All posts by Dan Oshinsky

My OOO Misadventure.

email ooo

A few months ago, I started thinking about ways to handle email while out of the office. I was getting a lot of email while I was on vacation, and I wanted to figure out a way to, A) Reduce the number of emails in my inbox, and B) Make sure that my co-workers weren’t sitting around and waiting forever for a reply.

That’s when I read this story about a company in Germany that auto-deleted emails sent to employees on vacation. It seemed a little intense, but intriguing. Maybe there was a way, I thought, for me to shut off the email spigot on vacation.

So I dug a little deeper. I read about Huffington Post trying a similar email strategy, and other leaders adopting this auto-delete strategy. They all raved about it. Communicate what you’re going to do, they said, and how you can help them when you get back from vacation. And then try it.

So I did. I reminded my team that I’d be on vacation and not checking email. I wrote an out of office reply explaining that I was on vacation, and declaring email bankruptcy. I’d be deleting my entire inbox when I got back, I said. So I asked co-workers to email me again on a specific date — the day I was returning to the office — and promised that I’d be able to help them quickly if they emailed me on that date.

I turned on the out of office reply, and I went on vacation.

And I got feedback pretty quickly: People hated it. They thought I was acting like a jerk.

And honestly? I couldn’t blame them.

Here’s what I believe: What matters most is not what you say — it’s what others hear.

What I thought I was saying was: Please help me maintain my sanity! Email me when I’m back at work, and I can help you then.

What my co-workers heard was: You clearly don’t value my work or my time.

And they were right! My OOO reply came across as rude, and borderline hostile. Instead of pointing people towards someone who could help, I was shutting the door on them entirely. And at a big company, where I was getting emails from people in other offices (and sometimes in other countries), there were a lot of people who were asking for stuff who didn’t really know me. This might have been one of their first interactions with me — and this was how I was treating them?

The “auto-delete” strategy seemed nice in theory, but at a big company, it didn’t work. (I sent a lot of “I’m so sorry” emails afterwards to apologize to co-workers. I probably spent more time apologizing than I would have spent just replying to my normal, post-vacation inbox.)

So I’m doing something different now. Now, the email you get from me says, “I’m out of the office until (this date). If you need to reach me, text or call my cell at (xxx) xxx-xxxx.” Then I list the contact info for colleagues who can help, and I explain how they can be helpful.

Here’s what I like about my new OOO reply: If someone desperately needs my help, they’ll reach out directly. But most people see it and think, “This can wait.” And they do. If not, they can reach out to a co-worker to get the answers they need. It’s an OOO that’s designed to make sure that others can get the help they need as soon as they need it.

As for the emails: Sure, they pile up a little. I have to take an hour on that first Monday back in the office clearing through my inbox. But if my OOO does its job, most of the emails are about issues that were sorted out while I was gone. I get my vacation, and the office keeps moving forward. That’s a win-win.

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That photo at top, “Email” by Aaron Escobar, is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Here, Read This.

A few weeks ago, I wrote, “When They Zig, You Should Zag”, about trying to find opportunities hidden in plain site. And with that in mind, I wanted to share this fantastic piece from The Ringer about the unusual lessons that the Atlanta Falcons have learned from a cycling team. It’s a fantastic example of how a team is making small improvements — in the way their players sleep, eat, train, and learn — to get better at their work.

>> How a Cycling Team Turned the Falcons Into NFC Champions — The Ringer

After A Disaster, Give Money. (And Only Money.)

I’ll be back soon with the normal blog fare, but for now, here’s a PSA:

In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, here’s something to keep in mind: If you want to help those in need, the best way is to donate money.

CBS’s “Sunday Morning” did a fantastic piece about the mountains of donations that arrive after a disaster. After hurricanes, tornadoes, or even mass shootings, donors send water, clothing, toys, and other goods to needy areas. The issue is: There’s nobody to sort through everything once it arrives, no systems to distribute it, and nowhere to store it.

Which is how you end up with relief workers burning piles of donated clothes on the beaches of Indonesia, or officials in Newton, Conn., trying to figure out what to do with 67,000 donated teddy bears.

