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8 Ways to Change Your Habits (And Actually Get What You Want)

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What does it take to make a goal or a dream come true?

You know the drill. You’re vowing to change your behavior. Tomorrow I’ll … start meditating. Start brushing my teeth. Finally get around to writing those essays you’ve been meaning to write. Make plans for the new book you’re putting together. Learn to code.

You vow that you’re going to do it. You know it. You have to do it.

But it didn’t get done today. So you wake up tomorrow and do the same thing you’ve always done. Yet your behavior doesn’t change.

When we make broad-sweeping declarations about our life, they don’t work.

In fact vowing to do anything, no matter how strong the vow, usually wears off as your willpower drains throughout the day. So how do you make a change in your life that’s actually effective? “Everyday people plan to do difficult things, but they don’t do them. They think, ‘I’ll do it tomorrow,’ and they swear to themselves that they’ll follow through the next day,” write Carol Dweck, researcher at Stanford and author of Mindset. “Research by Peter Gollwitzer and his colleagues show that vowing, even intense vowing, is often useless. The next day comes and the next day goes.”

So how do you make a resolution that actually works? Here are a few of the best tips and tools we’ve read about, used, and know to work:

1. Make a concrete, vivid plan.

What works, writes Dweck, is making a vivid, concrete plan. Describe to yourself exactly what you’re going to do, how you’re going to do it, and what steps you need to take, down to the minute detail. “Think of something you need to do, something you want to learn, or a problem you have to confront. What is it? Now make a concrete plan. When will you follow through on your plan? Where will you do it? How will you do it? Think about it in vivid detail.”

Increase your possibility of success by outlining when you’re going to do something, by putting it in your mind as a behavior — and on your calendar as an action.

These concrete plans — plans you can visualize — about when, where, and how you are going to do something lead to really high levels of follow-through, which, of course, ups the chances of success.

If you’re looking to write a book in the new year (which, full disclosure, I am), then break it down into its constituent parts. When will you write? What will it look like? What days a week will this happen?

Think about it exactly, not vaguely.

For me: I’m going to set an interim goal of writing on my book for at least ten days in January. More specifically, a writing session includes just opening the doc and working on a single page. I’m focused on making the habit of working on my book part of my regular routine.

2. To make change, visualize the change. Take time to imagine your behavior change in detail.

It turns out, detailed visualization is powerful enough to change behaviors even before you start. As I’ve written about before, the power of visualization is so important, it’s proven to change behaviors:

“In a famous basketball study, players were divided into groups that visualized perfect free throws, a second group that practiced their shots, and a placebo group that did nothing. At the end of the study, the players that visualized their perfect throws improved almost as much as the group that practiced — without ever touching a basketball. It’s important to note that the visualization involved the specific steps and actions it takes to perfect a free-throw shot.”

If you want to change what you do, you can begin with your thoughts.

3. Start small.

Habit change happens when you start really small. Want to learn how to run? Your first month might focus just on the first five minutes of each run, until you’ve mastered that first step. This includes mastering the steps of putting your shoes on, walking outside, and only then maybe adding a few minutes to walk to the corner or around the block each day.

What’s key is successive positive reinforcement, or rewarding the behavior you want more of. Too often we jump cold turkey into a brand-new routine only to find ourselves back in our old habits before we know it. Instead, focus on the smallest possible change that could build into a habit over time. For more on this, check out Stanford Professor B.J. Foggs’ Tiny Habits program.

“We often think that if you start with something so small, it won’t make a difference. But the truth is, because that momentum builds after you get going, you can often start with something really tiny, and it will blossom into something much bigger,” says writer and author James Clear.

If you’re stuck or overwhelmed with a new project, ask yourself: what’s the smallest thing I could do next to make this happen? It doesn’t matter how small it is — the trick is to make it small enough that you actually do something.

