CIO pet peeves: small drains on personal productivity

I promised a while back to write more about some of the pet peeves I’ve developed in the CIO/CTO role. So here are a few more.

We all have pet peeves. Working as an executive in IT seems to present a lot of opportunities to develop a long list of these. They’re minor grievances, to be sure, but they also really matter, in that they drain away little smidgens of productivity or create frustration. And most are easy to address, so in the interest of enhancing the world’s productivity, I’d like to list a few of these. I’ll confine myself just to the ones that crop up at least once a week in the course of my workday. Consider fixing these a high priority to show good business etiquette and professionalism:

Pet peeves:

  • Email aliases that aren’t of the form first.last@company.com

Yes, I know it’s rare that anyone has to actually type an email address from scratch. Nonetheless, when you do, you shouldn’t have to guess. Hmm, is Brian Wilson going to be brianw@xyz.com, or bwilson@xyz.com, or brianwi@xyz.com? Every company should standardize on the predictable, canonical form of first.last@company.com, at least as an acceptable alias. A speaker at a conference I just attended told the audience to contact him at kzw@company.com, and everyone actually had to scribble that down! He thought it was simple, no doubt, since it was only three letters. But the point is, you shouldn’t have to remember yet another token about a person. Even Microsoft, for its employees’ email addresses, doesn’t do this email address standardization right, at least not as a standard across the board.

  • Documents (spreadsheets, in particular) that won’t print cleanly

If you make a document, even in this paperless world, assume that someone will probably want to print it, if only to read on the bus or something. Spreadsheets in particular need to be print-previewed and examined to see if they’ll print cleanly. Use the “Fit to” option, and shift from portrait mode to landscape mode where appropriate; use the “rows to repeat at top” option to get consistent headers on subsequent pages. It’s pretty irritating to print a document and discover that its columns are spread across four separate pages, unnecessarily.

  • Documents that don’t have titles, dates, authors identified clearly on every page

Whenever I bring this one up to someone passing around an unlabeled, undated document, I always hear, “Oh, that’s because it’s only a draft, you see.” That’s all the more reason to make sure it’s labeled, since there are bound to be later revisions floating around. Excel and Word both have excellent header/footer functionality. Use it. While you’re at it, page numbers are also nice.

  • Spreadsheets with empty tabs

90% of the spreadsheets I get sent have three tabbed worksheets: one with data (Sheet1) and two with nothing (Sheet2 and Sheet3). I then exercise my unavoidable and infamous anal retentiveness by diligently bringing up all three tabs to view, just to be sure I’m not missing anything (and every once in a while, sure enough, I discover data in one of the tabs I’d assumed was probably blank). Come on, everyone: the three tabs are the unfortunate Excel default (yes, you can and should change this, instantly, with any new Excel installation), put in place by Microsoft marketing, which spent no doubt countless meetings arguing over the best way to make sure people knew that tabs were a feature. (Count your blessings: the default for a previous release of Excel was 16 tabs for every workbook!) Get rid of empty tabs; they add no value. If you need a new tab, add it then. While you’re at it: if you do use extra tabs, please name them something meaningful.

  • Email without clear subject lines

Email is my knowledge repository, often, representing an important trail of decision points and the reasoning/history behind them. I need to be able to find stuff in that haystack. Fill out a clear and specific header! For example, when I’m sifting through that haystack for a particular nugget, a vague subject line of “Question” isn’t nearly as good as “Question on CRM functional requirements deadline”.

  • Email from close business associates (people I see at least once an hour) that still have to begin with “Hi, Peter”.

It’s a business email, not a personal letter. Salutations aren’t really necessary. I promise: I won’t think you rude for omitting one.

  • Email that doesn’t copy the thread of discussion (when germane) at all

See above point about the need for subject lines. When I’m cruising quickly through email, I don’t want to have to pull up other messages to retrace the flow of discussion on the topic.

Little things, minor irritations, all of these… so why not avoid them?

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