Here, just watch the story:

If you want to donate to communities in need after Harvey, NPR has an excellent list of places that could use your help.

Play The Chorus Another 20 Times.

I write a lot about the work — about the idea that there’s value in putting in the work every day, in trying even when the results aren’t very good, in showing up when you know that you don’t have 100% in you that day.

Here’s what that actually looks like. There’s a story I love from Glenn Frey, formerly of the Eagles, in the documentary “History of the Eagles.” He’s talking about his former downstairs neighbor, Jackson Browne, and the work that Browne used to put into each of his songs:

“We slept late in those days, except around 9 o’clock in the morning, I’d hear Jackson Browne’s teapot going off — this whistle in the distance. And then I’d hear him playing piano.

I didn’t really know how to write songs. I knew I wanted to write songs, but I didn’t know how exactly. You just wait around for inspiration, you know — what was the deal?

Well, I learned through Jackson’s ceiling and my floor exactly how to write songs. Because Jackson would get up, and he’d play the first verse, and the first chorus, and he’d play it 20 times, until he had it just the way he wanted. And then there’d be silence. And then I’d hear the teapot go off again. Then it’d be quiet for 10 or 20 minutes. Then I’d hear him start to play again, and there was the second verse. So then he’d work on the second verse, and he’d play it 20 times. And then he’d go back to the top of the song, and he’d play the first verse, the first chorus, and the second verse another 20 times until he was really comfortable with it, and, you know, change a word here or there. And I’m up there going, ‘So that’s how you do it! Elbow grease, you know, time, thought, persistence.’”

The work doesn’t show up fully formed. You have to do the work over and over again to get it right.

The work will not always be very good. But the work is the only way to get better, and the only way to deliver the results you want.

So go ahead: Play the chorus 20 times, then play it 20 more. Go put in the work.

When They Zig, You Should Zag.

I have a rule when it comes to picking new projects: If pretty much everyone is doing something, I try to head the other direction — and as fast as possible.

I like have my own space to experiment in. I like being different. Sometimes, that means I miss out on a new trend, and that’s OK. I’d rather be working on something that’s under the radar, trying to find an opportunity that nobody else sees.

And I love reading stories of people who’ve found opportunities just like that. “Moneyball” is the most famous example, but sports are full of “hidden in plain sight” stories. I found one this week while reading the obit for Frank Broyles, the former head coach at both Missouri and Arkansas. This paragraph stuck out to me:

“One of his strengths was recruiting, and particularly recruiting married athletes. In his first summer at Arkansas, Broyles recruited the newlywed Lance Alworth, a schoolboy All-American from Brookhaven, Miss., after the University of Mississippi had rejected him because of a rule against married players. Alworth went on to a Hall of Fame career as a wide receiver in the National Football League, almost entirely with the San Diego Chargers.

“Broyles had 20 married men on his 1960 squad alone.”

I’d never heard of college teams banning married players, but I find it absolutely fascinating. Broyles saw an opportunity to find talent that no one else wanted, and it eventually helped him win a national championship.

Or here’s one about my favorite baseball team, the Washington Nationals. The Nats have an unusual habit: They love drafting really talented players who are recovering from injury, like Anthony Rendon:

“Rendon, a Houston native, stayed near home for college at Rice, where he hit .371/.510/.679 as a three-year starter, including a .394/.539/.801 line as a sophomore, the year before the NCAA deadened the bats. He went pro after his junior year, and was perhaps the best player in the 2011 draft, the deepest of the past decade, but ankle injuries caused him to drop to Washington at no. 6.”

Rendon — who otherwise would have been the no. 1 pick — was a steal for the Nats. His ankle healed fine, and he made the major leagues two years after being drafted. This year, he’s been one of the best third basemen in baseball, and he’s a dark horse MVP candidate.

And it doesn’t stop there. Pretty much every year, the Nationals draft a talented pitcher who just had Tommy John surgery. Why? Most teams don’t want to put up with the rehab. But with modern medicine, pitchers who undergo Tommy John often come back healthy as ever, and the Nats have been able to acquire talent that nobody else in baseball wants.