Tweet: “Even when you start small, it can make a huge difference.” — @James_Clear

4. Prime yourself.

New behaviors need an introduction, of sorts. Whenever I start to learn something new, I try to expose myself to the new context before actually committing to a new behavior change. Often the weight of how much is going on can be intimidating — researching a new location, mapping it out on google maps, looking up schedules, figuring out payment options, sticking to the plan — that enough friction in any of these steps and you don’t end up doing it.

Instead, make one of the first steps a walk through. Whenever I try out a new gym or studio, I go in for a tour. You can learn the routine, see the studio, and practice the behavior of going to the gym. This makes it easier for you to repeat this action down the line because you already know how to do it.

Want to start flossing your teeth in the morning? Go right now to your bathroom sink and practice the behavior. Get out the floss, put it on the countertop, and floss at least one tooth. Even if it’s 2pm in the afternoon, even if it’s just one tooth. This will prime you for repeating the behavior the next day.

5. Look to the process, not the outcome.

Too often we confuse the reward of the outcome with understanding what, exactly, it’s going to take to get there. Sitting down to write every single day is a lot more boring than having a published book in your hand. So how do you create a schedule that rewards the small successes?

It’s actually psychologically difficult to conceptualize change. We don’t understand thresholds of small changes; instead, we’re biased to see big wins. The biggest change happens over time, however, when you enact small, consistent behaviors. Sometimes mundane acts over time add up to something more exciting, after all.

“It’s so easy to focus on this idea of one defining moment, or overnight success, or some massive transformation to flip a switch and become a new person — but it’s not that way at all,” explains Clear. To make a behavior stick, look closely at the process and whether or not you’re really willing to commit to the, at times, drudgery and slog that it’ll take to get there.

And be ready to surprise yourself. Entrepreneur Corbett Barr reminds us that “Not a lot will change in one single day, but a lot can change in 30 days.” It’s rare that I’ll have a breakthrough day to finish my book (and by definition, that will only be one day out of many), but if I keep showing up, that day will arrive.

6. Motivation doesn’t last long, so plan ahead for when you’re not motivated.

How do you stay motivated? Well, it’s not about motivation — it’s about habit. Stephen Pressfield describes Somerset Maugham’s relationship to motivation and writing:

“Someone once asked Somerset Maugham if he wrote on a schedule or only when struck by inspiration. “I write only when inspiration strikes,” he replied. “Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.” Maugham reckoned another deeper truth: that by performing the mundane act of sitting down and starting to work, he set in motion a mysterious but infallible sequence of events that would produce inspiration, as surely as if the goddess had synchronized her watch with his.” — Steven Pressfield from The War of Art

In other words, the difference between a professional and an amateur is that a professional doesn’t wait for motivation. They get to it, even if they don’t feel like it.

7. When you get stuck, reduce the scope, but stick to the schedule.

This idea comes from 37 Signals, and I heard about it from Eric Zimmer and James Clear on “The One You Feed,” podcast. James writes every Monday and Thursday, and he explains that even when there’s a dud of a day, he still shows up and sticks to the schedule.

It doesn’t matter how you feel, it’s about shipping something. Rather than skipping altogether when circumstances get dicey (skipping your workout because you only have 20 minutes, avoiding your writing session because you’re tired), instead, find a way to do something, even if it’s just for a moment. Do jumping jacks for 6 minutes, then 1 minute of pushups. Write 200 words, or three sentences.

Whatever time you have is how much you do.

A little of something is a lot more than nothing.

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8. Behavior change requires… change.

In order to get a different outcome, change the inputs.

This might seem exceptionally obvious, but it’s worth pointing out: if you want a different result, you’ll have to do something differently than you’re currently doing. What you’re doing right now (and for me, it’s spending three weeks not writing, then a day stressing about writing) — isn’t getting you the result that you want.

If you aren’t getting what you want, then what you’re doing isn’t working. In order to get what you want, something about the process will have to change.

What are you willing to do differently to get what you want?

How can you change your habits to get more of what you want?

What Are the Best Project Management Software and Tools?

