1.) Don’t send emails if you don’t have to. If you can walk over to someone’s desk and explain something, do it. If you can make a phone call, do it. Unless it’s something simple, don’t send that email. It’ll save you time in the long run.
2.) Say “Congrats!” If someone kicks ass on a project, send them a quick note. It can be three sentences. It can just be a link to their project with the words “Nice job!” in the subject line. Even a small gesture makes an impression.
3.) Be direct. Don’t sugarcoat things. Don’t bury bad news. Just be straightforward with people, especially around bad news.
4.) Set limits for work. I don’t respond to emails between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. I set that expectation early on in my job. There are often nights I’m up working past then, but unless something’s on fire, I won’t respond until the morning. It’s all about setting your personal boundaries. Own your work — and don’t let your work own you.
5.) Be prompt. I try to respond to all texts and all emails within 24 hours. Think about how you feel when someone responds to one of your emails a week late. You don’t feel valued, right? Always try to respond promptly (not immediately, just promptly).
6.) Say “I’m sorry.” Take responsibility for your actions, and sometimes, take responsibility even when it’s not your fault. Nobody wins when you pick a fight.
7.) Be nice! Hellos and remembering names go a surprisingly long way.
8.) Don’t be a jerk! It is shockingly easy to be one — especially in an email or over Gchat. At any office, you don’t have to be liked to get stuff done — but you do have to be respected, and nobody respects the jerks in their office.
9.) Remember these rules for email: Don’t reply all to inter-office threads. Use Gmail’s Mute button liberally. And don’t be afraid to use smiley faces and exclamation points — they’re really good at communicating tone.
10.) Be someone who delivers on promises. I always seek out the people I know will deliver their work on time. There aren’t enough hours in the week to wait for other people to get their crap together. Work with people who get shit done — and be one of those people yourself.
When someone comes to me with a problem, one of my favorite things is to listen to what they have to say and then ask six of the best words in the English language:
What are you going to do?
And oftentimes, they’ll start talking about planning or ideas, and I’ll just cut them off and rephrase the question:
No no, I asked: What are you going to DO?
Do — as in, you have to do something!
Action is good. Setting up new routines is good. Work is good.
Planning is definitely not work. Just about everyone has a secret idea for a project they think could be huge. Huge! If only they had the time, resources, connections — oh, and actually wanted to put in the work to make it happen.
Hi, there! Congrats on graduation — and welcome to the world of unemployment!
You’re probably already applying to a million jobs online, and not hearing anything back from employers. And worse: You’re living at home with your parents, and they’re going to keep asking you the big question:
Why haven’t you gotten a job yet?
At first, this won’t bother you, because none of your friends will have jobs either! But then one friend will get a real job, and then another, and then you’ll wake up one day and your parents will have slipped an LSAT prep book under your door.
This is the point at which you’ll start to think that your parents might murder you soon.
But it’s OK! You will get a job eventually. And in the meantime, here’s what I suggest:
Make a list of 50 people in your city or in your field that you admire. Don’t stop at 15 or 20. Make it all the way to 50.
Then find their email address or mailing address, and write them a note. Make it short — 5 sentences or less. Tell them that you’ve just graduated, and you admire their work, and then tell them that you want to bring coffee to them and ask 3-4 questions about how they got to where they are.
This is very important: You have to offer to bring coffee to them. People HATE leaving their office in the middle of the day if they don’t have to. But anyone can make 10 minutes if you promise to bring them free coffee and not waste their time.
So here’s what’s amazing: A lot of the people you email/write to will actually write back and take you up on your offer! You’re a recent grad, and everyone’s been in your shoes before. There are a lot of really smart, really talented, really powerful people out there who’d be happy to help you… just as long as you come to them and don’t waste their time.
Now all you have to do is show up with coffee and make your 3-4 questions count. And then afterwards, write the person a thank you note. Don’t write an email — write a letter and mail it to them. This part is important, too.
Will this land you a job? Well… maybe not. But if you do this — if you send 50 notes, if you bring them coffee, if you don’t waste their time, if you follow up with a note — I can pretty much guarantee that you’ll meet at least a handful of people who you can build a relationship with. They’re people you can send links to or drop a note to say hi every once in a while. And they’re the kinds of people who also control a lot of the hiring at companies. Maybe they won’t be able to offer you a job today. But they’re going to be the people who — when they hear of a job in the future — might email you and give you a heads up, or even make an introduction. In the long run, that network can be a hugely valuable thing.
When I’m traveling, it’s the inefficiencies that really kill me.
