Monday, March 2, 2015

Here's a Quick Way to Create Tasks On the Fly

Did you know writing down your tasks boosts productivity? Experts also say note taking strengthens the part of your brain that records important information. With the GQueues Chrome Extension, you can record ideas and turn web pages into tasks from your browser, so nothing falls through the cracks.

In January, we updated the Chrome Extension to make it faster and easier to use. Along with the update we recorded a brand new tutorial video which shows you how to install the extension, create tasks with a single click and adjust settings for maximum efficiency.

Watch the video below and install the extension to start working faster and smarter.  Enjoy!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

How Improv Made Me a Better Entrepreneur

Today, employees and teams have access to endless gadgets, tools and tips to increase productivity. Their goals? Accomplish more in less time, “work smarter, not harder” and create a bigger return on investment.

However, focusing too much on how to be more, get more and do more can lead to being busy, instead of productive. On the other hand, learning how to be in the moment and mine all its worth is a strategy that can foster long term happiness and success.

I learned this, funny enough, through improv classes at The Second City. For those who aren’t familiar, improv comedy is a form of theatre where everything is made up on the spot. Doing improv forced me to get out of my head and make strong, confident choices using all the information available at that moment. It helped me see that success depends on my willingness to accept the current circumstances and support my team.

There are three improv rules I learned that have helped me shift my outlook on business and improve relationships with customers.

1. Listen.

To improvise well, everyone on stage needs to hear what each other is saying. You have to listen like your life depends on it and focus your attention on what's going on around you. Simple, though not always easy. My biggest challenge was resisting the urge to plan what I was going to say while other people were talking.

This intense listening skill applied a lot in my business, especially when it came to handling customer feedback - support issues, bug reports and feature requests - on the GQueues' forum. Whenever I jumped to conclusions (ie., "That's not a bug," "You're not doing it right," or "That won't work because of X, Y, Z...") I rejected the input, and missed the opportunity to apply it in a constructive way. When I used improv listening skills instead, reading each message as openly as possible, I understood the underlying issues and could respond appropriately. In practicing this skill, I have been able to create a better product and serve others more effectively by offering real value.

As Richard Branson says, listening in this way is key to success for entrepreneurs.

2. Say Yes.

How many times does your day go exactly as you plan it?

Not often, right?

Anything could happen - from getting a call from a frustrated client, to having a mixup with the conference hotel, to having an awkward conversation with your boss. These things happen. No matter the situation, we have two choices: resist and fight, or accept the circumstances as a way to grow.

You may have heard the core improv rule, “Say Yes.” This can sometimes be misinterpreted as always having to agree with what's happening around you. Really, though, saying yes is about acceptance. Accepting whatever situation you are in, and expanding it with your choices.

For example, if someone runs up to you in an improv scene and says, “The bombs are gonna hit! We’re going to die!” you might respond, “I just stocked my panic room with tuna! Let’s go!” validating her statement and adding to the scene. If you stand there with your arms crossed and say, “Stop. Those aren’t bombs. You look crazy,” you’ve rejected the scene.

Learning how to say yes really hit home with the evolution of the GQueues mobile app. For two years I clung tightly to an HTML5 mobile web app version I'd developed. It was built on technology that was supposed to revolutionize mobile apps, but it never lived up to expectations. Customers were complaining about poor functionality, so I finally accepted this and built new, native Android and iOS apps that would deliver a better experience.

Had I kept denying the circumstances, I would still be stuck, and customers unhappy. Instead, moving forward helped me build an app that people love and can use easily, giving me greater ownership of my work.

Ultimately, I learned saying yes takes courage, helps you develop more positive relationships and gives you power to move forward in your career, no matter what.

3. Roll with it.

One of my favorite things about improv is there are no mistakes. Every word and action taken on stage is fair game for a scene. For example, if someone gets tongue-tied and says, “I just got back from the barket” instead of “I just got back from the market,” they just made up a quirky world where Barkets exist - perhaps a national chain of grocery stores run by dogs.

These “slips” made on stage are gifts opening the players to limitless creativity.

Similarly, great leaders and entrepreneurs understand that mistakes are gifts - opportunities to gain insight and build a better business.