Whether you are a one-person show or running a large startup with multiple teams, project management is important. Good project management can ultimately mean the difference between joining the 10% of startups that succeed or the 90% that fail. There is no right or wrong tool when it comes to project management, but rather a right or wrong fit for your business and its needs. In this post, we’ll look at eight online project management tools you can use to increase your team’s productivity and communication.

Things to Consider

Before we jump into the tools themselves, there are a few things you need to consider before you choose a project management tool. These are the things you’ll want to keep in mind when you are reading through the upcoming list.

  • Scalability. Sure, you may only have just yourself or a few employees to manage now. But what about a year from now? Five years from now? If you choose a tool that only works well with five people, and you need to manage 50 down the road, you’ll end up having to migrate all of your data to a new platform.
  • Ease of Use. You can’t manage your projects productively if you spend most of your time just trying to manage the project management software itself. If you and your team don’t like using something, it will never be useful to your business.
  • Accessibility. Are you only using this tool for yourself? Will your employees need access to it? Will freelancers or contractors outside of your office need access to it? Will clients need access to it? Will people need access to it on their desktop? On mobile? These are all things to keep in mind when looking at a project management tool’s permissions, user pricing, and ap options.
  • Client Familiarity. For some businesses, a project management tool needs to be somewhat compatible with what their clients are used to. If a majority of your clients are using Basecamp, that might be a good choice to ensure ultimately efficiency. Or, if your clients use a variety of project management tools (Trello, Basecamp, Slack, etc.), you may want to choose one that has integration opportunities with multiple project management tools through third-party services like Zapier.

Before you commit to any tool, take advantage of free accounts or free trial periods to see if they are the best project management software for your business.

8 Popular Project Management Tools

With the above things in mind, here are some great project management tools with a variety of features to choose from.

Basecamp

Basecamp offers everything you need in terms of project management: to-do lists for task assignment and management, message boards, chat rooms, project check-ins, calendar-view scheduling, a place to upload documents and files, and the ability to toggle features on or off based on your specific needs.

Pricing for Basecamp is simple. You can start with a free account to play around with Basecamp’s features for one project.

From there, you can choose a $29 per month plan for businesses using Basecamp for their own internal projects or $79 per month for businesses using Basecamp for client project management. The $79 plan includes a client management feature that allows clients to see what you want them to, but nothing else. Neither have any additional per-user costs or fees.

There is also an enterprise level plan for $3,000 per year that includes 1TB of storage, a personal account manager, guaranteed uptime, and the ability to pay by check with NET 30 invoicing.

Zapier offers Basecamp integrations so that you can automate tasks between Basecamp and other project management tools, your CRM, and other business applications. For users on the go, Basecamp has a mobile-optimized browser interface so users can login and get the information they need. They also have apps for iPhone, iPad, and Android users.

Freshbooks

If you are already using accounting software like FreshBooks and you just need project management in the form of time tracking, you will be happy to know that it is built in to their platform. FreshBooks allows you create projects and tasks. You can then have your employees, freelancers, or contractors login and enter their time for billing purposes. Your clients will also be able to view time entries if you allow them to.

To access the time tracking feature, you will need the $39.95 plan for up to 250 clients and 1 staff member or the $79.95 plan for unlimited clients and up to 5 staff members. So while this isn’t a very scalable solution, it can help for simple project time tracking for 1–5 employees.

Zapier offers FreshBooks integrations so that you can automate tasks between FreshBooks and other project management tools, your CRM, and other business applications. FreshBooks has a mobile-optimized browser interface and apps for iOS and Android users that includes access to the time tracking feature.

Github

For software programmers and coding projects, there is GitHub. GitHub offers project management features specifically designed for collaboration with people who manage code. Their features include issue tracking, collaborative code review, team management with different levels of access (read, read-write, and admin), syntax highlighting, and access to their public repositories.

Pricing for GitHub is based on the number of private repositories you will need to manage with unlimited collaborators. You can start by trying out their features with a free account and unlimited public repositories, then choose personal plans starting from $7 per month for five private repositories to $50 per month for fifty private repositories.