I know that travel is going to cause some headaches. There are going to be lines at security, and flight delays happen. I get that.
But it’s the little moments of inefficiency at the airport that, to me, can make flying a real pain.
For instance (and excuse the Andy Rooney rant, please):
These days at the gate, as soon as the gate agent mentions “preboarding,” everyone gets up and stands right in front of the gate. With everyone packed in up there, it takes forever to get everyone on board. But it doesn’t have to be this way! A few months ago, I flew Air Canada up to Toronto, and the agents actually told people to sit down and wait for their boarding group. With the boarding lanes clear, it was the smoothest boarding process I’ve been a part of in a long time.
It must’ve been 15 years ago that I flew Southwest for the first time. I laughed when I saw people lined up in their boarding groups, ready to board before the plane even got to the gate. Now Southwest is the model of efficiency — every person boards by a pre-assigned number — and it’s the rest of the U.S. airlines that are backwards.
And airlines: When you ask people to volunteer to check their bags at the gate, has anyone actually listened? Of course not! A decade ago, plenty of people checked bags. Now, a younger generation sees it as an enormous inconvenience. But we might be willing to change our tune — all it would take is the right incentive. 150 free airline miles for a checked bag at the gate, maybe, or a $10 voucher toward a future flight. And you’d get bags checked in advance and no extra waiting on the tarmac as flight attendants struggle to get big bags squeezed into overhead bins.
Another thing: Why is the check-in process at rental car counters so miserable? This past weekend, I waited in line for an hour to get my car. Ordinarily, I rent with Hertz, and I’m a member in their #1 Club Gold program. You enter in all your information in advance, fill out your insurance information online, and walk straight up to you car. There’s no waiting whatsoever. The whole thing is free, too — I don’t understand why anyone wouldn’t want to be a member!
But this trip, I redeemed some credit card points for my reservation, and had to wait in line. There were maybe 10 guests ahead of me, but the line barely moved. And when I got to the counter, the Hertz associate had to enter in all of my information line by line. But it doesn’t need to be so time consuming, Hertz. The airlines can check me in via a computer — why don’t you do the same? I’m betting a computerized check-in would actually explain the benefits of various opt-in programs (like pre-paying to fill up your tank) better than an employee could in person. All I really need a human for is to hand over the keys and point me towards my car. Instead, I lost an hour waiting in line, and 10 more minutes once I got to the counter. (I even had to sign a waiver declining free maps! I lost two minutes declining maps!)
Meanwhile, this past weekend, I managed to pay for a parking meter via text message. (It even texted me when my meter was up!) I got a hotel bill emailed directly to me. And even the TSA was able to streamline me straight through security. Those little efficient touch points along the way made a huge difference — but it’s the pain points we all remember.
What I’m getting to is this: Some companies work hard to return savings to a customer. But here’s something just as important: My time. And as a customer, I’m asking myself: What is your company doing to return my time to me?
Companies that work efficiently to maximize my time are the ones that exceed expectations — and they’re the ones I’m going to come back to time and again when I travel.
I’ve been watching a lot of the NHL playoffs lately, mostly because I’m trying to give myself an early heart attack, but also because my Washington Capitals are in the hunt for the Stanley Cup. As always, I’ve been paying close attention to how our superstar, Alex Ovechkin, is playing.
If you’re not familiar with Ovi’s work, perhaps a highlight like this might jolt your memory:
Ovi was always great at delivering the highlight reel plays. But early in his career, fans, media, and even his own coach criticized him for taking plays off. Just look at this GIF, and watch no. 8 casually skate towards the net — even with an opponent standing there WIDE FREAKING OPEN.
At the start of the season, the Caps called out Ovi, saying he “has got a little too much glide maybe in his game.” To put it another way: Ovi was taking plays off, and the team wasn’t going to take it anymore. He’s always been talented — but it was time to step up his overall game.
And he took it to heart. Last year, the Caps were outscored by 35 goals when Ovechkin was on the ice — even though Ovechkin himself scored 51 goals on the year! This year, he scored 53 goals — and the Caps were +10 with him on the ice. That’s an incredible turnaround.
What changed? Ovi’s actually pushing himself on defense, and trying to put himself into spots to contribute even when he’s not scoring goals. He’s not just gliding through the game, waiting for his chance to score.
A lot of us have struggled with a problem similar to Ovechkin’s. Some of us coast through our jobs. But to get better, we all have to find ways to push hard to get the work done — even when the glamorous or the exciting parts of work aren’t in front of us. It’s not just about the big moments. The little things — the stuff announcers call “the dirty work” — matters, too. We could all use more of Ovechkin’s new work ethic in our game.
