Thursday, February 26, 2009

Work-Related: Social Media in a Newsletter

I attended the Email Evolution Conference in Scottsdale earlier this month.  While I was there, I saw a shot up on a Powerpoint of an email that had social media tags in the header.  I can't recall what the email was for or which tags they used (I think Facebook, Twitter, Digg.) but I emailed myself a note saying I should check it out.   On the day we were to launch, I got into the code myself and added it, very last minute to the consternation of my team.  Because it was last minute, I opted to just go with text.  We had a "View online" pre-header already, so I took our F2F from the bottom as well as links to share on Facebook and Twitter.

At the bottom, I also added the Twitter and Facebook links to our existing Forward-to-a-Friend section. In the "Fight Night" presentation, one of the presenters (sorry, don't have my notes with me) said that they had a lot of success repeating the "hero shot" at the end, so I opted to add the Social Media options at the bottom as well, another chance to let people help publicize our newsletter to their circles of influence.

To see the online version of the newsletter, click here.  (Abbreviated footer online doesn't contain some of the CAN-SPAM details like unsubscribe link, or link into account services and things like that.)

I consider this a successful test and we will continue to offer Social Media in our preheader (and footer) going forward.  I don't have access to web statistics, but I do know that after one week, the open/render for the February newsletter is already 2% higher than January's (to date) and 9% more clicks.  Social Media links represented 2% of the total links clicked so far in February.  As a percentage of opens/renders, it was only about 1/3 of 1% so there's definite room for growth there (larger font size in pre-header? more obvious links? images? comfort level of our readers seeing it month after month?) but still, if each of these social links resulted in one or two additional clicks (and I would have to assume, the overall average would be higher), that could introduce our newsletter to thousands of new readers. 

Our ESP does not offer an easy way to do F2F or View Online, so we don't offer it regularly with all of our outbound emails, but we do for the monthly newsletter because it is our premiere piece.

Not bad for about 45 minutes of research, coding and testing.  I expect that when I have access to the website statistics that I'll see some great results there.  Unfortunately, those numbers I won't be able to share.  But I would recommend trying it in your newsletter and submitting your results back via the #eec tag on Twitter and to the Email Roundtable.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Quick Hit - Work Related

For those of you still waiting for my social media experiment results, I hope to get to it tomorrow.  I have top level - already 2% improvement in opens to the original email (we are promoting our president's new book) but an aggregate 8% improvement in clickthrough.  (And we're talking 1 week versus 5 weeks - these newsletters have surprising longevity in their repeat opens.)  Tomorrow I'm hoping to find time to run specific link count reporting, but that depends on how busy the day gets.  To see the newsletter for yourself, please check out the online version here.  It's roughly the same, except for a slightly modified footer that removes things like the unsubscribe link, and a revised pre-header that doesn't link back to the online version since you're already there.  What I won't have anytime soon are web statistics, this is one area I'm still in the process of coming up to speed on.

Quick Hit - Personal

I thought LOST was a really sad episode tonight.  I also was a little bored by the linear nature of it. I guess they can't all be the best, though I'm not sure exactly which one was my favorite, though I did like the idea of "The Constant"  I am curious about how Ben made it back onto the island. I'm very puzzled/frustrated by Ben being alive on the island again.  That was like one of those rules that seemed straightforward and something you could grab onto... if you move the island, you don't get to come back.   Locke's coming back in a coffin seemed ok, but to see Ben amongst the injured, that leaves me unsettled, and not in a "I can't wait until next Wednesday kinda way."

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Work-Related: Not Done Yet

I know recently I picked up some extra readers temporarily, looking for a work-related post I had hoped to make today regarding the initial results of putting social media in the preheader.  Unfortunately, I did not get to it yet.   I may be able to do tonight (though it is the Leverage season-finale), otherwise, I will try for tomorrow.  Thanks for your patience.

Deluge of Email

I've been asked this question a few times in the past week and I've struggled to give a quick answer.  I thought that maybe it was time I give a longer response. 

How on earth do you handle the volume of email that you do?
Frankly, it's an answer I struggle with at times.  At the moment, I'm a little upsidedown, but I will get caught up again when things slow down a little.
First off, I recommend reading "Getting Things Done" by David Allen.  If nothing else, this book will inspire you that it is possible, that you can stay on top of things.
As always, I am not one content to leave things well enough alone and have tweaked his system.   First, a few groundrules, and keep in mind I'm approaching this from the corporate side of things.  (If you're struggling with your personal inbox, I do feel for you, and some of these tricks may work for you.  As well as mastering Gmail's "multiple inboxes".)
(1) An email is unread until it's dealt with.  This causes the little number sign on the inbox(es) to be accurate.
(2) Once an email is dealt with, it goes away.  Either to a "file cabinet" with other sorted and filed emails, or it gets deleted.  I delete most emails, if there's something I need to keep short-term, it's probably in my sent folder.  If I need to keep it long term, I have a section on our wiki of mine where I squirrel away small pieces of information.  The wiki has better search functionality and I can rearrange, sort, etc., as I see fit.
(3) Practice good outgoing emails.  Address people by name, sign your own name.  Bring up quotes where necessary, and remember that some people may be on Blackberries - no fancy formatting, no colors.  In all things, be clear.  You will begin to help others to be clear.
(4) Never delete on the handheld.  You might not be able to find it again, and sometimes you need to dumpster dive for an old email.  I drop all email I no longer need into a folder called "answered on blackberry" - that way, when I'm back at my laptop, I can confirm that there's nothing I missed and then quickly delete.

