Tag Archives: stuff you can actually use

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

Before You Take A Leap, Find Your Anchor.

an actual anchor

It can be scary when you make a big life change, like starting a new job or moving to a new city. When you change something so central to your life, sometimes you struggle to find stable ground to stand on. The changes can feel overwhelming.

But I think there are ways to make a big life change without getting overwhelmed. The secret is having an anchor.

An anchor is any source of stability in your life — a constant that stays with you even as you undergo a big life event. It’s a bridge from one stage of your life to another. An anchor could be something like:

A stable relationship with a S.O.

A job you really like.

Strong personal friendships.

Strong relationships with your family.

It could even be a hobby or activity. If you’ve go to regular yoga classes or volunteer on a weekly basis, that could be a strong anchor for you.

The more anchors you have in your life, the less intimidating a big life change will be. The anchors are there to keep you grounded and make sure you feel connected to your true self, even as you make these life changes.

I’ll use myself as an example here.(1) I have a few anchors in my life:

I’m in a wonderful relationship with my S.O.

I have great friends here in New York.

I have several close family members in the city.

I have a really good job.

So let’s say I decided to make a huge life change and move tomorrow to work at BuzzFeed’s Los Angeles office.(2) I’d still have two strong anchors: The relationship with my S.O., and my job. A lot would be changing: I’d be leaving New York, and the relationships with family and friends I have here. But I’d still have two huge constants to help me throughout the move.

Making huge life changes without those anchors is so hard. I did it when I moved to San Antonio. I was single, I was starting a new job in a new field, and I didn’t have friends or family in the city. And looking back, I was so overwhelmed by the move. It was too much to take on all at once. There wasn’t anything that felt familiar to me, and it affected my day-to-day life.

The next time, a big life change will be easier for me. And it can be less stressful for you, too! If you can find an anchor to keep you grounded throughout the change, it makes a world of difference. It might be the difference between you surviving and thriving through the change, or not.

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That photo of a boat dropping anchor comes via photographer Woodrow Walden and Unsplash.

  1. I’m not planning anything big! I’m just an example, I promise.
  2. Again, I’m not! It’s just a hypothetical!

Little Things You Can Do To Be A Better Team Player.

Office life, Vladimir Kudinov

I got coffee the other day with a friend who’s maybe a year out of college, and we were talking about how her work was going.

You know, she said, I just didn’t understand how hard it would be to adjust to working at an office.

And that’s a common sentiment! I know didn’t understand it either when I started my first job. Working at an office is a little different than working a service job or in education. At an office, you have to learn how to operate within a team and what kind of etiquette is required in the workplace.

Here are seven things I’ve learned over the years about being a good co-worker:

Be on time. — Everyone has the one co-worker who shows up 10 minutes late for everything. Don’t be that co-worker. Being on time means showing up at the assigned time if you’re meeting someone in your office, and 5-10 minutes early if you’re meeting someone outside your office.(1) And if you’re late — make sure to send the email 5-10 minutes before apologizing for your lateness.

Prepare people before the meeting. — Nobody should show up for a meeting and not understand what they’re meeting about. Make sure everyone’s on the same page — and has the necessary documents — before they walk into the meeting. And follow up with actionable next steps after the meeting, too!

Respond to emails/calls within 24 hours. —
If someone writes in asking you to take a specific action, you’ve got 24 hours to respond. After that window, I find that emails sit in the inbox for days and days, and projects stall. Respond quickly, and you’ll become someone co-workers actually want to work with because you have a track record of getting things done quickly.

Deliver on deadline. — This goes hand-in-hand with responding quickly. Be a “get shit done” kind of person, and be someone who sticks to deadlines. When you find out that a co-worker doesn’t finish their work on time, you might be less willing to work with them in the future.

Send friendly emails. — The occasional “Congrats!” email goes a long, long way towards setting a tone for your work. Send those friendly emails!

Ask great questions. — I love working with people who are curious and ask great questions. They’re people who think critically about issues and can push work in interesting and unexpected directions. I always try to work with people who love to ask “Why?” and “How?”

Be honest. — You can earn my respect by doing the work every day. But you can earn my trust by sitting down to have the tough conversations. If you do both, I’ll run through walls for you. Being honest with someone — even if you’re saying “I don’t know” when you don’t have the right answer — is the first step towards building that trust.

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That photo of an office — as viewed from the outside — comes via Unsplash and photographer Vladimir Kudinov.

  1. This is really hard to do, and I’m still trying to get better at it myself.

When You Send An Email Matters As Much As What’s In The Email.

Last year, I wrote down six simple rules for writing better emails. Follow those six rules and you’ll get so much more out of your inbox.

But there’s something almost as important as learning how to write better emails.

Learning when to send those emails.

If you deliver your email at the wrong time, you’re significantly less likely to get a response or the action you’ve requested. And that’s an issue.