I’ve made a number of blunders working on GQueues - from bugs, to poorly designed features, to being inconsiderate with team members. While I regret the results, improv has helped me immediately start an action plan that can apply the mistake positively in my life. I accept what happened, make amends, then take time to explore what I can learn about myself and the situation. Writing this down helps me commit to growing and hopefully not repeating the mistake again.

The improv practices of intense listening, accepting circumstances and embracing mistakes helped me grow both personally and as a leader of my business. Although I was terrified at first, I learned to really connect with others in a bold and meaningful way that isn't often touched on in the real world. They taught me how to use everyday life to improve my weak spots and turn them into strengths.

If you haven't before, I highly recommend taking an improv class. After all, when you can grow your business in these ways and more and have fun, there's only something to gain.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Just Released: Business Transformation Guide for Google Apps

The Cloud Alliance for Google Apps just published a 40-page, comprehensive Business Transformation Guide for Google Apps.

This document is completely free and can be downloaded here:

The guide provides a change management plan for teams and workplaces transitioning to Google Apps. As outlined on the website, it is particularly useful for:
  • An executive looking to guide your organization through the biggest IT shift in decades. 
  • An IT administrator who wants to make a difference and make your own life easier. 
  • A Google Apps reseller seeking insight on helping your customers adopt the platform. 
  • A tech-savvy employee looking to drive change from the bottom up. 
As a proud member of the Cloud Alliance, we couldn't be more thrilled to recommend this powerful new business tool to our community. Please, check it out!

Thursday, January 29, 2015

3 Ways to Optimize Work Flow with GQueues

Since the start of the New Year, I've noticed a lot of new interest in task management applications. Organizations want to make the most of 2015 and with one month already down, an urgency is growing. While many promise productivity and efficiency, task managers do not often make clear how they drive tangible results for business and thus, their importance.

To offer clarity on the subject, I'd like to share GQueues' case study on Krengeltech, a software development and professional services company, known for DocuTransfer.®

A majority of Krengeltech's 15 employees work across the Midwest, and one reason they sought a task manager was to improve central communication within the team, thereby producing higher quality deliverables for clients.

Over the past three years, here's how GQueues helped Krengeltech achieve their goals.

Task One: Integrating with Google Apps

In 2011, Quentin Krengel, founder and President of Krengeltech spotted GQueues for its complete Google Apps integration and ability to create, prioritize and share tasks with his entire team. Having just switched Krengeltech to Google Apps, he chose it as the best fitting task manager for the company.

Two: Managing the Flow of Business

Krengeltech first and foremost needed to improve their communication structure that started in internal strategy and poured into client relations.

GQueues offered a way to optimize the team's process of collecting, translating and implementing data from client intake to high-quality deliverables.

First, Krengeltech employees created queues for each step of the process - Estimators, Statement of Work and Projects - in the company's GQueues account. With the Shared Queues feature, all Krengeltech employees were able to prioritize and assign tasks in these queues with Google Contacts, keeping everyone on track. Krengeltech now had access to a smoother, seamless client-to-staff connection.
"GQueues keeps us on track so nothing falls through the cracks."
- Chris Franz, Professional Services Manager

Task Three: Making Teamwork Simple

Next, Krengeltech wanted to streamline the way teams worked together. This meant clear, consistent communication regardless of location or distance from one employee to another. It also meant giving employees a way to optimize their time individually so they could meet goals and deadlines together.

With GQueues, teams began to create agenda queues that contained tasks and items to be discussed in weekly conference calls. They attached files from Google Drive to these queues, organizing information relevant to the upcoming call and sharing it with all participating team members. When it was time to meet, participants were already informed of the purpose and focus of the call and could utilize their time together effectively.

Employees were also able to optimize their individual work flow with the GQueues for Gmail extension, turning relevant email content into actionable tasks. Being able to sort emails from personal, to group, to “junk” made it easy to focus only on relevant tasks.

In the same vein, teams used the GQueues Chrome Extension to add spur of the moment ideas and web content to their tasks without logging into GQueues. This was more productive than sharing a link and having recipients scan through the entire web page to find the relevant content. It also allowed team members to create tasks instantly, a shortcut to the full GQueues interface.

