If you had to pick five things that slow you down every darn workday, I'd bet good money that email, meetings, and writing Word documents would make your list. While such things are largely unavoidable in the modern workplace (more’s the pity), there are some convenient tech fixes to this unholy trinity. Read on to take the suck out of your most arduous daily tasks.
Hot on the heels of sorting out social media overuse in his book Digital Minimalism, Cal Newport took aim at another form of digital overload in his latest full-length title, A World Without Email. Now you might immediately offer some objection like, “I could never do without my email.” Fair enough – me too. But aren’t you tired of the futile race to zero inbox and checking it over and over again as if you’re about to be notified of a lottery win?
Newport’s research indicates that on average, we check our email every six minutes during each workday. There are only two words for that: compulsion and addiction. Even if you’re in a mission-critical job, there is little chance that such a level of over-checking is anything other than too much. And the time suck is making you less attentive, more scattered, and less able to apply the skills you were hired to express.
Luckily, the clever folks at online project management pioneers Basecamp have come to the rescue of knowledge workers everywhere. Per their website, “Email sucked for years. Not anymore — we fixed it. HEY’s fresh approach transforms email into something you want to use, not something you’re forced to deal with.” I thought this was just a slick marketing pitch until I tried HEY and soon realized it lived up to its billing. No, it won’t make email go away completely, but it does make managing it much less of a headache.
One of the best features comes into play when someone emails you for the first time. Their message gets caught by HEY’s screening tool, which allows you to give a thumbs up or down like the emperor in Gladiator. If you say nay, then you’ll never be bothered by this person (or, even more likely, a marketing bot/spam engine) ever again. HEY also goes way beyond Gmail to place your most significant message in The Imbox, moderately important notes into The Feed, and things you might only need to look at once in The Paper Trail. If you like Basecamp – or just not being bothered by largely irrelevant emails 24/7/365, you’re going to love HEY.
2) Otter AI
One of the worst things about meetings has got to be the obligation to take notes. Unless you have trained secretary-like shorthand (is that even a thing anymore?), you’re likely to miss many important points made by your colleagues, boss, and clients, making follow-up calls and to-do items less effective. Over time, such inefficiencies can compound to compromise the quality of your work. Plus, when you’re desperately trying to keep up with a fast talker, hear a low talker, or deal with any other variety of oddly voiced character who seems to be straight out of a Seinfeld episode, your ability to contribute anything of note to the call is almost certainly diminished.
I used to spend a small fortune on human transcription to avoid such issues, but it got to the point that it was blowing my expenses budget every month. And that was even before my service of choice put their prices up by yet another 25 cents a word. While I do still use it for my most important interviews, I needed to find a more realistic daily alternative. Enter Otter AI.
Since its launch a few years back, this brilliant service has gone from strength to strength. Sure, it still spits out some comically inaccurate words at times, but its artificial intelligence engine only gets better the more audio you put through it. Earlier this year, Otter launched a virtual assistant, which you can connect with your online calendar of choice to automatically join every video call and transcribe the words of all participants in real time. If such a thing had existed in the Middle Ages, it would’ve been burned at the stake as an example of witchcraft. You don’t even have to go and manually retrieve the transcript when it’s done because Otter will send you an email with a link to download it. And all this for only $20 a month.
3) Dragon Professional 15
As impressed as everyone seems to be with Siri and Alexa, they’re relative newcomers to the world of voice recognition software. The undisputed OG in this space is what was formerly known as Dragon Dictate. Now in its fifteenth major iteration – not to mention numerous smaller updates that have occurred along the way, this platform is inching ever closer to perfection. Sure, it still takes time to train your dragon (blame my kids for that bad dad joke), but once you’ve got it up to speed with your voice, you’ll never want to go back to typing again.
Even someone as fast-fingered as my wife – whose keyboard prowess is at such a level that she can consistently maintain 90 words per minute – cannot bang out words as fast as she could speak them. According to an article in Forbes, the average newscaster speaks 154 words per minute, which is close to that of the typical adult and much quicker than most can type. Sure, it might take you a while to get used to ordering your thoughts so Dragon can turn them into coherent, publishable text, but even during the learning curve, it’s going to speed up your creative process and give your poor aching hands and wrists a well-deserved break.
In recent years, Nuance has added an intuitive app so that you no longer need to be tethered to your laptop or desktop to get your spoken thoughts down on paper. Yes, it’s a little pricey, but the ROI is rapid, and if you’re someone who is proud of being prolific, you’re going to take your output game to a whole new pinnacle with Dragon Professional.