For businesses that need team organization and permission administration, you can choose organizational plans starting from $25 per month for ten private repositories to $200 per month for 125 private repositories. For those who want a GitHub environment on your own server, you will need an enterprise plan that starts at $2,500 per year.

Zapier offers GitHub integrations so that you can automate tasks between GitHub and other project management tools, your CRM, and other business applications. GitHub has a mobile-optimized browser interface so you can access repositories, issues, pull requests, blogs, and more without having to download an app.

Google Drive

If project management means file management and collaboration on documents, spreadsheets, and slides, then Google Drive is the solution. Google Drive is cloud storage combined with cloud-based software that rivals Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel, and Microsoft Powerpoint. It also offers the ability to create Forms (surveys with answers stored in a Google Sheet) and Drawings (flow charts).

You can upload most file types for others to download or view, edit, or comment on documents, spreadsheets, slides, forms, and drawings. Some businesses use Google Sheets for simple project management purposes, such as managing editorial calendars.

Pricing for Google Drive is based on the storage you use. You get 15 GB of free storage, then pricing starts from $1.99 per month for 100 GB to $299.99 per month for 30 TB. You can also explore Google Apps for Work, which adds in additional features for organizations using Gmail, Google Drive, and other Google tools for business starting at $5 per user per month.

Zapier offers Google Drive integrations so that you can automate tasks between Google Drive and other project management tools, your CRM, and other business applications. Google Drive has mobile apps for the Drive itself along with individual apps for Google Docs, Google Sheets, and Google Slides.

Podio

Podio is a project management tool that describes itself as an open-plan online office. It allows you to keep your project content and conversations in one place with at-a-glance views and detailed drilldowns. You can have meetings via chat, audio, or video. And you can manage your projects with classic tasks, recurring tasks, and calendars.

Podio offers a free option for limited features for up to five employees that you can use to try their software. Then you can choose pricing plans that start from $9 per month per employee to $24 per month per employee, depending on the features you need. Unlimited storage, e-document signing, and priority support comes with the enterprise level pricing, which is unlisted on the site.

Zapier offers Podio integrations so that you can automate tasks between Podio and other project management tools, your CRM, and other business applications. For users on the go, Podio has mobile apps so that you can always access your workspaces.

Redbooth

Redbooth is a project management and collaboration tool that allows teams to work together effectively internally and with clients. Their software includes task management, video conferencing, team business chat, the ability to turn chat messages into tasks, built-in accountability reporting, project view workspaces, and much more.

Pricing for Redbooth is $5 — $15 per user per month (billed annually), based on the features you need for your project management. You can try Redbooth for thirty days for free to see if it is a good fit for your business. A private cloud-based version of their software on your own servers for highly-regulated industries is also available for an unlisted price.

Zapier offers Redbooth integrations so that you can automate tasks between Redbooth and other project management tools, your CRM, and other business applications. Redbooth has mobile apps so that you can always access your projects, tasks, and team.

Slack

If you need less project management features, but more communication options, then check out Slack. This tool allows you to communicate with your team through the use of file sharing on private channels for your organization and direct messaging between individuals.

Small teams and those who want to give the tool a try can use it for free. Pricing for premium features, such as an unlimited searchable archive, usage statistics, guest access, and two-factor authentication is $8 per user per month. Premium support and uptime guarantees are included in plans for $15 per user per month. Enterprise level plans are expected to be introduced in 2016.

Zapier offers Slack integrations so that you can automate tasks between Slack and other project management tools, your CRM, and other business applications. Slack has mobile apps so that you can always access your projects, tasks, and team.

Trello

Trello is a project management tool that allows you to organize projects using lists and cards within boards. Cards can be moved from one list to the next to mark completion of specific processes, such as an editorial calendar where an article goes from draft submission to editorial review.