(5) Never process meeting requests on the handheld.  Looking at the full calendar on your computer may trigger some thoughts or help you see a bigger picture you might not otherwise be able to see.
(6) Schedule time for you.  I keep office hours, regularly booked time from 9-10 am and 4-5 pm.  People have learned they can find me at my desk during these times.  This actually cuts down on the number of meeting requests I receive, helps people get answers quickly and gives me some work time at the start and end of the day to handle email.  Friday's are supposed to be meeting-free, but that never happens, so I do block 3-5 to make I have time to get done what truly needs to be done before I leave for the weekend.

(7) Use all the tools at your advantage.  If you can swing it, double monitors.  Lots of whiteboards, kept clean.  If you find yourself regularly drawing the same diagram over and over again, draw it on a large piece of paper and keep it hung on the wall ready for the next time you need it.  Demand a screen on your phone so you can know whose calls you're avoiding.  Make it clear on your voicemail message that they'll get a faster response by email.  Use IM.  And when you can't answer a question right away in IM, copy and paste the conversation into an email to yourself and the person who asked you the question.

(8) Adopt a consistent strategy for offline.  I never take my laptop to meetings, unless I'm presenting.  I find it produces a phsyical and social boundary between those who use them and the rest of the meeting participants. I do carry a single notebook that has all my meeting notes going back a few years.  It has grid paper instead of lined paper.  I write down who was at the meeting, where it was held, the date and time.  If there's an action item for me, I draw a square on the left-hand side.  Back at my desk, I act upon the squares and cross them off. 

(9) No last minute meetings.  At 3 or 4 pm every day, I block out all unblocked time for the next day.  This prevents me from being in last-minute meetings, or me not having time for something urgent that does come up.  (We have a culture here that everyone is so busy that when there is something urgent, they will call or IM if they can't find time on everyone's calendar.  This allows me flexibility for the truly urgent.)

(10) Have an email goal.  My goal, each day, is to have 1/3 fewer emails than I started the day, or 30 less, whichever is more.  When I don't meet that goal, I carry over to the next day. This is the only way I keep from drowning, is to realize that the emails are critical and that people are waiting for me, and therefore, it's not something to do when I'm not at meetings, but that it's just as important as meetings, and in many cases, far moreso.  Also the reason I have office hours.

(11) HR is important.  I manage two teams, and while it can seem like a big block of time, I regularly have 1:1's with each of them.  I also try to regularly schedule an hour away from my desk to take care of any HR related actions or go over and understand anything I need to communicate to or ask for from my teams.

(12) The brain is for thinking and innovating, not for storing stuff.  If I need to remember something, I email myself.  Blackberry is brilliant for that.  (Also for when I'm out with my wife and she seems to be expressing interest about something, zing - note to my personal email account and then months later, I have a truly thoughtful birthday or Christmas present idea.)  But yeah, if you're struggling to remember a lot of stuff, then your brain isn't free to think, innovate, come up with new ideas, etc.

Ok, how do I do it?  In a word, triage.

I practice a very weird version of zero inbox.  I strive at all times to keep my main inbox empty.  This only works for me because I have a series of additional inboxes that I use instead.  First, there are a lot of messages I receive over and over again, related to the ticketing system (mostly status changes) used by the two teams I manage.  Those are automatically moved, by rule, into one of my other inboxes.  They are auto-generated and typically low priority, I need to be informed, but they rarely contain action and can quickly be read and deleted.

My inboxes:

z-incoming - this is the first-level catchall.  This is where most automatically sorted email goes.  This is also where I throw stuff to sort.   If I have a few moments to respond to an email, I do it from here.  Otherwise, it gets sorted off into another folder.  (Updated, 12:26 pm) I do use the preview pane to quickly skim emails, and then the tool "AutoHotkey" that I mention below.

aa next actions - this is the stuff I absolutely must act upon quickly. After I've sorted everything out of z-incoming, I move on to this folder.  The goal is to clear out this folder, but sometimes I need to move stuff on to bb priority 1.

ab schedule/calendar - when it's been a few hours since I've had a chance to read my email because of meetings and stuff, I move all the calendar items here to deal with all at once.  Then I'll bring up the calendar on one monitor and go through the calendaring emails on the other.  I do like using Google Sync on my Blackberry, but it does not play well with recurring events scheduled by someone else, so I'm pretty close to uninstalling Google Sync.

ac waiting for - this is emails that I've responded to but now expect someone else to get back to me before I can perform an action.  I can quickly and regularly scan this box just to remind myself of what I'm waiting for.  If someone's taking too long to respond, I can ping them again.