-Gmail has a feature called the tabbed inbox. It’s designed to filter certain types of emails — like promotions from companies, or newsletters — into specific folders, making it easier to find the stuff you want.
-Within that inbox, Gmail rolled out an experimental feature — grid view — that made the promotional tab in the inbox more visually appealing. (There’s a screenshot of grid view at the top of this post.)
Naturally, every email marketer started trying to figure out how to hack that feature for best results.
At BuzzFeed, we did nothing.
Since I started building the BuzzFeed newsletter platform back in 2012, I’ve had a singular focus: Make our emails as great as possible every single time. We send dozens of different emails a week. I personally have sent 1,000+ emails for BuzzFeed — actually, I’ve probably sent far more, but I lost count somewhere along the way.
But the focus has always been the same: Make our emails great. That means that when you open one of our emails, the stuff you’re getting should be consistently delightful, useful, and fun.
And it’s with that focus that I’ve seen every facet of the newsletter program grow over the past 2+ years. Our open rates have improved. Our click rates are up. And our subscriber numbers are through the roof.
There’s a lot of stuff that can derail great work, and one is focusing on the wrong things. If we worried about stuff like Gmail’s grid view, we’d be wasting time thinking about the bells and whistles of the email world. I call features like grid view “the shiny stuff.” They catch your eye, and they’re fun to play with, but in the end, they’re not your core product. We had to focus on the things that were going to make our work great — and the results speak for themselves.
When you’re building something new, having that focus is so important. Without it, you’re going to spend a lot of time on things that don’t matter at all.
Here’s a piece of advice you’ve certainly heard before: Not where you want to be? That’s OK.
Just fake it ‘till you make it.
I really hate those words. I think it’s a very dangerous piece of advice — especially for young people who are still trying to find their way.
And here’s what I want to say instead:
Don’t pretend to be someone you aren’t. When you’re young, there are days when you feel like you know everything — but far more when you’re convinced you know absolutely nothing. And on those days, it’s easy to pretend to be the expert you aren’t just yet. Some people make a short-term (and shortsighted) choice to fake it.
But there’s never a need to fake your expertise. Never.
So don’t fake anything. And anytime you feel like you’re becoming a person you aren’t, here’s all you need to remember:
And when someone asks you for something and you don’t have the answer, it’s OK to say, “I don’t know.”
But there’s a catch: The minute you say it, you have to start working towards actually finding the answer. That means realizing that you’re smart enough to build the support system around you to get the right answers, and understanding that you’re going to have to work hard to keep learning.
That’s the harder way — but it’s also the one that’s going to earn you trust and pay dividends in the long run.
I spent the first six months of 2008 studying abroad in a little seaside town in Spain called Alicante, “studying” being a very loose term for what was actually going on. The last few weeks, some Americans came out to visit, and I kept asking them the same question: What did we miss while we were away?
For the most part, I’d stayed pretty current on what was happening in the States. I was reading the news every day, and I’d watched the Super Bowl, and I was even up-to-date on the latest episodes of “Lost.”
But there was other stuff I knew we’d missed: The ad campaign that everyone in America knew by heart, or the catchphrase everyone had heard, or the hit song that kept playing on the radio. I was so scared of coming back to the U.S. and feeling like I’d been on a different planet.
But everyone kept telling me: You really haven’t missed anything.
So fast-forward to the fall. I’m back at school, at I go to the piano bar on a Wednesday night. It’s acoustic guitar night, and it’s mostly the same old stuff: Garth Brooks, Journey, Elton John.
And then the musicians break into a song I’ve never heard before, and everyone — and I remember it being literally every person in the bar — starts screaming out the lyrics.
I looked at my friends and asked them what the hell was going on. What was this song, and how did everyone know it?
This song, Dan? This is that Jason Mraz song that blew up last spring. It’s called “I’m Yours.”
Everyone in the world had heard that song at that point…. unless, of course, you had been living in Alicante, Spain, where the radio was still mostly playing 2007’s hits (with a healthy bit of Tupac thrown in). Nobody had mentioned that Jason Mraz had a no. 1 hit. I was the only person at that bar who hadn’t heard that song 50 times.
If you’ve never been in that boat — if you’ve never had a moment where you realize that you’re the only person in the room who doesn’t know what the hell is going on — know this: It’s a terrifying experience. All you want is to be in the loop as quickly as possible.