Within each card, you can create specific checklist items, add member assignments, set due dates, share files, and communicate with others working on the same task or project.

Trello is free for unlimited members, boards, cards, checklists, etc. Pricing for additional features, such as larger file attachments, priority support, and premium integrations is from $8.33 to $20.83 per user per month.

Zapier offers Trello integrations so that you can automate tasks between Trello and other project management tools, your CRM, and other business applications. Trello has mobile apps so that you can add and update cards, lists, and boards.

Honorable Mention: Knock Knock Pads
For those of you shaking your heads because you prefer to write things down and need less of a project management tool and more of a to-do list, Knock Knock pads should do. You can get the This Week Pad to write down your tasks for each day of the week, plus tasks you want to complete next week. Or you can get the Random Notes Pad that gives you pages with a blank space block, grid block, dots block, and lined block to outline your task or project notes as you see fit.

This should only be an option for those who work alone at a dedicated desk and rarely (if ever) need to refer back to previous project notes. You may also want to use a backup method of keeping track of things, such as taking a snapshot of each page of the notepad or using another of the above-mentioned project management tools.

In Conclusion

As you can see, there are lots of great project management tools that allow you to organize your work, your team, and your communications in a variety of ways at affordable prices. We’ve shared some of the best project management tools be sure to check out each one to see which one fits your business now and will scale with your business as it grows.

Why I Built A Microscope Instead of Writing My Book

True story: I recently made a microscope out of an old computer charger box, the lens from of a CDROM drive, and a bunch of tape.

I may have also cannibalized an LED from the front of my bike (no night riding for me anytime soon). The whole thing took me a weekend, and when I was done, I could take digital photos of plant cells with my smartphone.

If you’re wondering whether I’m MacGuyver, the answer is yes. I am MacGuyver.

I have a novel hanging over my head, one I recently declared I would finish by the end of the summer.

When I shared this with my family, I got something of a mixed response. Universally, they agreed it was cool, but then universally they wanted to know why I was spending my days off making a microscope when I could be writing. In other words, why was I wasting time on these little projects of mine rather than tackling the much larger project of finishing my writing? Wouldn’t a weekend spent writing do much more toward knocking that out of the way than a weekend spent harvesting lens parts and fashioning cardboard harnesses for my phone?

Fashioning a microscope with cardboard and old Mac parts.

They’re right, up to a point. I have a novel hanging over my head, one I recently declared I would finish by the end of the summer. With this mental stone sitting heavy in the middle of my calendar, spending a whole weekend designing, cutting up pieces of charger box, testing an instrument with no guarantees of it working on the other side amounted to an act of pretty hardcore procrastination.

It works! Sand detail through my homemade microscope.

Being called out on this sucks, to be sure. In a culture that values productivity more than creativity, results more than process, being called a procrastinator is tantamount to being called lazy.

But here’s the thing: Not all procrastination is made equal.

There exists that special breed of procrastination that actually helps get our creative juices moving. For me, it’s working on weird craft assignments where I build scientific equipment out of e-waste. At least one person I know makes origami cranes when a deadline looms at work. My partner cleans the house when she has to start any big project (she’s writing a dissertation now; our apartment absolutely sparkles).

These are the useful acts of procrastination — the creative procrastination — in which the stress of trying to exist in a product-oriented, perfection-oriented culture transduces into the need to make a physical product. Yeah, we have forms of procrastination that are totally useless.

Yeah, we have forms of procrastination that are totally useless.

No, it is not the most useful expenditure of time to spend an afternoon obsessively checking social media or reading reviews of last week’s Game of Thrones finale on the internet (both of which I have done while writing this post). Indeed, that video of a cat slowly pushing a drawer closed after getting caught stealing food is the funniest thing ever posted to the web, but it will not get your project off the ground.

All of these amount to a kind of passivity in the face of a big workload, but when we respond to the pressure to produce, to perfect, to imagine ideas bigger than we know we can handle by creating physical objects, what we’re doing is using the physical world to shape our mental space into a creative space.