bb priority 1 through be priority 4 and hr - these are the things that are not immediate next action.  Some newsletters I read go into a particular priority.  As I work through bb priority 1, I may end up moving something to 2.  And then as I go through 2, I may end up moving stuff to 3.  I include "and hr" on the fourth box for two reasons: one - our HR group sends out a lot of emails, and they tend to give us a lot of advanced warning on requirements, and sometimes they dole out requirements in smaller portions.  This allows me to collect them together so that I have them when I need them (and sometimes so I can go schedule some time away from my desk to read them and type them up into instructions that my teams will better understand), and secondly, to remind me that HR is important.  In the end, everything that I haven't already processed to has filtered down to the fourth priority level.  I get to this box at least once a week and by then, there's nothing more urgent and nothing easier to tackle.  Since it's usually the end of the week before I get to this, I also know that this is something that isn't going to come back to me before Tuesday or Wednesday of next week.
Why do my inboxes start with weird letters?  Speed.  When I'm on the message screen on the Blackberry (where I do most of my triage), I hit "i" to "File" the message and then I can quickly type a couple of characters and pick the folder without having to reach over to the scroll wheel, and then hit enter and I'm done.

(Updated 12:26 pm) Also, on my laptop, I make use of an free, amazingly powerful (but sadly, complex) tool called AutoHotKey.  It allows you to create macros for anything.  So, I have a series of macros that all start by me pressing the ` (the backwards apostrophe in the top left corner of my keyboard).  Then it waits and I can press 1, 2, 3, 4, w, c or n.  That immediately takes the email I'm looking at, marks it unread and moves it to the appropriate folder.
Another cool trick is that my inboxes group my mail.  This is a big hack that is harder to come by, but one that saves me incredible amounts of time.  This can be done to some degree with Outlook, but frankly, this is one area (and probably the only area) where Lotus Notes shines.  Because I can completely customize my view, I have all kinds of special things going on.  For instance, if the follow-up flag on an email has a "+" in it, Lotus Notes groups my emails together by that follow-up flag instead of the subject.  Either way, by grouping emails, you can select a topic to work on and knock out a lot of emails at once.
An example of grouping -- the inbox view rule says to put all EmailRoundtable messages together and then group by subject.  (It's smart enough to ignore "RE:" and "FW:" and stuff and keep all like messages together.)
And you may be wondering why I typed this at work when I seem to be so busy.  Two reasons... one, I have a Blackberry and a laptop, so even when I'm not here, I'm still working.  (Ask my wife, I've been doing a lot of work email the last few nights trying to get caught up.)  And secondly, it's a lot of my colleagues that are asking me how I do it, so now I'll have a place to point them to and save everyone some time.

Suggested reading:

 And that, is how I get things done while keeping my sanity.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Living the Dream

It all started in college, but every so often, something weird happens to me.  It's always at night, on the way to the bathroom.  The most recently was a few nights, and I love that it's still happening to me.  It just hits me all of the sudden... this is real.  First it was "I'm out on my own, attending college." and then "Wow.  I own a car." ... "I have my own apartment and a car and a cat." and "I'm living in California!" then "I'm engaged." and "Wow! I'm married!" and then "We have a house." and then "Wow.  There is a tiny little human being that we are responsible that at one point did not exist but is now sleeping peacefully in the next room." and then the other night... "Wow... We have two children and have been married almost 10 years."  And it feels like just weeks. 

In some ways, it's disappointing how many wonderful things that have transpired that I've surely forgotten over the years.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

I Spy with my Eye-Fi

I scored at the conference I went to earlier this month.  There were some great giveaways... PureSend gave away these great little notebooks and really solid stainless steel water bottles... ExactTarget did "room drops" of $10 iTunes gift cards and Subscribers Rule! pins and hats.  (Had never heard of a "room drop" - where they pay the hotel to leave gifts in our room for us when we're not there.)  e-Dialog hosted a small intimate dinner and I was one of the people they invited.  One session on SMS had a contest where we texted them the answer to a question and they gave away a $50 gift card which I ended up winning.  (I used it to get gifts for the family and pay for some of the incidentals meaning less to have to ask for reimbursing on.)  And then they also had a "vendor tour" - I didn't do it last year, but I figured I could act like a grownup, I could go talk to salespeople without accidentally agreeing to buy anything.  Anyhow, you visit vendor booths and they stamp a little card.  After you've gotten all your stamps you turn it in.  Pretty much all of the vendors were giving away iPod Touches.  Except PureSend which was giving away a tiny 8mp digital camera and an Eye-Fi card, which I also won. 

I've played around a little with the camera, but I didn't get to play with the Eye-Fi card until today.  It's really pretty slick. The box contains a small card reader and a tiny 2GB SD card.  You plug it into the computer and it's supposed to bring up the installer program.  (Mine didn't, I had to go onto the card and start the setup program.)  Then it installed some software, and then it updated the software.  It tried to connect, got stopped by the computer's firewall.  I gave it permission, it tried again, and succeeded.  And then it didn't do anything.  And if I tried to get it to do anything, it just kept opening new tabs in Firefox asking me to sign-in to my account, even though I hadn't yet created an account.   I had to look through their forums, and finally found a link to register, but it said it couldn't find the card and so it wouldn't let me.  So I saw someone else that said to just remove and reinsert the card.  I did that and it indicated that it recognized a new card and proceeded to let me register it.

