February 26, 2008

1-800: Working In Multiple Cities and Provinces

If you work in different cities or provinces, what phone number do you give your clients? Long distance rates are low, but that doesn't mean they want to pay to talk to you. If you're part of a major firm, you probably have a toll-free number. If you don't, you can easily get one and look big too.

The toll-free number simply redirects calls to phone number of your choosing, such as your cell phone. You can change the ring-to number whenever you like. You can get more sophisticated with
  • voicemail
  • conferencing
  • call blocking (geographical, by area code, by phone number)
  • email notification of calls
If you want more, you can add
  • interactive voice response --- be as annoying as big companies ;)
  • call recording --- for "quality assurance"
  • blocks for payphones --- which are billed at higher rates
The Price
As you might guess, you can pick from many providers. I especially liked Kall8 (kall8.com) and TelCan/Callture (telcan.net). Prices are in US dollars.

For $2 per month you get an 888, 877 or 866 exchange. A genuine 800 number (there are still some left) costs $5 a month. Memorable "vanity" numbers $15 to $350 or more. There's a setup fee which is usually the same as the monthly fee.

You're also charged $0.069 per minute for calls from Canada or the continental US.

Telcan / Callture
As you might guess, this is a Canadian company. The monthly charge is $2 --- no surcharge for 800 or memorable numbers. You can pick any (unused) vanity number for only a $14.99 setup charge. Canadian fairness in action.

The charge per minute is $0.0649 for calls from Canada and $0.0449 from the continental US. I selected them.

After experimenting, I created 1-877-337-3711, which is also 1-877-3-37-37-11. It's not quite as catchy as 967-11-11 for Pizza Pizza, but looks nice, sounds nice and has special digits (Editor's note: actuaries and numbers). I'd like to forward it to Skype, but that isn't possible right now.

You own your toll-free number. You can switch it to another provider if you want.

Your email address doesn't given away your location and your phone number need not. That just leaves your mailing address. Two out of three isn't bad.

February 19, 2008

The Email Avalanche: Five Tips for Survival

I don't believe in email.
I'm an old-fashioned girl.
I prefer calling and hanging up.
--- Sarah Jessica Parker

How did we survive in the days before mobile phones and bottled water? Now we're reachable in the washroom and spared from drinking the tap water we use for cooking.

Mobile email is the latest necessity. Technology makes us more productive. We can work anywhere, anytime. So we do. Our earnings per hour drops (see How Much Do You Really Earn?) and we have less time for other priorities. Unless we deal with email better.

Five Tips
Timothy Ferriss, author of The Four Hour Workweek, shared 8 suggestions for dealing with email outside office hours on lifehacker, a practical site to help us get things done.

Here are my five tips for dealing with email.

1. Check Email Intermittently
I check messages before leaving home and after getting home. On my rare days in the office, I check messages mid-morning and mid-afternoon. When I'm with others, I show respect and courtesy by paying attention to them. Not everyone reciprocates.

2. Send Replies Later
Few messages need an immediate reply. Even urgent requests can benefit from clarification and a thoughtful reply. Since scarcity is a universal principle of influence, a moderately delayed reply increases your perceived value. Much better than looking like you're sitting around with nothing to do.

3. Reread the Reply
Too many emails have obvious spelling mistakes --- Blackberries don't have spell-checking --- or grammatical errors. The content could be ambiguous, requiring more emails for clarification. A review is the effective --- but boring --- solution.

4. Send Emails During Office Hours
When you send an email affects how it's perceived. While I work outside office hours more than I intend. I'm not proud of this and don't want people to know. So I'll compose emails but wait to send them during business hours.

There are two exceptions
  • email with attachments, which requires a slow, cumbersome logon process
  • travel to different time zones,
These emails are usually sent when written.

5. Archive Emails The Lazy Way
Until 2006, I archived email in appropriate folders. Despite the time spent organizing, I had trouble finding messages. There's a better way thanks to free desktop search tools from like Copernic and Google. Now I use two offline folders in Outlook each year
  • 2008 Move In: all email received during the year (moved from Inbox weekly)
  • 2008 Move Out: all email sent during the year (moved from Sent Items weekly)
Now I only need to know whether I sent or received the message. And the calendar year. Much easier.

Your ideas are most welcome too.


February 13, 2008

4:35am --- A Day In The Life

3 O'clock In The Morning
I'm Getting Ready For Bed
It Came Without A Warning
--- Paul McCartney, Picasso's Last Words
I don't travel to Calgary often. Mornings aren't my best time. Toronto had lots of snow yesterday. I plowed the driveway before sleeping. Airport limos refused to take reservations for morning flights.