I wish I could say that the Jason Mraz song was my one experience with that feeling, but it wasn’t.
It’s also how I felt for first three months of my job at BuzzFeed.
You have to understand: When BuzzFeed hired me to build out an email program, I didn’t really know much about email. I had launched two small newsletters, yes, but otherwise, I was in way over my head. BuzzFeed knew that, too — but neither of us realized how truly clueless I was about email and publishing and BuzzFeed and pretty much everything on the internet.
I was working with Dao, who is now our publisher, and Dao knows everything about everything. She’d throw out basic acronyms and I would jot them down in a notebook to Google later. She’d start talking about spreadsheets, and I’d run home at night to learn how to use Excel.
Everything was brand new. Everything. And it felt like I was the only one in the room who could say that.
There were days where I truly felt like a fool, and many more where I wondered when I would ever feel like I had a grasp on my job.
Luckily, I asked a lot of questions. Luckily, the team I was working with answered them, and taught me so much in the process. Luckily, I really did want to get good at this job, and worked like crazy until I got there. (These days, it’s entirely possible that I know too much about email! So it goes.) But that’s the only way to do it: Find people who can really help you, ask as many questions as you can, and work your ass off to get to where you need to be.
The only other option is feeling like a fool. And that’s not much of an option at all.
So when a new Mel Brooks special came on HBO, I made some time for it. It’s fantastic, and it closes with Mel singing the title song from “The 12 Chairs.” (You can/should watch it here.) The opening verse goes:
Hope for the best
Expect the worst
Some drink champagne
Some die of thirst
No way of knowing
Which way it’s going
Hope for the best
Expect the worst
It’s just a perfect Mel Brooks thought, and anyone who’s ever worked on something big knows the feeling. Before you go in on anything big — a project, a book, a company — sometimes it works out, and sometimes, shit happens!
That’s just how it goes. You do what you can, and you surround yourself with great people — and then you hope for the best.
Anyway, I sat down to write something longer about this — about how perfectly it captures what doing the work is all about, and what it means to go through this life — and then the chair I was sitting in broke. The back of it just snapped in half.
I sit down to write something about how life is funny, and then life goes and almost knocks me literally onto my ass.
You’re right, Mel. Life really is funny like that.
I had a moment today where I had to ask myself: What the hell am I doing today?
This sort of question isn’t all that strange. I do this every once in a while: I wonder about what it is I do, and whether or not I’m doing the right thing right now — normal stuff most people in their 20s worry about.
But this time, I wasn’t thinking about what I’m doing with my life. This morning, I was literally thinking: What the hell am I doing today?
See, when I started at BuzzFeed, I was the only person working on newsletters. I was the guy designing the newsletters, creating the templates for the newsletters, launching the newsletters, doing promotion for the newsletters — oh, and writing the newsletters. By the end of 2013, I was writing 30+ newsletters a week.
It was a lot.
To get it all done, I created a laundry list of day-to-day tasks for myself. I had routines for every day of the week. When I got those tasks done, I had a good day. When I didn’t, well…. that never happened. The newsletters always got out. The work always got done.
In 2014, the newsletter team grew to three people, and the tasks changed. But I still had my Monday routine, and my Tuesday routine, and my Wednesday, and my Thursday, and my Friday. Every day, I had to get it done.
But now this year, the team’s grown to 5, and I gave away my tasks to other members of the team — all of them. And suddenly, I started waking up trying to figure out what the hell I was supposed to do with my work days.
I’ve done the same things pretty much every day of the week for the past two years. So now that I’ve got a brand new role that’s still being defined… now what?
After a week or two of quietly floundering at work, I realized I had to get some structure back into place. So I sketched out my days in a pretty simple way:
Mornings are my time. They’re for going to the gym, writing, and working through big ideas. If I’m going to do something for me, it’s happening in the morning.
Once I get to the office, that’s my team’s time. That’s when I need to support my team, brainstorm with them, help them work on projects and launch stuff, take meetings, and make things happen to get the team to the next level. When I’m at work, I’m there for them.
What I hope is that in the long run, this’ll help me figure out when I should take on certain tasks. The structure is so important for me — it defines my day and makes it clear what roles I need to play during the day. There’s still a lot of freedom for me, and I like that, but for now, I need that structure to help me get the work done every day.
Here’s to that structure — and to getting back to doing the work.
I'm Dan Oshinsky. I’m the Director of Newsletters at BuzzFeed, and I lead a team that’s building cool new stuff for email. On this blog, I'm here to share what I know about creating awesome things. Come on in. Let's build stuff people love.