Our creative projects so often fail because the end seems so far away, the process so messy and imperfect, that the easier pleasures of passive procrastination seem better and more readily attained. This is the value of creative procrastination: it gives us a way to push back against the mental pressures of creativity and to sublimate stress, fear, doubt — all the negative emotions that can orbit around creative projects, threatening to fall in and crush our brilliant ideas — into a physical medium that proves to us we can make a project.

This is the value of creative procrastination: it gives us a way to push back against the mental pressures of creativity and to sublimate stress, fear, and doubt.

That’s not passivity. It’s not exactly productivity, either, but it amounts to a kind of active putting off of work that deserves to be seen as a valuable part of any creative workflow. When I finished making my microscope, I had opened up a world of new sights and creatures to myself. I had also proven to myself that I could finish a big project. When I started writing at the end of the weekend, I did so with a creatively charged mind and a will to get through the toughest writing problems.

Minnow Egg Detail.

I sincerely hope, then, that the next time you have a project coming due and decide to spend an afternoon gardening beforehand, you don’t chastise yourself for wasting time. Congratulate yourself for knowing your process well enough to incorporate productive procrastination into it.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to finish a chapter. Time to look up how to build a telescope.

9 Mistakes You’re Probably Making When Sending Email

How many hours a day do you spend writing emails?

We love it, we hate it — we can’t stop using it. Many of us spend a quarter of our working days in email, writing to each other, moving projects forward, connecting to new people.

Email is a form of everyday writing — and if you’re writing poorly, in a rush, or you don’t know how to compose your message for maximum impact, you can end up losing business, friends, or missing out on opportunities.

For all the hacks there are in email efficiency, sometimes we forget to hack ourselves — and use our words more cleverly to get what we want.

Here are 9 mistakes you might be making in email — and how to fix them.

1. Sending emails only when you need something.

The best time to build any relationship is before you need something, not waiting until the moment you need something. A friend of mine gets into the habit of sending five thoughtful emails each Sunday night to check in with people who he likes, admires, or thinks of. An email might look like a quick note of congratulations or a touch point to say hi:

“Hey, saw some great news about you — just wanted to say congratulations! I love watching what you’re up to through my various news feeds, and I wanted to send a note to say how much I hope you’re doing well.”

It’s a great way to remember to reach out to folks you want to be in touch with, and an actionable way of practicing gratitude.

2. Forgetting that there’s a person on the other side of your email.

Just as you wouldn’t walk into a friend’s house for dinner and bark out a command, often those little niceties in the intro and end of a message can go a long way. Social cues aren’t dated constructs; they’re valuable warm-up phrases in communication. Start by saying hi, comment on someone’s latest achievements, and wish the other person well.

“Hey stranger! It’s been a long time. If Facebook’s telling me the scoop, it looks like you had an eventful Spring…congrats on all of your successes!”

3. Using the first person too much

Many emails — and essays — are written exclusively in first person. Shift the focus to the recipient and consider what they want, need, or would like to hear. After writing an email, scan it quickly for how many times you use the word “I.” See if you can edit some of them out.

For example: “I’m teaching a new writer’s workshop this Spring, and I want help sharing the program. I think you’d be interested in it” (all “I” statements) can be turned into:

“Hey, Leslie. A while back we chatted about ways to improve your writing skills — and it seems you might like this writing workshop for creatives that just launched. Enjoy taking a look and let me know if this is what you were looking for.”

4. Sending the email at the wrong time

Just because you’ve written it now doesn’t mean it needs to be sent at this exact moment. Delaying the send is one of the most powerful and underutilized tools of emailing.

Evaluate whether or not the message is urgent and needs to be replied to immediately. If you’re cleaning up your inbox during your scheduled time, fire off the messages that are urgent and consider sending messages in the morning.

