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Free Up Your Brain: Using Technology to Help You Work Smarter

Guest Author
June 4, 2019
Min Read

In today’s professional world, our busy schedules include juggling multiple projects, teams, and deliverables. If you’re in a management role, you’re overseeing other people and making sure they meet their own goals. Setting up organizational automation tools and staying on top of deadlines is critical to keeping the ship (or ships) afloat. Here are two services that have worked well for me, the secret weapons that help me extend my brain.

Technology to Help You Work Smarter

Slack Reminders for Alerts of All Kinds

Slack has dramatically changed collaboration in the 21st century. My favorite part of Slack doesn’t lie in the messaging tool itself; I mostly depend on the reminder function. To set alerts for yourself or others, use the following command structure: “/remind X to do Y on Z.”

If you want to remind yourself of something, you can use Slackbot or your personal message thread. For shared reminders, set a reminder in a channel or identify the person you want to remind as “Y” in the command structure above.

I set lots of one-time reminders to myself:

  • “/remind me to book flights for industry conference on 6/1/2019”
  • “/remind me to follow up with candidate in 2 days”

I also set recurring reminders:

  • “/remind me to send out monthly update on the first day of every month"  
  • “/remind @channel to update Growth-Legal prioritization sheet every Tuesday at 9:45 AM.” This triggers a note that pops up weekly in our #growth-team channel before sprint planning meetings with the legal and compliance teams.

Use Slack reminders if you frequently find yourself in the following situations:

  1. Regularly following up. You’re checking in on others for recurring tasks. You’re finding it annoying, inefficient, or overwhelming  to remember to manually send reminders on a regular basis.
  2. Managing high-stakes projects. You’re depending on someone else to complete an important part of a project. You need to minimize the chance that they forget while also minimizing the chance that they find you annoying.
  3. Planning for the future. You have a million things you need to get done, some of which depend on various people finishing work at various times. You’re paranoid that something will get lost.

Setting an automated reminder for deadlines or recurring updates ahead of time is an unobtrusive, reliable way to help multiple people stay on track. People seem more comfortable with technology nagging them than humans.

Here are a few other things I help myself remember through Slack:

  1. Checking in with people, especially if I know they’re going through a tough time or they are about to have a hard conversation with someone.
  2. Canceling subscriptions or free trials.
  3. Updating certain pages or dashboards that are not automated.
  4. Checking in on experiments that are running for multiple months.

Right Inbox for Reminding and Scheduling One-time or Recurring Emails

Right Inbox has been a professional life-saver. The paid plan is worth it, especially if you can expense it for work. Right Inbox allows me to:

  • Resend an email to myself at a scheduled time
  • Schedule emails to others
  • Send recurring emails to others

I’ll schedule an email reminder for myself if I’ve passed the ball to someone on an assignment but want to keep an eye on the deadline. I’ve used email reminders to remind myself to follow up with meeting someone in a few months when they’re back in town. I even use Right Inbox to defer reading newsletters to the weekends.

I schedule email replies when I’ve crafted a reply to someone’s email but, per arbitrary social norms, it’s not entirely appropriate for me to respond in five seconds. I use this feature when I’m pretty sure I have the answer and want to get it off of my to-do list, but I might get new information that could change my response. In that case, I schedule an email for a few hours from the time I’m ready to send so I can cancel or update it if circumstances change.

Recurring emails work similarly to Slack reminders without as much of the noise. For more involved requests, I prefer email to Slack.

Finding the Tools that Work for You

There are some overarching themes here about how to effectively use technology to expand your effectiveness, especially as someone managing other people’s work and sometimes getting stressed out about it.

At a high level, try to smooth cognitive load between present-you and future-you. If future-you needs to do something, set a reminder so that present-you can worry about one fewer thing. Additionally, don’t let human memory become the single point of failure. Treat your brain (and others’ brains) as short-term operating memory. Let technology serve as your external hard drive, freeing up your RAM for deeper thinking.

Read Next: Workplace Productivity Tips That Actually Work

It may take a few iterations of testing and optimizing to figure out exactly what works for you. Finding the optimal setup will probably include trying out a few different solutions and staying aware of how you and (and your teammates) respond to these strategies.

About the Author

Jungwon Head of Growth at Upstart

Jungwon is the Head of Growth at Upstart, where she oversees all of Upstart’s user acquisition strategies across performance marketing, analytics, partnerships, design, and content. Upstart is an online lending platform powered by machine learning. Sixty percent of Upstart’s loans are fully automated, and the company has originated more than $3BN to date.

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