It needed to access the wireless network in the house, so I entered in the non-broadcast SSID and the WEP key, but then I ran into another roadblock.  My router only allows authorized devices to connect.  I couldn't figure out how to find out the Eye-Fi card's MAC address, so I had to go into my router settings and let all devices connect to it.  Then restart the connect process, which it did just fine.  (And then go back into the router, find out the MAC address of the newly connected device, authorize it and then re-lock-down the router.)

After that, it was smooth sailing.  It's a very cool little device.  You insert it into a camera (It worked perfectly in both of our computers) and as you take pictures, they are uploaded, via the wireless network, to your computer.  You can also simultaneously upload them to a photosharing site if you want, which is pretty slick.  If the camera turns off or you go out of range of your wireless connection, it will just resume as soon as you go back in range, even mid-photo.   (You can pay $15 a year and then be able to do the same magic from any AT&T/Wayport WiFi connection which is most McDonalds and Starbucks.)

Monday, February 16, 2009

Most Ticketed Cars

Lifehacker posted this chart and were marvelling that the Hummer was more ticketed and the Jaguar less.  Duh.  Ok, so the Hummer is much more visible, but when you put the Hummer up and then the Scions next... I think it's more about the kind of person who would drive that kind of car.  Or conversely, the Jaguar, the Park Avenue, the Lucerne... they're all old people cars.

Multimedia message

Shaping up to be a beautiful day.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Multimedia message

Uh... I'd really like some more specifics... Surely not everything. (Where would I put it?)

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Grind Day Out

I think I was a bad dad today in some ways.  Lori had a scrapbooking day, so today was to be a Daddy/Daughter day.  With nothing planned, we made a stop at the post office to get the mail (she does enjoy being the one to open the box and get the mail out and play with the key and stuff).  The night before, Rachel had suggested the park where the tire swing used to be, but it was too cold. 

She had wanted to go some place she could play, like the mall, but she had also decided to wear a very fancy red dress because it was Valentine's Day.  Not a dress for heavy play.  I had a small errand, so we stopped at Fred Meyer.  She declared that she needed some "alone time" and begged to be allowed to play in the Fred Meyer play area.  I felt it was a cop out, but it was what she asked for, so dropped her off and wandered around the store mostly aimlessly for awhile before retrieving her and going on our way.  Lori had suggested a movie as an inexpensive way to entertain her and spend some time with her and had even gone so far as to bring up the movie website on the computer that morning.  They were playing Madagascar 2, Bolt and The Tale of Despereaux and a few others at the $2 theater in town.  I have to admit that Rachel's at that stage now where things bore her pretty quickly.  In the past we could walk for hours at Bellevue Square, now such a walk would be a death march of "I'm so bored.  My legs are too tired.  Carry me daddy.  Can we go now?"  So I figured the movie was a safe bet, but it was a really hard sell.  She had already seen Madagascar 2 and Bolt and those were the only two I was offering her.  She and her mom are reading The Tale of Desperaux now and I had heard that it wasn't a very good movie and I really wasn't in the mood for a movie about rats today, not sure why.  Madagascar 2 was a known entity because I really enjoyed #1 and Bolt was from The New Disney, so that was probably going to be good, too.  I had a hard time selling her on the idea of even going to the movies, and then in line, people were talking about Desperaux and she asked if she could see it and I softly declined.  She didn't really push it even in the slightest, so I didn't feel bad at the time, but I do now. 

The timing worked for it to be Bolt and I'm glad she had already seen it because it's a little intense and also a little heartbreaking and so I was glad she was already clued into what would happen but also a little too young still to understand all of it.  I have to say, I teared up a few times, starting with that billboard scene in Las Vegas.  She also admitted to me that the movie was trying to make her cry at one point.  Also, because I'd never taken her or any small child to a movie, I did not know about booster seats, but even when I found out, could not see any to grab for her.  So, she spent part of the movie sitting on the edge of her seat, part of it standing, part of it with me holding the chair down for her so it wouldn't fold up on her, and part of the movie sitting on my lap.  So at one point, I'm making that little "herk" noise in my throat trying to hold back the tears (I was not emotional until I had kids.), she, sitting on my lap, turns her head upwards, brings her arms up kind of like one of her ballet poses and hugs me around my neck.  It was very sweet.

Afterwards, she wanted to play video games.  I don't know if her grandmother has let her (she said something about being told she was good at driving some kind of not sure what but sounded like one of those motorcycle or jetski type ride-on video games), or if she just saw the older kids playing, but she wanted to play.  I'm looking at the machines there in the poorly lit lobby of the $2 movie theater and thinking that it's probably not a good idea, she wouldn't be able to see any of the screens and she probably wouldn't understand the gameplay of many of the games. 

