Zero-based: use HARO efficiently with filters

Peter Shankman‘s HARO (Help A Reporter Out) service is extremely valuable, but his opportunity-packed three emails a day can be hard to review in a timely fashion and risk getting bypassed if you have a big incoming stream of email. Because the content is time-sensitive, putting them off to read like a newsletter is self-defeating, like when I used to save daily WSJ issues I hadn’t read.

A few months ago, I signed up for HARO. You get three emails a day, each with 25-35 queries from reporters (loosely defined) looking for sources for various pieces. But since I’m primarily interested in a very discrete subset of those issues, namely “autism” or “special education,” reading through the emails was sometimes a hit-or-miss proposition.

Finally, I realized that I was shooting myself in the foot by letting all of the emails rise up to the level of my attention (cf. this video of Clay Shirky re: user filter failures via Lifehacker). Simply put, my new secret is to use an Outlook rule to delete the email from my inbox unless it has “autism” or “special education” in it. That way, if it’s in my inbox, I know it’s high priority and I can give it the appropriate amount of attention rather than subconsciously calculating the likelihood that there was something relevant and the time pressure of a response against my current and imminent workload. That one change, which only took a few minutes to implement was a big timesaver over trying to read three of those emails a day.

You can probably find a set of keywords that work for you, too. A colleague said that she has too many keywords to make this work well, but that’s no reason not to take a short step in the right direction. She could pick her top two or three keywords and let a similar rule or filter treat conforming emails differently, such as changing the subject text to “Urgent – HARO” or moving them to a specified high-priority folder. The key is differentiating more important emails from all the other emails, which she can then treat in her standard email workflow.

Time spent: <15 minutes, total

Time saved: <15 minutes per day

Zero-based exercise/diet tip series

The zero-time exercise series is a set of short tips on ways to exercise or diet that either cost nothing or take no time.

The first tip reflects something I’ve seen only in New York City, and not in any other city in the US or elsewhere: walking up escalators. Sure, walking up the escalator takes effort, but it’s not “zero-effort exercise.” In fact, walking up the escalator actually saves you time, unlike similar suggestions to park your car far away from the office or the mall entrance. If you want to start more easily, start with walking down the escalator. Then, if you’re improving and happen to have slow elevators in your building, walk down the stairs rather than wait for the elevator, from about the 5th floor down, you’ll probably actually save time (you can certainly measure the times and find an optimal solution).

Why don’t I suggest walking up the stairs? Well, when I walk up five flights in a suit, I get a little too overheated and uncomfortable; I don’t want to go into a meeting like that. Sure, walking down doesn’t burn as many calories but that’s not the comparison: the comparison is to how many you would burn standing in an elevator.