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Confession time in the quest for Inbox Zero

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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Time is running out for Microsoft SQL Server 2008

Companies are urged to update from the dated database management software as end-of-support looms, writes BRYAN TURNER.

The 11-year-old Microsoft SQL Server 2008 database management software is reaching the end of its support on 9 July. The applications that use databases running on this software will be at risk of security and stability issues.

On self-managed databases, upgrading to the latest database version comes with a lot of risks. Many IT departments within companies go by the motto: “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it”.

Microsoft made it very clear that it would not be updating SQL Server 2005 after its extended support date and even left it vulnerable to Spectre and Meltdown by not releasing patches for the dated version.

Updating SQL Server versions may seem daunting, but the benefits far outweigh the effort it takes for a migration. In the last major version update, SQL Server 2016 introduced simpler backup functionality, database stretching, and always-encrypted communications with the database, to name just three features.

While backing up the database may be the last thing on the typical database administrator’s mind, it’s become increasingly important to do so. In SQL Server 2008, it’s clunky and causes headaches for many admins. However, in SQL Server 2016, one can easily set up an automated backup to Azure storage and let it run on smart backup intervals. Backing up offsite also reduces the need for disaster recovery for onsite damage.

Database stretching allows admins to push less frequently accessed data to an Azure database, automatically decided by SQL Server 2016. This reduces the admin of manually looking through what must be kept and what must be shipped off or deleted. It also reduces the size of the database, which also increases the performance of the applications that access it. The best part of this functionality is it automatically retrieves the less accessed records from Azure when users request it, without the need for manual intervention.

Always-encrypted communications are becoming more and more relevant to many companies, especially those operating in European regions after the introduction of GDPR. Encryption keys were previously managed by the admin, but now encryption is always handled by the client. Furthermore, the keys to encrypt and decrypt data are stored outside of SQL Server altogether. This means data stored in the database is always encrypted, and no longer for the eyes of a curious database manager. 

The built-in reporting tools have also vastly improved with the addition of new reporting metrics and a modern look. It includes support for Excel reports for keeping documentation and Power BI for automated, drag-and-drop personalised reporting. Best of all, it removes the dreaded Active X controls, which made the reporting in a webpage feel very clumsy and bloated in previous versions.

A lot has changed in the past ten years in the world of SQL Server database management, and it’s not worth running into problems before Microsoft ends support for SQL Server 2008.

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Local apps to feature in Huawei’s App Gallery

Huawei’s mobile app store, the HUAWEI AppGallery, will soon feature a multitude of apps and designs by local developers. The company says this is part of its drive to promote South African digital talent and include more useful apps for Huawei smartphone users. HUAWEI AppGallery and HUAWEI Themes are pre-installed on all the latest Huawei and Honor devices.

“South African consumers are increasingly wanting more apps that are relevant to their unique circumstances, addressing issues they experience regularly – such as load shedding or safety concerns – but also apps that celebrate South Africa’s multitude of cultures and this vibrant country,” says Lu Geng, director of Huawei Consumer Cloud Service Southern Africa Region.

Akhram Mohamed, chief technology officer of Huawei Consumer Business Group South Africa, says: “Huawei is committed to catering to the needs of South African consumers, but we also know that we do not have all the answers. For this reason, we aim to work closely with South African developers so that we can give our users everything that they need and want from their devices. At the same time, we also hope to create an open ecosystem for local developers by offering a simple and secure environment for them to upload content.”

Huawei Mobile Services was launched in South Africa in June last year. Since then, both the HUAWEI AppGallery and HUAWEI Themes – which features tens of thousands of themes, fonts and wallpapers that personalise user’s handset – have become increasingly popular with the local market. Even though it is a relatively new division of Huawei, there has been a great increase in growth; at the end of 2018 Huawei Mobile Services had 500 million users globally, representing a 117% increase on the previous year.

Explaining what differentiates the HUAWEI AppGallery from other app stores, Mosa Matshediso Hlobelo, business developer for Consumer Cloud Service Southern Africa says: “We use the name ‘HUAWEI AppGallery’ because we have a dedicated team that curates all the apps in terms of relevance and ease of use and to ensure that there are no technical issues. Importantly, all apps are also security-checked for malware and privacy leaks before being uploaded on to the HUAWEI AppGallery.”

Huawei recently held a Developers’ Day where Huawei executives met with South African developers to discuss Huawei’s offering. 48 developers registered their apps on the day, and Huawei is currently in discussions with them with the eventual aim of featuring the best apps and designs on HUAWEI AppGallery or HUAWEI Themes. The Consumer Cloud Service Southern Africa Team at Huawei plans on making Developers’ Day a quarterly event and establishing a local providers’ hub, where developers can regularly meet with Huawei for training on updates to programmes and offerings.

“We have a very hands-on approach with our developers, and hope to expand that community so we can become an additional distribution channel for more developers and expose them to both a local and a global audience,” says Geng. “For example, we regularly feature apps and designs from local developers on our Huawei social media pages, and do competitions and promotions. We want to do everything we can to make our Huawei users aware of these local apps and upload them. This will encourage the growth of the developer community in South Africa by giving developers more opportunities to generate revenue from in-app purchases.”

* Developers who would like their apps featured on the HUAWEI App Gallery, or designs featured on HUAWEI Themes, should visit https://developer.huawei.com or email Huawei Mobile Services on sacloud@huawei.com.

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