So we left and I suggested Starbucks.  No, she said, she wanted something interesting.  I was at a loss.  We drove around for awhile, but I couldn't think of anything that would entertain her.and we both got bored in the car and so we went home.  I think she had a nice time today and she won't remember it unpleasantly, but I'm also not sure she'll remember it at all, it just didn't feel like much of a bonding time (outside of all the time spent waiting in line to buy tickets where I let her grab two fingers and I'd lift her into the air) and I felt like I said "no" way too many times today over stuff that was really not important for me to say no over and that I hadn't planned and did not deliver interesting.

The Power of the Reset

I think I've blogged about this before, but I'm finding that I'm really digging the power of the reset.   I got to see it first-hand again in the hotel this week that I stayed at.  It's not a new concept but I got to think about it a little more since I wasn't the one doing the reset.  I also saw it a few times in Hollywood.  One night on Ventura Blvd. where a person was hanging out of the door of a moving truck in traffic.  They'd do the scene, back all the cars up to the exact same spot, and do it again and again.  Or another time I spent an afternoon on the set of "I Still Know What You Did Last Summer" sitting on a staircase while several feet away the same scene was replayed over and over for different camera angles.  (I was not in the movie, I just had a friend who thought it would be fun to go watch the filming and they put us just outside of the shot but right on the set.)

So I've been back in town a few nights but I haven't been able to get stuff reset here like I've liked.  (Not to say I found the house a mess or anything, it was quite tidy.  But as stuff gets pulled out and played with and when dishes get used and the dishwasher isn't empty or something, stuff piles up.)  There's also the matter that at the hotel this is someone's job.  They get paid for it, it's not something you layer on top of everything else.

Well, I got a reset in on most of the places I try to do nightly, but not everywhere.  By tomorrow night I'll be back on track.  But I've been thinking about what makes it work, or why certain rooms as just get dirty all over again, no matter how hard we work at them.  (The kitchen counters, the laundry/cat room, my side of the bed.)  As I strive to live a more Uncluttered Life amidst the hustle and bustle of life, the phrase "A place for everything, and everything in its place." comes to mind.  Sure, that's all well and good.  Makes sense.

But as I looked at the counters of this upscale ($500/night - we got a massive discount) hotel, I noticed something... whether it was the coffee service by the door or the ice bucket, empty glasses and open it and it's $5 bottles of water; or even the soap and extra hand-towels in the bathroom -- they were all in trays.  Trays.  In some ways, that feels like extra stuff.  Another thing to buy, to keep clean, another piece of stuff to own.  In a world where people are dying from diseases that could be prevented if only for the lack of clean water, or even the lack of food, here I am looking at molded pieces of plastic and coming to a realization. 

As the trays define where something should go, just as much, they define what does not go there.  A tray next to the computer could hold printer paper of varying sizes, incoming receipts, bills to be paid.  Suddenly, it indicates that the counter next to the computer is not a place for circulars, kid's craft projects or dirty dishes.

And trays can also be used to contain things.  The cats are messy.  They seem to eat with their mouths open, there is always small bits of food on the floor around their dishes.  And it spreads.  But if I put their dishes inside an upside paper box lid, I'm guessing I'll no longer have food everywhere, just a box lid to upend over a garbage can.

And so, just like that, less mess.  Less frequent need for cleaning and a more peaceful state of mind (because clutter is a subconscious broken promise with yourself per David Allen and GTD) and in some cases, less stuff.

This must be why trays and the like cost so much, because they know by the time people have put this much thought into it, they're going to be committed to the outcome because of the peace they believe it will bring.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Dirty Tricks Division

Everything in this hotel is labeled.  Either cutesy instructions like "wakecup" on a sign next to the coffee maker  (I put the sign behind the coffee maker last night.  A new one sprouted on the coffee maker around 10 am this morning, so now I have two) or helpful instructions on the plunger (don't recall seeing those in other hotel rooms) telling me that it's been sanitized for my protection or a note on the robe telling me that I can visit their website to get one for myself, or little tags telling me if I drink the water it's $5 a bottle or if I drink the wine it's $24 for one and $27 for the other bottle.  Even the extra roll of toilet paper is wrapped in paper that reads "Westin" on it. And almost everything uses the word "Heavenly" somewhere on it.

I think if I had a little color printer, I'd want to have some fun.  Like a new note on the toilet paper... "Westin is proud to offer you this extra roll of Heavenly Wipes(tm) because sometimes we know you need more.  To use, simply remove the outer wrapper.  $8 will be added to your bill at the time of checkout."

Although I think a sign added to the plunger would go unnoticed for some time.

Saturday, February 07, 2009


Ok, so this is a medical post, so those of you that don't like medical stuff, just stop reading now.  But yeah, this is my blog, so I'll post what I feel like it.

I had to have a physical a few weeks ago, which was really just a paperwork step related to my seeing a doctor a few months ago about my sinus infection.  Since I hadn't picked a doctor yet, no one was getting the monthly stipend from my health insurance.  So, to make sure everyone got paid, I had to go get prodded and poked and told to lose weight.

