Archive for July, 2009

Get to the Point

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Writing Effective Emails

They’re lurking in every office. You may sit next to one. You may be one. They are the people who write overly formal, overly complicated and sometimes painfully long emails.

They just can’t help it.

Even inter-office emails on topics as mundane as the kickball game on Wednesday carry an air of formality appropriate for the Elizabethan Era. You expect to see a family crest embossed in wax below their electronic signature.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I am an ardent supporter of the use of proper grammar and punctuation in emails. It aggravates me to no end when people write only in lower-case letters or stream of consciousness. However, I do believe that the best emails are the most concise emails and that there is room for a certain level of informality when emailing at work.

I have done a good deal of research on the art of writing concise and effective emails. Below are links to the most useful tips that I’ve found.

Some general rules of thumb: use a good subject line; stay on point; and keep it brief.

This piece by Leo Babauta from WebWorkerDaily provides seven general rules for keeping emails concise:

  • Use the minimum amount of sentences.
  • State what you want right away.
  • Write about only one thing.
  • Leave out the humor and emotions.
  • Use “if…then” statements.
  • Review for ambiguity, clarity.
  • Revise for conciseness.

On the Harvard Business Publishing website, David Silverman offers “4 Tips for Writing Better Emails.”

  • Make clear what you would like the recipient to do.
  • State the purpose of your email up front.
  • Do not presume that the recipient has any pre-exisiting knowledge of a topic or necessarily remebers things that were stated in previously sent emails.
  • Do not forward long email chains to get a point across.

Gina Trapani of Lifehacker.com believes that emailing is a two-way street and recipients can do their part to break the bad emailing habits of their colleagues.

  • Edit poorly written subject lines of a received email when sending a reply.
  • Lead by example by sending organized emails that separate different thoughts or questions ito ensure that all points are adequately addressed by the reader.
  • “Get outside the inbox.”  There are times when walking down the hall to discuss something with a colleague or picking up the phone to talk to a client can save tons of time and might even eliminate misunderstandings.

And, in case it weren’t complicated enough, don’t forget that many people are using wireless devices these days. Here’s a good piece from the Microsoft Small Business Center on email etiquette for the wire-adverse.

Xobni Plus: People are Talking

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Xobni Plus has arrived. It’s an upgraded version of Xobni and provides valuable features such as better, faster search, and Xobni Rank ™-powered AutoSuggest. I absolutely love the new features.

But, why take my word for it?

People are buzzing about Xobni Plus. I hit the web and found some great stuff on Xobni’s amazing new features and some really wonderful real world examples of when Xobni Plus saves valuable time.

The idea is to do searches on top of searches to find that proverbial e-mail needle in the inbox haystack.” Clint Boulton, eWeek.com

Boulton described his experience when he returned to his Outlook inbox after a four-month hiatus from his job. Sounds like a nightmare, right? Luckily, Xobni Plus helped make his life a little easier.

He was able to utilize the Advanced Search feature to dig up old emails:

“Clicking Advanced immediately gave me the options to search From, To and Has Attachments. Clicking the + button next to the Has Attachments option added search filters for CC’d, All, With, Date, Body, Subject, Type and Folder fields. Narrowing the search to find e-mails with the word “Google” using these filters is a big leap in efficiency, which is what the tool is all about.”

The powers of Advanced Search were just beginning. Clint was able to easily pinpoint the email he needed by specifying the recipient of the email and the fact that it had an attachment.

As a journalist, Clint is sent mass emails that have hundreds of recipients. Using the Advance Search feature, he was able to only search emails from people with whom he had had direct email contact. This filters out much of the “junk” when searching for something important.

You can read the rest of Boulton’s article here.

“The ability to dig out ancient and obscure emails in seconds floored me the first time I used it,” Tim Slavin, reachcustomersonline.com

Slavin, a web designer and coder, had a great experience using Xobni Plus with his overflowing inbox. Xobni Plus searched his archived emails, as well as more current ones, which is a huge advantage to someone like Slavin who archives his email regularly.

Read the rest of Slavin’s article here.

“Xobni Plus includes some interesting new options that give Microsoft Outlook some much-needed smarts.” Doriano Carta, Web Worker Daily.

Carta enjoyed the Xobni Rank™-powered AutoSuggest feature, which auto-completes contacts in the “To” field, providing a drop-down list of ALL contacts, including those who have been included in the “cc” field or people who have written you, but you never wrote back (which is ignored by Outlook search).

Xobni Rank ™ then ranks those people and puts the most relevant contacts at the top of the list.

Read the rest of Carta’s comments here.

Finally, I took at look at what people are saying in the Twitter-sphere:

“Been using XOBNI Premium for a few days and I must say it is worth it .. i can locate emails in a flash with its advanced search strings.” @timbauer

“Upgraded to Xobni Plus, faster, better search and contact auto-complete. Price point of $30 makes sense as well for such a great product.” @seanmullaney

“Two days using @Xobni Plus and I’m actually hating my Outlook inbox a lot less again (Sending mail is better too!)” @refinch

“enjoy the use of @xobni plus… fast search and easy access to your contacts’ social media profiles” @mkhawaja

“Really liking some of the enhanced features of Xobni Plus. Finally controlling my inbox instead of it controlling me.” @HighTechDad

Handy Tips from the People who Brought you Outlook

The good people at Microsoft have created their very own Microsoft Office Outlook Team Blog.