Over the past three years, we've been thrilled to help Krengeltech improve collaboration and communication and achieve more client-focused results. Chris Franz, CEO of Krengeltech noted the app’s simplicity and integration with Google Apps as, "pretty much a no brainer," so we're glad to hear the process was simple.

If you’d like to learn more about GQueues features, how they can optimize your work flow and drive results, take a moment to view our other case studies across several industries. No matter your line of work, we hope this information helps you make key decisions for a productive, purpose-driven New Year.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Focusing on the Essential in 2015

Surrounded by family and friends, I find the holidays are a great time to reflect on what really matters. While I’m fairly clear on the current direction of my life, I noticed a disconnect between what’s important to me and how I was actually spending my time and energy everyday. This reminded me of a key point in Greg McKeown’s latest book Essentialism which I read this past fall:

“Essentialism is not about how to get more things done; it’s about how to get the right things done.”

That’s it! Even though we know what’s important to accomplish, our daily activities often don’t match up and we squander our time on the non-essential. To be productive is not enough. In order to make our highest contributions both personally and professionally, we must consciously direct our efforts to do the “right" things.

Here are 4 practices to help focus your energy on what is essential, every day.

1. Learn to Say No

Your time is limited. Therefore, the only way to focus on the essential is to reduce time spent on the non-essential. This requires saying no to people or opportunities that distract you from what you value most.

These techniques can help you decide when it is in your best interest to say no:
  • Monitor what is on your plate. Your life is already full. You spend every minute of the day on something. When a new opportunity comes along, think about what it will replace and deliberately decide if this trade is worthwhile. If you’re not willing to give up something else (whether it’s another project, sleep or even relaxation time) then you can confidently and graciously say no.

  • Listen to your body and intuition. They are important! Saying yes to something that seems attractive, but leaves you feeling tight in the belly, or cramped in your back, merits reconsideration. Your body is your best ally in situations where an answer may not be apparent. If something doesn’t feel right, it’s usually a sign for you to first stop and think before moving forward. 

2. Always Give Your All

If you are saying no to the non-essential and focusing only on what’s important to you, it will be easier to bring your best effort to activities. With more time, energy and focus available, you can develop strategies to do higher-level work in a given time.

Here are 3 ways to give your all on a daily basis:
  • Be fully present in whatever you are doing. This requires staying in the moment, accepting the current situation as it is and then deciding how you want to respond and engage. A daily mindfulness routine can help you develop this habit – start your morning with meditation, watch a motivational TED Talk, spend 15 minutes making something with your hands (art, food, music, etc.), take an improv class, or anything else that helps you focus on the now.

  • Start your top priorities first. Since you can only accomplish a number of tasks each day, starting your top priorities first ensures they aren’t neglected due to fatigue. Instead of spending the first hours of your day archiving junk email, take that time to focus on the heavy hitters, such as finishing a business proposal.

  • Be open to feedback. Listening openly, without judgment and without taking things personally is one of the most valuable skills in the workplace and world today. It requires noticing your thoughts and letting defensiveness go while receiving feedback from supervisors, your team, your spouse, or anyone who provides it. First, consider if the feedback resonates with you. If so, put it into action – showing up earlier, sharing more ideas at meetings, spending more time with your kids, or anything else. If it doesn't, choose to continue in a way that is best for you.

3. Optimize Your Habits 

Often, we develop unintentional patterns that waste time, energy and money. Monitoring your daily actions can help you become aware of how you spend resources and how to maximize your ROI.
  • Review how you spend time, money and energy. Track everything for a short period so you have a thorough assessment. Use tracking apps to simplify the process.

  • Eliminate the unnecessary. Identify activities you can cut altogether. I’m no longer checking email when I don’t actually have time to respond. Last year I stopped keeping snacks at my desk, which led to habitual, mindless eating.

  • Replace unintentional patterns with efficient ones. I used to spend about $30 a week on subway train tickets instead of buying an unlimited monthly pass for $100. It took me four months to finally make the switch, realizing the unlimited pass would have saved me $80 in that time period, and countless minutes spent buying tickets every time I took the train.

