations for Tali’s Wedding Diary,” says Julia, who is up for Best Actress – TV Comedy and Best Achievement in Scriptwriting – TV Comedy, along with her husband Ari Kruger and Daniel Zimbler. 

“It was such a big and daunting step to create a full TV comedy series and intro a brand-new character. I really didn’t know how it would be received and am so happy to have received such positive feedback for the show and the Tali Babes character, along with the nominations. It feels so good to be recognised for something we poured our hearts into. None of it would have been possible, of course, without the incredible hard work and vision of my husband Ari and the incredible team, cast and crew that were part of the show. And a huge thank you to Showmax of course for making it all possible. Congratulations and best of luck to the entire team and to all the other nominees.”

Tali’s Wedding Diary is a mockumentary that follows Tali, a self-obsessed Joburg princess who’s moved to Cape Town and is planning her wedding to property-agent fiancé Darren (Anton Taylor). The series was inspired by Julia’s own wedding to Ari, her SuzelleDIY and Tali’s Wedding Diary co-creator, who is also up for Best Achievement In Directing – TV Comedy.  

In addition to Julia and Ari’s nominations, Tali’s Wedding Diary is up for Best TV Comedy, Art Direction (Keren Setton),  Cinematography (James Adey), and Editing (Richard Starkey). Winners will be announced on 2 March 2019 at Sun City Superbowl.

Following the success of Tali’s Wedding Diary, the second Showmax Original, The Girl From St Agnes, was released earlier this month. A third Showmax Original, Trippin With Skhumba, is slated for release at the end of February.

“With three Showmax Originals now under our belt and more on the way, we’d like to think this is the start of many more SAFTA nominations for shows from a streaming service,” concludes Candice.

South African content currently on Showmax has 110 nominations and includes the most nominated movie (Five Fingers With Marseilles), telenovela (The River), drama (Lockdown) and soap (Isibaya), with more SAFTA nominees scheduled for the coming months.

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