There are many useful tips/tricks for using Outlook, as well as announcements on software updates and other news. It’s worth checking out. There’s some great stuff on there, including how-to’s and other time-saving tips to enhance email productivity.

I’ve summarized a couple of the articles below. More detailed information can be found on the blog.

1) Keyboard Shortcuts  800px-ctrl_z

Keyboard shortcuts can save you time and provide some sweet relief from your mouse-induced carpel tunnel. The author lists some of her favorite keyboard shortcuts, and offers tips on using a color coding system (automated by Outlook) to organize her inbox. An expanded list of keyboard shortcuts can be found here.

2) Preparing to be Away

This handy how-to outlines steps to take prior to leaving on vacation or an extended holiday. The author suggests using Outlook’s meeting scheduler to let your manager and peers know which days you will be away. Sending a simple meeting request, with “All day event” checked, will mark your vacation on your colleagues’ calendars. You can even provide them the name of the person to contact in your absence, or if you are feeling very generous, a number they can reach you at while you are away.

The next step is to prepare your oh-so-important “Out of Office” message.
Note: the following is only useful for Microsoft Exchange accounts. If you do not have Microsoft Exchange, use the instructions to send automatic responses found here on Microsoft’s website.

Using Microsoft Exchange, you can set your Out of Office message any time before you leave. You can access the Out of Office Assistant in the Tools menu. In your message you can indicate if you have no/limited contact to email or an alternate person to reach while you are away.

3) Message Templates

Outlook Message Templates can save you valuable time. Instead of re-writing the same email over and over, use a template! Many people send the same message multiple times a day. Whether it’s the answer to a commonly asked question from coworkers or customers, or a thank you note to a new client. Simply write a new email message with the appropriate information and formatting. Then, save as, “Outlook template (*.oft). Now, all you have to do is access your template and update it with information relevant to the recipient or situation. You access the templates in the folder where you chose to save the file, as opposed to through Outlook.

Hopefully, the Microsoft Office Outlook Team Blog will provide other valuable tips to save you time and increase your email productivity.

Announcing Xobni Plus – Xobni’s most powerful Outlook search tool ever

When we ask Xobni users why they love Xobni they say a lot of really nice things, but a universal truth is that our users love Xobni search. Here’s just a sample of the comments we see on Twitter:

Thank god for #xobni I found a very important email that I thought I lost! @jasonmun

Xobni beats Outlook’s native search. Knocks it out of the park. @danieljohnsonjr

Xobni really kicks serious butt in outlook. just saved me at least an hour of pain searching for mail and figuring out file transfer history. @madguy000

I can’t live without Xobni anymore. It beats any desktop search for emails and their attachments. @paullaberge

Xobni is ingenious for fast searching through email archives – no sorting will beat search speed. Outlook doesn’t match in speed @improvedk

Today, we take Xobni search to a whole new level with Xobni Plus. The features of Xobni Plus, our first premium product, were created directly from the feedback of our users. You wanted phrase search – we made it. You wanted support for Boolean searches – done. You want to search appointments and tasks – you got it. You want to search Xobni’s massive address book in new places – watch this.

Xobni Plus users get these exclusive benefits:

  • An advanced search query builder
  • The ability to search within conversations and networks
  • Support for phrases and Boolean queries
  • Xobni Rank-powered AutoSuggest
  • Advanced conversation and network filtering
  • As well as our new top level premium technical support for one year

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See a full feature comparison here.

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Pricing and Availability

We’ve made the price tag on Xobni Plus super affordable so it’s accessible to as many users as possible.

Xobni Plus can be purchased for $29.95. This license gets you all of the power of Xobni Plus on one computer and premium technical support for a year. Individuals that want to use Xobni on multiple computers can purchase additional licenses for $9.95.

Companies and groups can buy packs of multiple licenses for a discount. For volume discounts, go here.

Our existing free service will continue to provide the same functionality with additional improvements listed below. Those using the current free version of Xobni can upgrade to Xobni Plus by downloading the new version here (all of your Xobni settings and configurations will be retained through the upgrade)

Improvements to Xobni’s Free Product
We also continued to invest in our free offering over the last quarter. The newest version of Xobni’s free offering can be downloaded here and includes the following improvements:

  • 500,000 company profiles from Hoover’s
  • New search UI – including photos for people results, attachment file name search, and new email search results
  • New hover tip design for conversation and mail view
  • Search performance enhancements
  • From the new free version of Xobni users can start a 14-day free trial of Xobni Plus at any time

Delayed Delivery-Sending Emails On Your Own Schedule

It was 3 a.m. and I couldn’t sleep.

Totally random and mostly useless information was running through my head. Suddenly, out of this sea of nonsense sprung an important thought.

I had to send a very important email to a coworker the next day regarding a revised deadline. Remembering to send that email was now all that I could think about. Would I remember to send it tomorrow?

