Current email, calendar and task list setup

I use a few tools to help me keep on top of my email, calendar and task list. These are in addition to the basic Gmail and Google Calendar services.

Airmail – I’ve always preferred having my email in a client rather than in the browser and the cleaner and simpler the better. Airmail does the job very nicely if you’re a Mac user.

Sanebox – the filters/tabs for ‘promotions’ and so on in Gmail don’t really cut the mustard for my inbox – I need something that can spot just the important messages and filter out the rest. I also like to be able to have a set up where I only look at unimportant messages once a day. Sanebox does all of that and has some great other features too.

TextExpander – part of my job involves saying the same thing to lots of different people and so saving snippets in TextExpander saves me a lot of time. You soon remember the keyboard shortcuts to paste whole messages and then tweak before sending.

Motion – I’ve found that the best way for me to manage my task list is to allocate time for things directly on my calendar. Motion is the most intelligent way of doing that I’ve come across. You add things to the task list and then it automatically allocates them to a free slot in your calendar and updates as things change. Really helpful for less urgent but important recurring tasks.

HubSpot – we use Hubspot for a lot of things at work and I prefer their meeting booking experience over the other options I’ve tried. It means you can send a link to people for them to choose a time for a call.

I recommend all of them but also keen to hear if there’s anything else I should be trying!

Some thoughts on AI and tech for good

I’ve been working around the edges of machine learning and AI for many years now. We implemented some basic machine learning in the startup I was running in 2006 and I watched as many other startups implemented similar things during the 2010s. As an investor at BGV I’ve seen our portfolio companies use AI to differing extents to build successful businesses and have a positive impact.

So I knew that the recent spate of LLM innovation was coming. It’s impressive to see what companies like OpenAI and others have achieved. There’s something uncanny about the interactions you have with ChatGPT or Bard and the like and I’ve watched it already have an impact on the stuff I read.

Unfortunately, the most obvious thing in my case is inbound unsolicited marketing emails. As I’m fairly public about my contact details, I’ve always had a fair amount of speculative sales messages from recruiters, outsourced software development houses, lead generation and many other services that I just never use. It doesn’t get flagged as spam but I use software called Sanebox (itself an interesting application of machine learning) to filter it and then have a quick scan once a day.

In the last couple of months, the nature of those emails has changed. They are now mainly generated by chatGPT and the like. Because there is enough information about me and BGV in the public domain, they can ‘personalise’ the approaches in a way that wasn’t possible. I’ve also noticed a fair amount of ChatGPT generated posts on Linkedin, Twitter and the like. It’s an interesting twist to sales and marketing but it leaves me underwhelmed.

Despite how impressive the technology is, so far I’ve found limited use cases for ChatGPT in ‘doing’ any part of my job. I find it useful for sense checking and improving the quality of output but it’s not capable of fundraising or making investment decisions. It can help but it’s a long way from being a direct replacement for human activity.

I’ve been asked quite a few times in the last six month about the relationship between tech for good and AI. The short answer is that it’s no different from any other technology. A tech for good AI startup will set out to intentionally solve a particular social or environmental issue and it will measure its impact as it tries to do that. No other AI startup will be tech for good. You can’t accidentally be tech for good.

Part of the reason for this post is that I think ChatGPT and the like will lead to people writing less and that is a shame. Seeing it in action has spurred me to do something which I’ve been thinking about for a while and start blogging again.

I’m going to try to write a weekly post, usually about tech or impact investing. Maybe I’ll just be talking to the bots. Does anybody ready blogs anymore? I’m not sure!

Everything on the internet is wrong so don’t take me too seriously. But I hope it will help me improve my thinking which is something that leaving everything to AI certainly won’t.

Productivity hacks: Sanebox

I’ve written before about email and how in the grand scheme of things it’s not so bad. But a few months ago I noticed it was getting on top of me a bit and stopping me from being quite so proactive so I did what every productivity geek does and shopped around for something to solve the problem. I decided to give Sanebox a go again — I tried it once a few years back but for some reason never stuck with it.

This time it’s definitely helped. I can’t quite explain why but there’s something about the way it works that lessens the amount of time I worry about email. You give it api access to your mailboxes and then let it work its magic. Messages it deems non-urgent get put into a folder called @Sanelater rather than appearing in your inbox leaving you with just the important stuff. It then sends you a daily email with the unimportant stuff that you can have a quick look through — training anything it’s got wrong and reading anything that’s just ‘fyi’.

They also have an excellent list of 100 email hacks. To be honest I don’t mind paying $99 a year for the service (for 2 email accounts) — if you sign up here you’ll get $5 off (yay!). I’m sure it’s not for everyone but well worth a try if you’re drowning.

Productivity killing emails

Most of my workflow is done through email. I’m a big believer in Inbox Zero and generally I think I’m pretty good at replying to people in a timely and hopefully helpful way.

But over the years I’ve noticed that there are certain emails I receive that completely knock me off balance. They start a cycle that means my inbox starts filling up again and I’ve been trying to work out what it is about them so that I can avoid sending similar emails myself and work out how to get myself back on track more quickly.

They basically have two characteristics:

  • They contain multiple asks that require multiple pieces of research — hence they’re difficult to add to a task list
  • They include things that really should be talked about face-to-face or at least on the phone

The steps to get over them are:

  • Recognise the email and realise I need to deal with it
  • Pick up the phone and sort out the bit that needs to be talked through
  • Set aside a time to deal with the multiple asks and put it in my calendar so it gets done

Sounds simple doesn’t it? But they do still hit me for six every now and then.

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