Scheduling emails to be sent in 24 or 48 hours gives you (and your clients) space to breathe between nonurgent projects, and it also sets up a rhythm of communication whereby your client no longer expects you to reply instantaneously. The more structure and parameter you give to the form of your messaging, the easier it is for the client to learn what to expect. You can either train someone to expect instantaneous answers at all times, or to learn the rhythm that’s best for you and your business.

Then, in the case of an emergency, if the client emails and you need to solve the problem straight away, you can send a quick message late in the evening or on a weekend. In this scenario, you become the hero to your client.

5. Sending to too many people

More recipients in the “To” field does not mean that you’ll necessarily get more answers. In the age of digital marketing, people who blast messages in broadcast form without understanding who is in the “to” line can erode their chances of a message being opened.

A perfect email is one that’s sent to exactly who it needs to go to, with a specified desired outcome.

The more specific you can be about who you ask, the better. Asking everyone in your network is bound to get you a bunch of silence in our over-connected world, or unsubscribes and un-follows across your various platforms. It’s better to ask three people who are very well equipped to answer your query than 15 people who aren’t interested at all.

The more specific you can get about who should be receiving the message, the better. One direct ask that results in a yes is better than asking 50 people who don’t respond (and spamming their inboxes).

6. Knowing nothing about the person receiving your email

Do your homework on the recipient. One great tool to glean fast information about who you’re talking to is Rapportive, a sidebar that lets you see the latest public posts (and a picture) of the person you’re communicating to.

7. Forgetting to send updates or interim messages

If you’re waiting for an important message from someone, the time spent waiting for a delivery can seem interminable. If there’s a long delay in sending an item that’s highly anticipated or expected, or you’ve experienced a few hiccups — send a one-liner email to update your receiver on the status of the project. You’ll know that you need to send a quick note when you start to get anxious about not delivering or they seem to be a bit flippant.

Here’s some sample copy for you to use:

“Hey, friend. Just wanted to send a quick update about the delivery of our proposal. We’re set to get you something by next Friday, but we might be a few days early. Talk to you next week! Let me know if you have any questions in the meantime.”

“Hey, friend. I know we touched base last month and I’ve been far too slow in getting back to you. I’m still working through the pile on my plate, but I should have something in the next 2–3 weeks. Didn’t want to keep you guessing! Talk soon.”

8. Making messages too long

Depending on the nature of the message, emails can vary from a few words to thousands of words. The longer the email, the less likely that someone will read the entire thing. Long emails generally mean that a larger strategy, framework, or document might be in order.

Some companies shift to using four-sentence emails and linking to longer pieces of work through Google Documents, Asana, or Basecamp (or other project management software). Here at One Month, we use Asana for project management and Slack for internal messaging, so email is never a nuisance in getting internal messages relayed.

9. Using email exclusively

Efficiency does not necessarily mean one single system. Often, redundancy in communication can be extremely helpful, as each tool (video, chat, email, Skype) adds a layer of human nuance back into the correspondence that’s happening.

Laura Roeder’s digital marketing team is distributed across multiple countries, and in order to stay in touch (and in concert with each other), they focus on “over-communication,” through the use of multiple tools at once.

Now, let’s talk about four ways to focus on writing better emails:

Tell sticky stories

Everything makes more sense with an illustration. Highlight and example, illustrate an ideal customer avatar, or tell a specific instance of a problem you had. Setting the context and the stage (that seems obvious to you, the writer), makes it easier for people to understand the pain point, the context, and the reason why you’re writing. When people can see your story — who you are, where you come from, why you’re doing what you’re doing — it’s easier for them to become a part of it.

Use the four-sentence, one-link rule

Keep your email to under four sentences (or five!). Focus on the pain point or problem you’re solving. Limit yourself to only one link. If you have to, make that link a document.

Be responsive and reflective

Observe how others communicate and adapt your style to meet them midway. Customize your communication by mirroring the style of a received message. Does someone send short messages with formal addresses? Respond in style.