It’s why I use the 7-to-7 Rule — I try to send emails only between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Why? At my office, most people are at work from 10 to 6. A lot of them are up earlier than that, and checking email. After work, many stop checking email entirely until the next day. So my goal is to send email during that window where they’re most likely to be on their work email and ready to take action on whatever I’m asking.

Does it mean I don’t check email after 7 p.m.? Actually, no! I usually do a quick scan of my email first thing in the morning, and I’ll hop onto email in the hour before bed. The only catch is: I won’t send the email until 7 a.m. the next day.

The secret behind all of this is an app called Boomerang. It works within Gmail and allows you to schedule emails for whatever time you want. I’ve set it up with a series of custom times that allow me to get my email to the top of your inbox first thing in the morning.

So if I realize on Saturday morning that I have something to ask a co-worker, I’ll write the email immediately but schedule it for Monday at 7 a.m. The result? More of my emails get answered at a time that’s convenient for both of us — and when we can move quickly to get the work done.

Boomerang is also great if you’re working with someone in another time zone. My team is doing a lot of work with our office in Sydney, and Boomerang makes sure we get the emails to them in the morning Aussie time — instead of in the middle of the night.

Boomerang’s been a lifesaver for me, and it helps me stick to the 7-to-7 Rule. (Which, in turn, helps me maintain a general sense of sanity.) If you want to give it a try, download it for your Gmail account right here.

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That photo of a laptop comes via Unsplash and photographer Seth Schwiet.

What Do You Want In A First Job?

Barcelona — Alexandre Perotto

My youngest brother graduated in December (congrats, Sam!), and he’s out searching for his first real job. We had a nice talk about it last weekend. He wanted to know: What should I be looking for in a first job?

I think the list of things is pretty short:

1) A great boss
2) A great team to work with
3) The opportunity to take on real responsibility

That’s it.

Great bosses often turn into great mentors. Great teams provide you with the structure to learn how to do great work. And, of course, any opportunity to own a task/project is a wonderful thing for a new hire.

How do you know if you’re coming into a situation with a great boss or a great team? You can always look at their previous output of work. I also think it’s important to ask questions that can reveal how the boss/team will use you. Questions like:

-How does the team work together?
-What types of personalities do you work best with?
-What projects need help right now that I could work on?
-What kind of opportunities for growth do you see for me in this job?

Almost as important as the answers is this: Does your future boss seem invested in you? Do they make lots of time for you during the interview process? Do you get to meet 1-on-1 with the team? How do they describe the opportunities available there? You’re looking for interest, engagement, and positivity. An interview’s like a first date: If the chemistry isn’t there, or if something’s off, you’ll sense it.

It’s funny: Looking back, I wasn’t thinking about any of this when I took my first job. Instead, I was thinking about whether or not the money was any good. (It wasn’t, but I didn’t care — unless I took a job as an investment banker, the money was always going to be lousy.) I was thinking about whether or not it had great benefits. (My first job offered two weeks of vacation. Media companies don’t offer much in the way of vacation because… well, they don’t have to. It’s part of the deal.) I was thinking about whether or not it was the “perfect” job for me. (At the time, I was obsessed with the idea of Google’s 20% time when I really should have been obsessed with working hard and proving that I was capable of taking on bigger projects.)

By accident, I stumbled into a few really good bosses who gave me lots of opportunity. I got lucky. My first job was pretty much exactly what I needed it to be. But I didn’t realize that at the time.

Sam (and others!): Be smarter than I was. Don’t worry about finding the perfect job. Just find the best bosses and the best team you can. It’s the best decision you can make at this stage in your career.

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That photo of a courtyard in Barcelona has nothing to do with this post, but it is pretty! And it was taken by Alexandre Perotto for Unsplash.

Well Done!

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Last summer, I asked my team to start doing a very simple thing: Every Monday, I wanted them to send an email to a co-worker who’d done a particularly good job that week. And the work didn’t have to be related to our team. If a co-worker in LA made an awesome video, they could send an email to say, “I loved your video! Nice job!” If someone in the London office wrote a great post, they could say, “Great work on that post! Congrats!”

The mission was to be friendlier as a team. But the goal was bigger than that.

When I started at BuzzFeed, we had 175 employees and two offices. Now we’re over 1,250 employees (give or take a few) in more than a dozen offices worldwide. My team works with teams in New York, LA, London, Sao Paolo, Mexico City, and Sydney on newsletters. This year, we’ll work with even more.

And it’s hard working with new teams. They don’t always know us or know our work.

The one thing we can control is our relationships with these teams. If we’ve got an established relationship with a team, that often paves the way for us to work together on a project.

Hence these weekly “Congrats!” emails. They’re often 1-3 sentences long. They exist entirely for us to drop a line out to another team or another office and say hi, and let them know that we’d seen their work and loved it. It’s with little emails like those that we’ve been able to establish relationships across a big company. And this year is the year we try to build on those relationships — and build great work from them.

