Our Blog – a look back at the last six months
As six months have passed since our last catchup, now seems a good time to revisit the thirteen articles published over that period, with a summary of each to help you decide quickly which ones might be worth another look.
1 Changing Software – Parts 1 and 2
• Does what we already have work in the way we need it to? A question that should be posed on a regular basis. Concerns can arise that relate to support, outdated software, productivity shortcomings, manual intervention still being required, scalability, multiple users restrictions and the continued use of spreadsheets.
• Are there any issues with functionality? Such issues can arise through obsolescence, changing customer needs, mobility (especially when teams are working remotely), inadequate security, integration with other software, changing workflows and again, outdated software and scalability limitations.
• Are there organisational pressures to change software? Instances might arise through cost reduction pressures, preferences regarding cloud solutions or changes in the organisational structure itself, for example.
• Is management information adequate? It may be, particularly with older software, the information required to make decisions in constantly changing markets is not available, or is available but not at the time when it can make a difference.
• Do systems changes necessitate changes in the software applications being used? Speed, inefficiencies, stability, these are all relevant as well as giving consideration to wider improvements in software and hardware – are such developments being fully taken advantage of?
Having considered whether a change might be appropriate we then looked at how to choose the right software for your needs, especially given potential pitfalls such as disruption to operations and loss of, or inability to access, historical data.
• What does the new software need to do and what problems must it solve? This requires making a list of high level objectives and needs.
• Next to be drafted is a Software Requirements Specification, along with an importance ranking to assist when filtering alternatives (essential, good to have etc.).
• Then comes a list of all the alternative solutions available, as extensive as possible to start with, eventually narrowed down to a short list of no more than half a dozen.
• Trials and demos can then be used to discover whether or not objectives and needs can actually be met by the alternatives left on the shortlist. Only by actually using the software –unavoidably time consuming if done properly – will it be possible to tell whether some particular needs are met or not, primarily ease of use.
• Finally find out about your potential software partner, speak to existing clients and decide whether they are who you want to work with, potentially for years to come.
2 Making better use of Google Chrome
The chances are you are reading this using a Chrome browser. By 2012, having been launched in 2008, Chrome had become the most popular browser worldwide – across all device types it has nearly 64% of the current market.
• Group Tabs: did you know that regularly used tabs, if they fall into useful categories, can be grouped together and collapsed until needed again?
• Transferring handwritten notes to your computer via Chrome: this is particularly helpful when trying to avoid the chore of transcribing into Word – using Google Lens you can use your time for more valuable activities.
• Restarting Chrome without losing Tabs: when you need to restart your browser – maybe a tab is frozen – using an easy to use feature, Chrome can ensure that all the tabs you currently have open will be open after the restart.
• Opening Tabs that have been closed by mistake: when you make the mistake of closing a tab you didn’t want to close, it can easily be recovered without having to once again search for an address.
3 More Windows 10 tips to make life easier
In the same vein, although this time with Windows 10, there are some features again that by chance you may not know about, ones that can save some valuable time and effort. These include:
• My Phone App: Microsoft’s app lets you make and receive both calls and texts, check notifications and access your Android device’s photos from your PC.
• Skype Meet Now: a product that can enable a video call to be arranged for up to 100 people without any having to sign up to Skype (so even if you don’t have Skype) and without having to download any software. Each call can also be recorded (and stored for up to 30 days), and can last for up to 24 hours.
• Snip & Sketch, which replaced the old snipping tool, is simple to use and a bit more flexible than the older version.
• Using Focus Assist you can tell Windows to only show you selected notifications, allowing you to create quiet periods without missing the things you decide are important.
4 How to reduce time spent on emails – Parts 1 and 2
With around an average of 126 emails going in and out of the average mailbox each day, any way of reducing the “noise” must be invaluable. With this objective in mind, we looked first at ways of automating the handling of emails, including:
• Keywords and tags: in addition to helping find emails easily, keywords are also useful when seeking to identify trends and aid team collaboration.
• Email templates: if you find your team responds to certain types of emails in a particular way, using the same or similar phrases, making good use of templates can save significant amounts of time.
• Folders and filters: similar to keywords, folders can also be used to group messages together in ways that make them easier to handle. Automating the filing of messages not only saves valuable administrative time initially, but even more time when it comes to finding emails at a later date. Folders can also be used as a way to delegate work between the team sharing an inbox.
• Colour coding emails: as well as the use of flags, this enables team members to see at a glance which emails need to be dealt with and which are a priority.
• Notifications – “NotifyMe”: a very popular feature, CompassAir has “NotifyMe”, that alerts you, on both your mobile and desktop, to those emails you need to see as soon as they arrive or are sent by colleagues.
• ShipLink: also from CompassAir, it finds ships mentioned in your emails and links each email to the relevant ship in your vessel database. ShipLink understands the context of your emails and then immediately makes them available from within your vessel database.
• Message rules are numerous and flexible, capable of being used in ways that best serve your needs.
• The Two Minute Rule: “If an action takes less than two minutes, it should be done at the moment it’s defined” even if it’s not an urgent or high priority task. You can introduce some flexibility, but the basic idea is do immediately what can be done quickly.
• Time allocation: regular email checking is a major distraction, so schedule blocks of time throughout the day, say 15 minutes at a time, where you can be in the “processing mode”.
• Reducing the flow: let everyone know when you feel you don’t need to be copied in or where you feel emails could have been kept to two or less paragraphs. The obvious culprits here are FYIs, CCs and BCCs.