Bookmark emails that you love with Evernote

Use the vast number of emails in front of you (and in your inbox) as clues to great messaging. Watch what emails you open first and are most excited about. Create a few folders in your mailbox system for great introductions, sample short messages, and thank-you notes that you like. Keep these for future use if you’re ever in a bind. In any art, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel — and paying attention to great writers (and what we personally enjoy) is a great way to get started.

Email is our number one form of communication, which means that everyone is a writer.The most powerful thing you can do in both your personal and business life is learn how to write well and tell great stories. Messages that persuade, content that converts, and language that inspires action are critical for getting what you want.

When you improve the way you write and learn how to design better messages, you will resonate with the reader, improve share-ability, and increase the bottom line.

Next week our Content Marketing class launches — are you on the list to find out when it opens?

What about you? What email mistakes do you see people making all the time that you wish they would fix? What’s the greatest email you’ve ever received?

Learning Hack: The Pomodoro Technique

Pomodoros are a simple learning and productivity technique. We all get burnt out or spend time doing stuff that’s not really effective or valuable, right?

Take a kitchen timer (a Pomodoro timer) and set it to 25 minutes.

Work on one thing for those 25 minutes. If you’re able to do that, when the 25 minutes are up make a little X on a piece of paper, like a post-it, and take a 5 minute break where you’re NOT thinking about work. Go walk around, or drink a cup of water, or use the bathroom, or stretch a little bit.

Then decide what you’re going to work on next and do another Pomodoro.

After about four Pomodoros cycles (with 5 minute breaks in between each), you should take a longer break of 20 minutes or so.

The goal will be to hit a certain number of Pomodoros in a day, like 8 or so, and then hit that number again or more the next day.

If you get really distracted during a Pomodoro (like you end up spending a few minutes on Facebook) then the Pomodoro doesn’t count and you have to start over.

The Pomodoro Technique accomplishes a few things:

  1. It gives you an accepted relaxation / bucket time. Then you don’t feel bad taking a break. In fact, studies show that breaks are important for optimal learning and focus. If you don’t take breaks, you might not be as productive as you could be.
  2. It lets you recalibrate what you’re working on every 25 minutes. I know that for me I often get unproductive when I’m working on the same thing for a long-time because I start focusing on stuff that isn’t important but tricking myself into thinking its super important. (Have you ever found yourself spending more than 15 minutes agonizing over the formatting of a powerpoint slide?) The more often you step back and check in with the self, the more you’ll feel like you actually worked on the tasks that you were supposed to.
  3. It provides a small, but reasonable challenge for you to maintain focus. You can defer distractions to a time that is at most 25 minutes away.
  4. It sets a personal challenge for yourself. By quantifying how many Pomodoros you’ve accomplished during the day, you’ll naturally feel a desire to at least match that never the next day.
  5. You feel better at the end of the day. Most of us spend way too much time hunched at our desk and then we feel like shit at the end of the day. It’s usually because we haven’t been physically active, we didn’t drink enough water, or stretch enough throughout the day. These 5 minute breaks are perfect for that. I find that at the end of a day when I practice pomodoros, I usually feel awesome.

So how can you get started?

Well it’s as simple as getting a timer, a piece of paper, and a pen, really. But there are a few things I’d recommend:

  • There’s an app for that. Pomodoro Timer for the iPhone is a good one. There are a lot of fancy apps out there that track all your Pomodoros and are adjustable and whatnot, but this app does all I really want. It vibrates when your 25 minutes are up, and lets you pick whether you want to take a short or a long break when that’s done.
    (My friend Jon notes that there’s a cool desktop alternative called E.gg Timer, which has a pomodoro option at this url: http://e.ggtimer.com/pomodoro)
  • Get a notebook, a day calendar, or even just a post-it at your desk to track your Pomodoros. This will actually be a good reminder at the start of your day that you should be doing Pomodoros in the first place.
  • While you’re at it, buy a nice pen.

Hope you enjoyed this post. Do you have a learning technique you’d like to share? Or do you think Pomodoro is a stupid idea? Post about it in the comments below.