When it comes to finding great opportunities, my motto continues to be: Don’t follow the leaders. Instead, ask yourself: What’s something that nobody else is doing? Is it something we should try?

You might find something of real value that nobody else sees.

How Do You Know It’s Time To Leave Your Job?

exit

Since I announced that I was leaving BuzzFeed, a lot of people have been asking: How did you know it was the right time to leave?

I hadn’t been applying to jobs elsewhere when the New Yorker opportunity came around. So to make sure it was the right time for me to leave, I made a list of six questions, and thought carefully through each:

1) Am I still being challenged in my current role?
2) Am I still learning new things?
3) Am I part of the decision-making process at my office? Do I have a seat at the table where big decisions are made?
4) Is there a path for me to grow at this company?
5) Do I have the right people on my team?
6) Do I have what I need to do my best work?

If the answer to one or two of these is “no”, you might be unhappy at your job, but it’s probably not time to leave. Have a conversation with your boss about your role — maybe there’s an opportunity for them to give you the support/training/help you need to fix those issues.

But if you’re answering “no” to more than that, it’s time to make a change. You deserve to be at a place where you’re surrounded by the best team, working on projects that challenge you, and supported with the resources you need to do great work.

One more thing: You’ll notice that money’s missing from this list. I’m lucky in that at this point in my career, I didn’t have to make a move based on financial needs. But if you’re at a different stage in your career, that should absolutely play a role. Don’t stay at a job that pays you less than you’re worth — otherwise, you’ll miss out on the opportunity to make a significant salary leap.

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That photo at top is called “Exit” by Paul Downey. It’s licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Launch It, Or Leave It Behind.

a folder full of bad ideas

It’s my last week at BuzzFeed, and I’ve been cleaning out my desk drawers. It’s amazing what I’ve found in there: Gadgets I haven’t used in years; random articles of clothing I never wear; and folders and folders of ideas, going back to my very first week of work in 2012.

I’ve written about this before: Coming up with ideas is never the problem. You will always have more ideas, as Ze Frank put it so brilliantly in this video from 2006:

What actually matters is getting those ideas into the world. Finding the right team to build on those ideas with. Testing those ideas. Launching those ideas. Making sure you’re getting the right data to learn more about how your fans are engaging with those ideas. Being willing to kill those ideas when they’re not as good as you thought. Being willing to build on those ideas when they’re better than you could have expected.

The only truly dangerous thing you can do is hang onto an idea too long. The longer you hold onto it, the more precious it becomes. The more you think that one day, when conditions are just perfect, you can release that idea into the world and let it bloom into something great.

That never happens.

You have to make something of your ideas, or you have to move on.

That’s why I’m leaving that 2012 folder — and thousands of other ideas I’ve generated over the past four years — at BuzzFeed. Maybe someone will turn those unused ideas into something real. Maybe they’ll end up in the trash. But I don’t need to cling to them.

It’s time to move on to whatever big idea is next.

Some News: I’m Leaving BuzzFeed For The New Yorker.

Will work for clicks. A cartoon by Barbara Smaller, from 2014. #TNYcartoons

A post shared by The New Yorker Cartoons (@newyorkercartoons) on

I’ll keep this part brief: I’m starting a new job in August. I’m headed to the New Yorker, where I’ll be overseeing some new digital projects, starting with newsletters. I’m absolutely thrilled about the opportunity — getting the chance to work with their team of reporters, artists, and editors is a dream, and I can’t wait to get started.

But it also means I’ll be leaving BuzzFeed after nearly five years leading the email team. I’m so grateful for the opportunity I’ve had at BuzzFeed — they gave me a chance to be a part of building something great. Doree, Scott, Dao, and Ben let me pitch this job, and I’ll always be thankful for that. A handful of folks got us off to the right start: Jack, Summer, Elaine, Ben R. (both of them, actually), Jon, and Erica. There were people who got our newsletters into the hands of readers around the world — Bibi, Caitlin, Claire, Ellie (literally all the Ellies), Flora, Mariana, and Millie — and writers who believed in Courses — Sally and Augusta, especially. There are so many more editors, writers, designers, developers, strategists, analysts, and marketers who helped us along the way — I simply can’t name them all here, but: Thank you! (And a big thanks to the Campaign Monitor team for all their help over the years.)