4. Energize Your Mind and Body

Our minds and bodies need breaks. We put a lot of pressure on them to relentlessly perform, but they are living organisms that also require nurture and care. If you plan to give your all for the long haul, you'll need to keep your mind and body energized.

Here are three ways to sustain your energy on a daily basis:
  • Physical activity. You don’t have to climb Mount Everest, run a marathon, or even join a gym. But incorporating simple and stimulating physical activity in your daily routine will improve your energy level. Take power walks, do cubicle yoga, or jog on lunch breaks.

  • Change your work setting. Mix it up. Spend a few hours on your laptop in a communal space, then move to your desk to make your day’s phone calls. When you’re done, step out to a cafĂ© for some relaxation, or choose another fun destination and keep the work going.

  • Connect with others. When the 3pm office slump kicks in, be the first to drum up a game of Catch Phrase with the team, lead a ten minute dance party, capture a funny group video, or make plans to grab a few beers together when the day is done. 
Taking time to connect with yourself and others stimulates you and helps your whole team accomplish more. Check out these tips for other ways to transform your office into a happy, productive workspace.

Now equipped with four practices for an essential life, how do you envision your year ahead? Whether you're ready to build your business, start a family, travel abroad or anything else, frequently check in with the actions you are taking to make sure they align with your larger goals. There are few things more inspiring than to accomplish exactly what you set out for, no matter what else comes up.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Take control of your inbox with GQueues for Gmail

We are happy to share one of the most exciting new GQueues features we’ve ever launched: GQueues for Gmail.

Since we were named a Google for Work Premier Partner earlier this year, we’ve been heads-down working on new integrated product features that allow our individual and business users to achieve higher levels of connection between GQueues and other Google services. Our Google Calendar integration got an update earlier this year. Attachments with Google Drive Integration launched in August, and the Gmail integration adds even more power across Google Apps.

We created the new feature as a Chrome Extension, which you can get here or through the Chrome Web Store.

With GQueues for Gmail, users will have the ability to:
  • Create a new task directly from Gmail, automatically linking to, or attaching the relevant email inside a new task and enabling you to modify the task name and details.
  • View emails attached to a task inside GQueues itself, saving time by avoiding long searches for related messages, or having to open a new window.
Watch the video to see how it works.
GQueues for Gmail is a powerful new tool that will make you and your team even more efficient and organized. The extension is only available to users with a paid subscription, but everyone can test it out with a 2-week free trial (even if a free trial has already been used in the past). Setting up GQueues for Gmail is simple. Visit this page to install the new extension and you’ll be taking control of your email in minutes.

Our goal is to continually add new functionality that makes our current users even more productive. As always, we look forward to your feedback on this new feature and to your suggestions for the next one. And, if you get a moment, share the tool that makes your home or work life easier with your friends. Just click to tweet the feature now.

Monday, November 3, 2014

3 Lessons of Entrepreneurship from the Early Voting Line

Yesterday I received my daily deluge of campaign fundraising emails, one of which reminded me that it was the last day for early voting. I knew I’d be busy on Tuesday, and one of the early voting locations was near my gym, so I decided to cast my ballot before my afternoon run. Upon arriving, shocked at the number of Chicagoans who also thought voting on a Sunday was a top priority, I took my place at the end of a line that extended out the door with several switchbacks in between. During my wait, I experienced three distinct events that reminded me of key lessons I’ve learned as an entrepreneur over the past five years building GQueues, the leading Google-integrated task management service for people and teams.

Listen to Customers (actually listen!)

A few minutes after taking my place in line, volunteers appeared offering coffee and donut holes. Most of us happily accepted the thoughtful gesture. People were cheerful and congenial on this mild fall day. But those of us at the end of the line were anxious; although our appetites were satisfied, our greatest desire was still unmet. We wanted to know how long we would be waiting in line, of course! Taking the lead for the group, I approached a person about halfway between the end of the line and the door and asked how long he had been waiting since standing in my position. 30 minutes. Great! We now knew we’d be voting in approximately an hour. Though the volunteers were well-meaning, they overlooked one of the most important services they could provide -- sharing ballpark wait times -- so people could decide whether if it would be better to vote today or wait until Tuesday.