One of the things I mentioned at the appointment was really, really rough skin on my fingers just about my fingernails.  He looked at them, said he had a little bit of that himself, that it was a yeast infection.  But that it would typically only present itself on people that had their hands in water or chemicals a lot and then he confirmed that I worked on computers.  He told me how to take care of it, but wasn't quite sure why I was experiencing it.

So I began to try to figure it out myself.  I realized that my hands are actually wet quite often.  Apparently (according to my self-diagnosis) my handwashing could probably be classified as OCD.  I'm not sure why, but I wash my hands alot.  And I don't always dry my hands completely.  Correction, I didn't always dry my hands completely.  So that's the new thing, working on getting my hands dry after washing them. 

Friday, February 06, 2009

Big Fat Liar

Trader Joe's "Soup and Oyster Crackers" contains no soup. Fraud!

Morning Devos (or Be the Coffee Bean)

We start each work day with a short devotional that we all take turns leading.  Sometimes someone will read from scripture, or a book they're reading or something they found on the internet like Relevant or Our Daily Bread or Christianity today or as a fallback, people keep books at their desk like C.S. Lewis, Max Lucado or Oswald Chambers.  (One guy has The Screwtape Letters as spoken by John Cleese.  That's always a treat.)

I did not have anything planned this morning but didn't think a rainy Friday was a good day for Chambers.  And last time I had started with a bunch of unfortunate church bulletin announcements.  ("The senior choir, who has led the early service all year will take the summer off, with the thanks of the congregation." or "Our church offers a nursery on the second floor for those who have children and didn't know it.")  So I knew I couldn't go the straight humor route, but I've really felt like it was my particular "thing" to always do devos that had to do with encouragement or leadership or that were in some way related to work.   In short order today starting with Google I came across a fascinating author, Howard Butt.  Among other things, he does little one-minute stories on the radio and has been for 8 or 9 years now, started with 4 stations and now is heard on over 800.  I've not subscribed to his RSS feed and look forward to regularly reading these new little morsels of encouragement and thought.

So here's the one-minute stories and here's his main author page.

And here are the four stories I shared today:


Two geese prepared to fly south, and a frog asked if he could go along. At first they resisted. How could a frog accompany them? Easy! The frog suggested that the two geese hold a stick in their beaks—he would hold onto the stick with his mouth.

Off they went, flying southward over the countryside. People looked up and admired the creative teamwork. Then someone shouted, "Fabulous idea! Who thought of it?"

The frog opened his mouth and said, "I thought of it!" . . . and plummeted to the earth.


Years ago, a large shoe manufacturer sent two sales reps into the Australian outback. The company’s crazy sales manager thought he could drum up shoe business among the tribes living off the land.

Sometime later, telegrams arrived from both shoe reps. The sales manager tore them open. The first one said, “No business possible. Natives don’t wear shoes.” The second rep said, “Great business opportunity! Natives don’t wear shoes!”


In the 1920s, pastor Bates Burt didn't understand his son Alfred's fascination with new, unsettling jazz.. But he supported it—even letting him practice drums in the rectory attic! Al became a professional jazz musician, and Bates was his son's most devoted fan. Al continued his father's annual tradition of composing carols as Christmas cards.

Nat King Cole, Simon and Garfunkel, and James Taylor recorded Al's carols. The songs continue to proclaim Christ's birth in ways his pastor father could never have imagined.


In boiling water, carrots, eggs, and coffee beans all react differently. Carrots start out strong and hard but soon grow soft and weak. The liquid interiors of eggs harden. Coffee beans? Well, ground coffee beans turn that hot water into coffee.

In the hot waters of pain and adversity, what are you? The carrot that goes soft? The egg that hardens and grows stiff? Or the crushed coffee bean—which alters its very circumstances, releasing both color and aroma.

These are all taken from The High Calling of Our Daily Work ( and by publishing here, the amount excerpted probably violates "fair use" and may make this a copyright violation.  Contact me to request removal from this blog.  Or please accept the free promotion.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

College: What a Joke

My mind wandered during a meeting today and I began to think back at my past jobs.  I started thinking about what I learned at each job and how unprepared I was for the real world.

College, like all school before it, was just a chance to hang out with friends.  There were some projects, homework, studying.  But I've thought about what I've learned, what I've been taught in the years since.

I am definitely not saying that all of these places practiced all of these, in many cases, I learned from negative experiences.   I'm also going to miss a lot, I'm not trying to write a primer here, just sitting here a little bummed about how little I actually learned in school.

Entertainment Internet Startup

(1) Manage Up - the more informed you can keep your boss, the less a surprise can come back to bite you.  Especially if you've made a mistake.

(2) Think Before Sending - sneaking into your boss' office and deleting an email you've sent is really a last resort.  Better to just put more thought behind stuff.  (After that incident, I always instructed Eudora, Outlook and Groupwise to delay sending of messages for 5-10 minutes.  Haven't been able to figure out how well that does or doesn't work in Lotus Notes.)

(3) This is a team sport - trying to get ahead, trying to accomplish only your own goals?  Good luck with that.  You need to support the team, pull in the same direction.