And above all, thanks to the team in NYC that built these newsletters and made them great: Adam, Ray, Kaelin, Lincoln, and now Ciera. Thanks for coming on board to do such amazing work.

If that seems like a lot of people to thank — and it is! — it’s because here’s the big secret of BuzzFeed: The company hires exceptional people. I’ve had the chance to work with a truly generous, kind, enthusiastic, and talented team. When you hire exceptional people and give them the tools and the freedom to do their best work, you get a place like BuzzFeed.

So one last time, to everyone who made the last five years at BuzzFeed so incredible: Thanks for an amazing ride.

5 Things Before Breakfast.

before breakfast

My first job turned me into a morning person. I worked from 6:30 am to 3:30 pm, but to actually do my job, I needed to wake up around 5:30 in the morning to start updating the KENS5.com homepage. Then I’d eat breakfast and leave home around 7. By the time I showed up at the office, I’d already gotten an hour of work in for the day.

The routine worked for me, and I’ve mostly stuck with it over the years. I’ve found mornings to be a productive time for me. It’s when I get some of my best work done.

Lately, I’ve been tinkering with my morning routine, trying to make sure I’m getting even more out of my mornings. I’ve been testing out a new rule: Every day, I need to get five things done before breakfast.

Those five things could include:

-Writing a new blog post
-Outlining a new project
-Setting up key meetings for the week
-Going for a run
-Making time to read
-Analyzing data for a report
-Handling small tasks (paying bills, cleaning around the house, etc)

I find that if I show up at the office and I’ve already knocked a few things off my to-do list, I’m more likely to be motivated to keep the momentum of the day going. I’ve already gotten a lot done, and it’s easier to tackle big projects at the office once I know I’ve already accomplished a few things that day.

The five things don’t have to be big things, but that’s OK. The important thing is that by breakfast, I’ve already accomplished something, and gotten the day off to the right start. It sets the right intention for the day: Today’s going to be a work day, and it’s already begun.

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My breakfasts aren’t usually as hectic as the one at the top. That painting is “The Breakfast” by Thomas Rowlandson (British, London 1757–1827 London), Samuel William Fores (British, 1761–1838) via The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and is licensed under CC0 1.0.

It’s OK If Your Ideas Suck.

buzzsnow

I want to tell you about a bad idea of mine.

My bad idea happened on December 18, 2012. It was my second day at BuzzFeed. I didn’t know anyone yet, and I didn’t have any idea what I was supposed to be doing. I’d met with one of our designers to build the templates for our brand new newsletters, and it was pretty clear that it was going to be a few days — if not weeks — until we had something that we could actually test out.

I didn’t want to wait that long.

So I decided that I’d create a project for myself: I’d send out an email to our lists wishing them a happy holiday season. The goal was twofold:

1) I’d learn a little more about how to use the email system at BuzzFeed, which was brand new to me.

2) I’d meet some of the people that I’d be working with over the coming months.

This wasn’t the bad idea.

The bad idea was that I wanted to spoof a famous Christmas poem, title the email, “The Night Before GIFmas”, and write the entire thing using GIFs we’d created throughout the year.

It was a very bad, very quarter-baked idea.

I wrote the poem, but never sent it out to our subscribers. An editor stepped in to politely tell me that I might want to re-think the idea of a parody poem in my first week. I scrapped the email.

But as bad as the idea was, the rest went exactly as I’d hoped. I did learn more about our email service provider. I did meet a half-dozen co-workers, figuring out who did what at BuzzFeed and they all fit together within the org. And I even learned how crazy talented the BuzzFeed team was. They could turn a weird request — “Can you add a dancing Santa hat to the BuzzFeed logo?” — and turn it into something neat.

I’ve had a lot of bad ideas over the years — most of my ideas are pretty terrible! But I’ve discovered that what matters most is learning how to do the work and who you can do the work with. Figure those things out, and eventually the good ideas (and good work) will follow.

— — —

The amazing John Gara designed that BuzzFeed logo with the Santa hat, and I really wish we’d had the chance to use it on BuzzFeed.com.