Almost all the features I’ve built for the online task manager GQueues have come directly from customer feedback. However, the coffee and donuts situation reminded me of a few times when I’ve made changes to GQueues without getting user input first (it turns out people don’t like having task colors changed on them overnight, and they don’t want PayPal as the only payment option)! The Lean Startup movement emphasizes the idea of getting out of the building and talking to customers to ensure you are building the right solution. As entrepreneurs, we are always thinking about how we can improve our products. We have theories on what will solve customers’ problems and improve the business. Our vision of the future is essential to our success. However, our instincts and plans must always be rooted in a clear understanding of users and their needs -- which only emerges through listening. Asking customers for feedback with open-ended questions and then actually listening is paramount to building a truly valuable service. This isn’t revelatory. Most successful startups embrace this concept. But my time waiting to vote brought this to life again for me. Without truly listening, we may end up giving customers what we think they want (coffee and donuts), without addressing their most critical needs (wait times)!

Recognize What You Don’t Know

One of the aspects I enjoy about voting in person is the feeling of community at the polling place. While waiting in line, I listened to a Chicago Teachers Union member and a Chicago Transit worker discuss their views on the current state of the city and their support for various politicians. After an hour we made it to front door of the building, just as calculated. With a sigh of relief, we walked inside, only to see the line of people snaking down hallways throughout the building. I realized my error in reasoning. After talking to those at the front of the line, we learned it was another hour-long wait once inside the building.

At that moment, I recalled a key concept I had learned about project planning in my Masters of software engineering program: always identify the areas of highest risk -- the greatest unknowns -- and address those first. Focusing on what you don’t know is even more important than what you do know when embarking on something new. When building the GQueues Android app my biggest “unknown” was whether I could create a relational database in Android that could sync with the object-oriented “NoSQL” datastore in Google App Engine. If I couldn’t get syncing to work between the two types of databases, there was no point in building the app. So before I started any actual development, I spent an entire week exploring and testing this one area to answer this question and eliminate the risk before moving forward.

As early entrepreneurs there is a huge amount of information we don’t know -- about our market, our potential customers, our competitors, and the future in general. Learning as much as possible in these areas is critical to discovering a viable business model. And yet we often must make decisions with incomplete information. Consequently, it’s crucial to recognize what we don’t know when making decisions, so false assumptions are avoided and risks can be mitigated as much as possible. Had I focused on what I didn’t know at the polling place, I would have either sought more information or at least considered the impact of the unknowns in my decision to stay or go.

Beware of the Sunk Costs Fallacy

Standing inside the building, I realized I should re-evaluate my situation. I’m sure many people stayed in line because they really couldn’t vote on Tuesday, but I was in a position to compare my options.

While considering my choice, I recalled the Sunk Costs Fallacy I had learned so well when I made a major shift in GQueues’ mobile strategy. When we make a decision based on previously incurred expenses, instead of the cost and benefits that an action will have in the future, we are falling subject to the sunk costs fallacy. In 2011 I built an HTML5 mobile web app instead of separate native apps for iOS and Android with the idea that I could provide offline functionality to mobile users with only one code-base to maintain. The mobile web app was welcomed at launch, but I spent the next year trying to address user performance issues associated with not building native apps. Although I had invested three months developing the mobile web app and countless hours trying to improve it, I realized this was irrelevant to considering what was best for GQueues customers. I abandoned the mobile web app and decided to finally build native Android and iOS apps, admitting my mistake publicly and moving forward.

In business and any area of life, it’s easy to fall into the trap of the sunk costs fallacy, because we get attached to our investments of time and money. Recognizing the faulty logic though can help us avoid making decisions that don’t lead us into a brighter future.

Although I knew I’d be busy on Tuesday, my schedule was flexible, and I was willing to bet that if I went during the day while most people were at work, the line to vote would be less than an hour. I said farewell to my fellow voters, passed along the expected wait time to those at the end of the line and headed for the gym.

UPDATE Tues, Nov 4, 2:20pm: I voted today. Perfect timing. No line. In and out in 8 minutes flat!