Wednesday, Feb 13, 2008 at 4:35am: I wake up after three hours of sleep, which is far too little. On a whim, I phone for a limo pickup at 5:30am and get one. At least I won't have the stress of driving. The limo arrives a few minutes early, right on schedule. The slow plows pass by my house just before we leave. Roads are plowed but slippery. We pass a bad accident in the leftmost lane just before the airport exit. Tow trucks. Ambulances. Fire trucks. I hope no one's seriously injured.

5:38am: I arrive at the airport. I tip the driver 34.61%. A tv crew is setting up. Maybe they'll be lucky. Flight delays and crowds make news.

5:51am: I'm through security. The lines were short but the metal detector beeped and I was searched manually. This included removing my shoes and overshoes, which were then xrayed. There was a chair to sit on. Good planning.

6:05am: At Gate 137. I printed my boarding pass at home last night and forgot to check for a gate change at the airport. Until I arrived at Gate 124 and see it's for a different flight. The extra walking is good exercise. It'd be great exercise if I were wide awake.

6:45am: The plane is leaving on time. Until the captain announces that de-icing and anti-icing will take 30 minutes. So we'll arrive late but aren't told by how long. We ignore the prerecorded safety reminders but I make a note of the nearest exit. There's an empty seat beside me and reasonable leg room. I'm comfortable. Unfortunately, I'm wearing a suit because I've got a meeting just after landing.

My seatmate lived north of Toronto in Barrie for four years. He's going to Bannf for a two day vacation before moving to Yellowknife for one year.

7:27am: We're airborne. The Airbus A320 will cruise at 34,000 ft. Canada's bilingual but not fully metric. In 1919, a plane powered by BMW's second-ever aircraft engine reached an altitude record of 32,013 feet. At least we've got a pressured, heated cabin.

8:25am: The refreshment service is over and the movie is starting. It's Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth The Golden Age. I'm not interested. A song plays in my head "They say it's the Golden Age. And gold is the reason for the wars we wage". It's New Years Day by U2.

I took a set of sealed headphones but see the earclip for the right ear is missing. That's okay. I would have brought my noise-canceling headphones if I really wanted to listen to anything. In the washroom, there's no hot water. At least there's water. Later I discover the other washroom has no water!?!

8:46am: I'll see if I can sleep for a while. I doze and wake up reasonably recharged. I've got new ideas and start revising material I'd previously prepared.

9:10am (Calgary time, i.e., 11:10am for my body): starting descent. We land 32 minutes late, which is a reasonable sacrifice for a properly de-iced plane.

9:51am: I'm in a limo heading to downtown Calgary. I submit this post and get ready for the official start of the business day.

February 6, 2008

Patterns: 14 Snow Plows and 122 Science Projects

This morning was snowy in Toronto. The radio created excitement about how bad the weather was. In truth, the weather wasn't that bad. The snow blower quickly cleared the driveway. Major streets were well-plowed. I drove downtown on bus routes.

On Dundas Street, I saw 14 snow plows in groups of 2-3 within 15 minutes. Luckily, they were going in the opposite direction. There were also five police cars on my route. Probably a coincidence.

What's Odd
Here's what's really odd. The plows weren't plowing. The snow was already removed. I'm guessing they were en route to plow side streets. The plows were were inadvertently affecting three groups
  1. folks waiting in side streets
  2. the traffic snailing behind them
  3. the inquisitive (bloggers?!?) wondering what was going on
Fortunately, I got to all my meetings on time and so did the other attendees.

The Science Projects
We visited a grade 6-8 Science Fair at my son's school in the evening. With so many projects beside one another, patterns became easy to spot:
  1. text fonts too small to read from a distance: with PowerPoint what looks big on a computer screen looks small when projected
  2. weird colour combinations: too much creativity reduced readability
  3. too much content: difficult to grasp the main message instantly
  4. sea of sameness: looking for interesting differences
  5. seeking out winners: endorsement by judges made those projects seem better than they perhaps were (placebo effect)
  6. research done online: can your clients find you online?
  7. varying attention to detail: some did/didn't put their heart into their work
  8. conclusions hard to find: the conclusions didn't stand out even though they were generally where expected --- the bottom right hand quadrant
It's unfair to judge kids by the same standards as as our clients judge us. We can still learn lessons, though. Students have an advantage: they get marks and get guidance. Clients rarely tell us how we did and how to get better.