• Organising your email: creating action, pending, reference and archive folders can help to stay on top of your inbox.
5 Basic PC performance tips and troubleshooting
CompassAir provides tools that enable our clients to work more efficiently, to improve their workflow. However, in order to ensure that they get the very best out of these tools – and its the same for all business applications – it’s not only the software that needs to be taken into account. We look first at simple PC housekeeping, and after that some basic troubleshooting.
6 Spreadsheets and their shortcomings
We look first at the differences between a spreadsheet and a database, the risks involved in using the former, and then finish with some horror stories from the recent past.
7 Productivity tips to make better use of your day
Having touched on this in an earlier article we take a look again at the Two Minute Rule as well as some other personal productivity tools, including:
• The Pomodoro Technique: surprisingly effective given its the offspring of a tomato-shaped kitchen timer.
• The “One and Done” Rule: a bit like the 2 minute rule, it’s a very basic “do it now” instead of leaving it for later by adding it to a to-do list.
• The 1-3-5 System, a way to handle to-do lists where essentially you have two to-do lists, or more accurately, one list from which you create a daily to-do list. The resulting list consists of 1 major task, 3 medium and 5 minor ones.
• The “Touch it Once” Rule says once you touch something, you should take immediate action. That might be completing a simple task, or determining the next steps to getting it done. The objective is to stop your mind wandering, worrying about all those tasks that remain outstanding, which affects how productive you are with what you are currently doing.
We then finish off with some more suggestions, the first being simply learning to say “no”, after that the Eisenhower Matrix, “Eat the Frog”, themed days and then batching similar tasks. Hopefully, one or two of the above will enable you to get more out of your working day.
8 Effective time management tips
Given the popularity of the time management articles from earlier, we decided to take a final look at the subject, see why it is so important, and consider further ways to go about increasing your productivity.
9 Ransomware: threats and precautions
Not a subject to be treated lightly and an ever present threat, as we saw in this week’s Splash247.com, with several Greek shipping companies, clients of Danaos Management Consultants, falling victim to a cyber attack over last weekend, blocking communications and resulting in the loss of data.
Given the importance of the subject, we have looked at Cyber threats a number of times in the past, the first being nearly two years ago in “Email scams: a growing threat”, then in relation to the (sadly still continuing) Coronavirus pandemic “Cyber threats and Covid-19” in April 2020, and after that with a “Cyber security update”. In this latest article we look specifically at ransomware, why attacks are becoming more frequent and, importantly, what precautions can be taken to minimise the risks of losses from this particular threat.
10 Email collaboration software: must haves
If you don’t already have software and systems that enhance team collaboration, its likely to be on your list of things to look at in the near future.
• Integrated discussions: the ability to chat with other team members, both generally and in relation to specific messages, without adding to email noise.
• Team transparency: its important to be able to see what action your colleagues are taking or have taken with respect to individual emails.
• Audit trails: it is essential that the software keeps a complete history of who did what and when.
• Shared resources: for a team to work efficiently, it is critical that each member can search for and have access to the same files and database.
• Increased security and reduced risks: the collaboration software you choose should allow for control over what individual users can and cannot do, as well as prevent unauthorised access to features, documents etc. where appropriate.
• Automated processing of emails: sharing means that each team member will see more emails. To accommodate this additional “noise”, the email collaboration software chosen should make use of automation wherever possible.
• Personalisation: email collaboration software should not preclude the use of individual names (important in establishing good working relationships) or access to individual email addresses. It becomes cumbersome if you access your work emails using particular software, then have to switch to say Gmail or Outlook to look at other emails.
11 Why move to the cloud?
• Costs: there are no upfront costs with the cloud (aside from relocating your data), the investment required for an on premise solution is replaced with predictable monthly payments that also cover software licences, support, upgrades and security, and are adjusted according to the actual resources used.
• Security: with cloud solutions there is generally a lower risk of significant losses being incurred.
• Scalability: you only pay for what you use and can easily scale up to meet additional demand (and, importantly, scale back when necessary).
• Easy access: the cloud is accessed from anywhere, simply by logging on using a browser, a web-based application or a mobile app, often from any type of device.
• Team collaboration: team members can work from anywhere that has access to the internet, sharing resources and being able to work just as closely with their colleagues as if they were in the same office.
Finally, in order to help with the decision, we looked at specific points to consider in order to decide whether a move to the cloud would be advantageous for your business.
A few words about CompassAir
Creating solutions for the global maritime sector, CompassAir develops state of the art messaging and business application software designed to maximise ROI. Our software is used across the sector, including by Sale and Purchase brokers (S&P/SnP), Chartering brokers, Owners, Managers and Operators.
Through its shipping and shipbroking clients, ranging from recognised World leaders through to the smallest, most dynamic independent companies, CompassAir has a significant presence in the major maritime centres throughout Europe, the US and Asia.
Our flagship solution is designed to simplify collaboration for teams within and across continents, allowing access to group mailboxes at astounding speed using tools that remove the stress from handling thousands of emails a day. It can be cloud based or on premise. To find out more contact email@example.com. If you are new to shipping, or just want to find out more about this exciting and challenging sector, the CompassAir Shipping Guide might prove to be an interesting read.
Contact us for more information or a short demonstration on how CompassAir can benefit your business, and find out how we can help your teams improve collaboration and increase productivity.