(4) Without a common vision you're dead in the water - we would veer off in any number of directions, seemingly on a whim.  There may have been a plan behind it, but management didn't share it with us, making it difficult to know whether our work was beneficial to the organization.

(5) Don't be part of the problem, be part of the solution - if you discover a problem, try to come up with a possible solution before you share the bad news.

Large Chain Video Rental Store (simultaneously with above)

(1) Honesty is not the best policy - a particular incident in where I technically temporarily stole was part of the result of my downfall.  The reasoning was justified and the wrong righted at the earliest possible opportunity, but had I not remedied the wrong, I wouldn't have gotten in trouble.

(2) Never joke about money, especially with someone who doesn't know you - especially if your till always balances because you're really good at your job.  A joke about splitting any overages won't go over well.

(3) Good enough is too good - If you're doing an hourly job, you're not in a position to improve things, you're just a drone.  At least that's how it was with this and other previous hourly jobs.

Major Studio, Online Division, Advertising Support

(1) Regular meetings in a closed room are a must - people need to vent, people need to blow off steam, people need to ask questions that they think might make them look clueless.  An informal, regularly scheduled meeting helps people have an opportunity to bounce ideas, ask questions, whine, complain, etc.

(2) Beware anything outside of the organization's core - They said regularly that the studio existed to make movies, so it should have been no surprise that 300 of us got laid off on one day in the dot bomb.

(3) Beware the weak boss - I loved my immediate boss, the sweetest woman, really nice, really kind.  Her boss, a real hard driving pedal to the metal always going East Coast timezone guy.  I didn't report to him, but since I had a dual management/production role (I did the same role as the people who reported to me), he was one of the salespeople I supported.  I had to clean up his messes to the best of my ability.  By the end, we were playing Rainbow Six for several hours a day almost every day.

(4) Beware not having enough work - see #'s 2 and 3

(5) The ability to translate between English and English is an underappreciated skill -  In some cases, this was dealing with Russian programmers and Middle Eastern developers, but in other cases, it was just the ability to listen to a conversation and see that two people were both missing the point and helping them by being able to restate things in a way that each of them could understand.


(1) Be clear on expectations - I was led to believe that I had a lot more potential for say than I really did.  For five years, I did have a role that for much of it, allowed me the freedom to do what I wanted.  However, since I thought I had the power to change things, I was constantly butting heads to with my boss to the point that I finally had to quit and move out of state for my own sanity.

(2) Let someone else prioritize - If you have too much to do and it's all being dumped on you by a person or people above you, present all of the assignments to them and let them decide priority and importance.  If they refuse to or say they're all important, quit now because you're screwed.

(3) Embrace the system / plan for the future - Whatever you're doing today will have some bearing on the future.  Try to avoid doing work that will have to be redone in the future.  On the other hand, if you're not sure you'll ever get to that future state, no sense in building out stuff that won't get used.

(4) Wait until the customer asks for it - if you have a great idea, don't do it and then expect others to love it.  Prepare and plan for it, but wait until it's asked for.  Otherwise, you're wasting your time and their rejection will weigh you down.

(5) Look for patterns - if something is cyclical, there may be no reason to reinvent the wheel.  You may be able to work off what you did last year.  Just don't do exactly the same thing you did last year.

(6) You're not the first - someone's already been here, done that, faced this particular problem.  The more you can learn from others (books, site visits, interviews, peer groups, etc.), the faster you can come to a workable solution.

(7) It's ok to say "I don't know" - You give someone the chance to share knowledge and sometimes it can get you out doing stuff that's not suited to you, rather than trying to fake it.  (However, see below.)

Major Non-Profit

(1) Everything is interconnected - there is no stand-alone.  Everything you do has ripples and implications.  Your job is to understand and anticipate those implications, to understand who's involved and to understand how to get them to buy-in.

(2) How to say "yes" while really saying "no" - I actually just learned this phrase today, but it's explained something I've been learning in this new role.  People will make requests you cannot fulfill.  Softening the blow with an alternative, is a big help.

(3) At times, it's ok to fake it -  there does seem to be some times where it's ok to act like you know what's going on and then circle back with someone later to fill in the gaps in your knowledge.  There has to be a comfort level and a reasonable certainty that you're not going to be called to speak on it before you've had a chance to learn more.
(4) If you can't measure it, you can't report on it - and if you can't report on it, you can't tell if things are getting better or getting worse.

(5) You should always be planning for growth (got this off of a blog, not at work) - if you're not growing, you're declining, there is no statis and if there were, it would be a backwater pond with no freshness and funky stuff would be growing and that's bad.  

(6) Projects do not come one at a time - you need to be able to keep a lot of balls in the air.  This requires a good sense of organization, prioritization, delegation and the ability to know when it's ok to drop a ball or temporarily catch a ball in an empty trashcan.  Not saying I'm an expert at this, I'm just seeing that this it the case.  The demands on your time, the expectation others have of you, etc., will always exceed what you have to give.  (Back to the "no" "yes" idea.)