It takes more than a quick email to establish a relationship. But it’s a start. In the long run, it helps put us top-of-mind when other teams are deciding what teams to work with — which is huge — and it might open doors for us. The emails don’t take much time — literally, a minute or two every week. And the best part: Even if they don’t lead to work, they still make our workplace a little bit friendlier.

Which makes me wonder: Why doesn’t everyone send an email like that on a regular basis?

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That super-generic thumbs up photo comes via Flickr and user hobvias sudoneighm.

How To Write A Great Email.

When someone asks me what I do, I usually tell them (with a wink, mind you): Oh, I’m the guy who’s been sending you all those emails lately!

But in many cases, that’s actually true! My team at BuzzFeed now sends tens of millions of emails out a month. I’ve personally written about 1,500 newsletters — it could be more, but I lost track somewhere along the way.

Over the past 3 years, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about email.

And a lot of people aren’t using email the right way.

Email can be an amazing tool — when used correctly. Just keep these six rules in mind before you send your next email:

1) Should you even send this email? — Oftentimes, the answer is no! If you need to pass along a lot of information via links or attachments; if you’re looking for the recipient to take specific action; or if you want to pass along a quick, personal note, email is great! Otherwise, have that conversation in person or over the phone. It can be really, really hard to convey tone over email, so having tough conversations IRL is a much better idea.

2) Make your subject line clear — I love to send emails that are super specific. I write a lot of subject lines with questions: “Can you send me _______ by the end of the day?” Or emails that convey the message right up front: “I loved your recent article!” Nobody should open an email and not know what they’re about to read.

3) Take advantage of that “preheader” space — That’s a term we use to refer to the snippet of preview text you’ll see on your phone or in Gmail. Your recipient can read the first 5-10 words of your email — so skip the greetings and the “Hope all is well!”-type messages and get right to the point!

4) Personal emails are the best kind of emails — A personal email is a great way to make people feel like their work is actually important. And when people feel appreciated, they’re more likely to write back, take action, or help! If possible, I try not to send mass emails. I’ve found that an email that goes out to a group of 10+ recipients gets far fewer responses than an email that goes out to only 1-3 people.

5) Use bullets or numbered lists — Remember: More and more people are reading emails on their phone, which means readability matters. If you’re writing emails in a giant block of text, your recipient might skip through the whole thing. Take advantage of bullets and lists that can make your email much easier to read.

6) Make your “ask” as clear as possible — One of the reasons I love email is because it allows you to ask a specific person to take a specific action. But the recipient should know exactly what action they should take, and also how you’ll hold them accountable. When I need to get a specific thing done, I usually ask over email.

If you make your ask very clear — and if you follow these other five rules — you’ll discover what email truly can be: An engine for helping you get a ton of stuff done.

No.

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A few weeks ago, I wrote about 10 things that will save you time at the office. But there’s one more I didn’t write about in that post, and I want to touch on it now:

It’s the word “no.”

I haven’t always been good at saying that word. I really like saying “yes.” I like being helpful to other teams at work, I like offering my time when I can, and I like working on new projects. I try to say “yes” to things as much as possible.

But I’ve also learned that “yes” can lead to trouble — if you say it one time too many.

There are three resources at my disposal that other people want: My time, my skills, and my team. As a manager, my job is manage those resources and make sure my team doesn’t overextend itself. So that means that more and more, I’m saying “no” to projects.

Don’t get me wrong: I want to be able to say “yes” to everything. I love helping people, and I’m lucky to be a position where I can help others do better work. But I’ve learned that there are times when you have to say “no.”

I’m still not great at saying that word, but I’ve learned a few things that have helped me say it better:

1) Be direct — I wrote it in that earlier post, and I’ll say it again: Being direct will save you time in the long run. Most co-workers initially request help via email, and that’s a place where you can be straight with people. I send a lot of these types of emails: “No, I can’t help right now. Sorry!” You’re not a jerk for saying that — you’re just being up front with people.

2) Saying “yes” when you don’t have the resources is even worse than a “no” — If you can’t actually help the person but say “yes” anyway, you’re making things worse for everyone. You’ll end up holding up their work, and on top that, it’s just plain rude. Don’t say “yes” if you can’t commit.

3) Try to find another way to help — If I can’t say “yes,” I’ll often meet with the person anyway just to listen and see if I can offer some advice. At the very least, maybe I can point them towards someone who can help.

I still don’t like saying “no,” but I’m learning how important it is to prioritize my three big resources: Time, skills, and team. Sometimes, you have to say “no” to keep those a priority.

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That photo of a closed door comes via Buzac Marius for Unsplash.

10 Things That Will Save You So Much Trouble At The Office.

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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.

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That photo of a workspace comes via via Unsplash and photographer Jeff Sheldon.