(7) Good documentation will save you every time - put everything you might ever need into a system that's easily searchable, like a wiki.   Then all you need to know is how to search to get it back out.  This will save you from having to spend a lot of time organizing the repository, and when someone stands next to you and sees how effortlessly you find it, they soon learn they can try that first before coming to you.

(8) Make time for you - in this particular job, I actually block three hours out every day - an hour for lunch and an hour at the beginning and an hour at the end of the day.  These two hours are no meeting zones.  During that time I am at my desk working.  It also serves to offer "office hours" to people who otherwise complain that they can never find me.

(9) Don't accept same-day meeting requests sent via the calendaring system - just don't do it.  My experience is that it's either (a) not worth a meeting (and could be handled informally during office hours), (b) the person is either unprepared or panicked and in a rush and it won't be productive or well-thought out.  If it is really urgent, someone's going to find you in person and say "We need to meet.  Let's go find a conference room."
Like I said, this is by no means a guide to career life, and it's in no way comprehensive, just something I started mulling over as my mind wandered today during a meeting.  In all, it made me disappointed about my college experience in that I think something more prepatory would involve a lot more group work, a lot more emphasis on things like prioritizing, managing (tasks, projects, people), interpersonal skills, how to find the "good enough," long-term planning, understanding of systems and interconnected ecosystems.   Things like that.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

120 Seconds of Lit: The Letter A

120 Seconds of Lit are creative exercises I post from time-to-time.  They're completely random, but the idea is that I write for 120 seconds and then I'm done.  Click on the "120" label to see other past posts.

Today, words that start with A.  Ready?  Let's go.  No spell check.  (Final note: Way too much backspacing... wasted time.)

able, apple, astronaut, argonaut, airplane, arrow, argh, acme, acrobat, alleviate, Alabama, Arkansas, August, autumn, author, Auckland, Arizona, alabaster, academia, academic, all, any, amateur, annul, abracadabra, ah, aol, America, application, automobile, Africa, after, are, Ariel, arial, awesome.

I Don't Have Time For This (Open Letters to Anonymous People)

I'd like to think I know who most of my readers are. I'm 100% positive that none of the people below read my blog.

To A Person:

To use an analogy -- You cannot call me today and say that you want to change the flooring material from granite to Red Chilean Bamboo and still expect to get the custom kitchen installation done next week.

To Another Person:

Computers often have this problem called a "buffer-overrun." This is where you throw more information at it than it can handle. Unexpected things happen... it might shut-down entirely, it might do something completely irrational and illogical (like digitally vomit) or it might throw up protective shields and start ignoring you to protect itself. When you send me six emails before 11 am, there's a good chance I'm going to set them aside to deal with later. Could be days, could be weeks. Your impatience is causing your own delays.

To Another Person:

If you ask me if I read your last email, I'm going to assume it was the one you sent at noon. Not the one you sent at 11:41 am. Or even the one you sent at 11:45 am.

To Another Person:

To use another analogy -- If you're going to drive from your house to my house and that takes an hour, and then it will take me another hour in this traffic to drive from my house to the party, but you only left your house 90 minutes before the party started, even though you haven't yet arrived at my house, we are going to be late. I can't drive really fast and make up the time. If it's someone else's fault that you left late, then you shouldn't be the one asking me if there's anything I can do, they should. But in either case, the answer's still the same. No.

Finally, an Observation:

When I have voicemail, it's indicated by a red light on the phone and a second flashing light a few inches away on the phone. (Seems redundant and the blinking produces anxiety so sometimes I put a post-it note over the whole thing.)  That indicator could indicate one voicemail, it could indicate 1,000 voicemails. This to me represents the potential of a "buffer overrun" an unknown factor that I may not want to stop everything to find out the answer to. (Not to mention it's Nortel Callpilot, the worst voicemail system I've ever encountered.) (Not to mention that people - myself included - are generally bad at leaving messages.) So, I'm going to handle what I can see first (email) and then check my voicemail, typically as I'm closing things down at the end of the day. When you hear my voicemail and it says you're going to get a much faster response from me if you email, it's totally true. I've set your expectation before you begin speaking. You agree to my terms when you begin speaking. Hopefully, my boss who regularly reads this won't comment saying I need to check my voicemail more often.

Monday, February 02, 2009

It's me.

It's official. Lori's calling it for "dada" as Ben's first word. Though haven't heard him say it in awhile, he's definitely really mimicking now.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Not Exactly What I Had in Mind

Ok, so in May 2007, I asked for a mirror mount for my iPod so that I could see it easier while shaving. An Italian company has created a mirror with a powered iPod dock but apparently you still have to provide speakers/headphones separately.

Feb. 1

La la la la la me.
La la la la la me.
La la laaaaa la dear meeeee-eeeee.
La la la la la me.

Pretty cool video, except for the one grammatical error in the "reporting"...

If you don't pause it on the copyright at the end, you'll be taken to Disney's site automatically. Sorry or you're welcome.

The Way to Watch the Game

Thanks to Corey and Gilda who brought over their projector.  I was disappointed that they didn't stay for The Office but then I watched The Office and was quite disappointed so glad they weren't around for all of the putting kids to bed stuff just to watch that episode.