It then dawned on me that I could send the email that night using a handy tool in Outlook. Why worry about sending an email tomorrow when I could get it off my to-do list now? Utilizing the “Delay Delivery” feature in Outlook is a wonderful tool for insomniacs.

It works equally well for people who sleep at night and prefer to use the tool during the day.

This feature can be used in any number of situations. Perhaps you have more time to send emails first thing in the morning, but you prefer to reach out to the recipient later in the day. Or, you know that this particular person tends to respond to emails faster if they are sent at the end of the day.

You can utilize Xobni Statistics to track a recipient’s email habits.

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Maybe you have coworkers who work half way across the world and you’d like an important email to be the first thing that they see when they get to work the next morning.

Follow the simple steps below to send an email at a future time or date. Please note, these instructions are for MS Outlook 2007.

 
-Launch MS Outlook.
  • Create your email message.
  • With the message still open, click on Options in the toolbar.
  • Click, “Delay Delivery” on the right side of the toolbar.
  • Check the box next to, “Do Not Deliver Before.”

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  • Set the time and date that you would like the message to be sent.
  • Click Close.
  • Send the message.
You should see the message in your Outbox until it is sent. You may never have realized it, but many people that email you may have been using this nifty trick for years without you even knowing it!

Lisa Choi (Partner Program Manager) – One User Per Week

lisa_choiI met this week’s user in a non-traditional way. I was at a birthday party for my friend Sundeep here in San Francisco, and he introduces me to his friend Lisa. We started talking and Lisa asked what I did. I said I started a company called Xobni – and she cut me off before I could finish the sentence to cheer “I love Xobni!”

I think she gave me a hug – or a high five. Either way, I figured it’d be appropriate to invite Lisa to interview for One User Per Week.

Lisa works for Responsys, a cross-channel marketing automation system. They focus on enterprise online marketing, and specifically email marketing. Most of their customers are big companies like William Sonoma, Southwest Airlines & Salesforce.com

Partners, Partners, Partners

As a partner program manger Lisa is responsible for everything “partner” – managing product partners like web analytics firms, doing partner event marketing, partner evangelism, etc Lisa is often juggling a lot of different partners across her roles in business development, sales, referral relationships and more. She is often working with 25-30 partners at one time and with any given partner she could be working with dozens of different employees at the partner company.

Sounds overwhelming. And Lisa said it was, until she discovered Xobni.

Xobni for People People

Lisa is a people person and loves that Xobni surfaces the connections between people in her company, customers and prospects. A quick glance at the “Network” feed and Lisa knows who exactly is involved in a project.

A big part of Lisa’s job is building and maintaining relationships. She uses Xobni’s LinkedIn integration to find out where customers have worked before, where they went to school, and other factoids that will help her get a new relationship off on the right foot. She pointed out that Xobni has shown her that the personal world bleeds into the personal world – and she can use that personal information to her advantage in her job.

“Xobni Is My Lifeline”

My favorite thing I heard Lisa tell me harkens back to the rocket ship of a game show “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire.” Lisa described Xobni as her “lifeline.” When she is on a call and looking for something really fast Xobni helps her look prepared and organized to the partner she is talking to.

We built someone’s lifeline. That feels good. The Xobni team should be proud 🙂

Re: Fwd: Your Subject Line Stinks – 4 Subject Line Tips

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In a world of clogged inboxes and the wide-spread use of portable devices, conciseness and quality content are of the utmost importance when sending email.

An effective subject line is a great place to start.

Although I consider myself adept at communicating through the written word, I used to find myself struggling to come up with the perfect, oh-so-clever (or, at the very least, informative) subject line to send along with my emails. Instead, I ended up sending out drivel like, “Hello”, “Monday” or “Important”.

Below are 4 tips I’ve found to write effective subject lines.

Tip 1: Relevance is Key

Everyone has a philosophy on the subject line, but almost everyone seems to agree that a subject line should be more than an afterthought. I spoke with people in various industries and one of the main complaints about the subject line is that it tends to lose its relevance as it proceeds down the forward and reply chain. Or, the subject line never had any relevance.

For instance, Mitch, the production manager at a business publication, complained to me about receiving emails from PR reps and reporters with the subject line, “FW: Re: Thanks for the Interview!” Mitch doesn’t care about the interview or the PR’s flack’s gratitude, only the photo attachment that needs to be placed in the paper. If the sender has changed the subject line to, “Photo of Acme Co. CEO, Joe Schmoe” Mitch will save valuable time on deadline day when he needs to locate that attachment.

Tip 2: Make it Searchable

Searchability is one of the primary reasons to write a good subject line. It behooves not only the recipient of the email but also you, as the sender, when you get a reply to that message.

I spoke with Mike, who works in the design field and juggles multiple clients and projects. His greatest frustration is when a client or coworker sends an email with a generic subject line such as, “Issues” or “Contract”. This guy deals with a lot of issues every day relating to a lot of contracts with many different clients. Of course he could create folders or labels and sort the emails, but what if he hops on an important call and forgets to do so? Tracking down those issues then becomes more of a headache than dealing with the actual issues. If the subject line read, “McCullion Project-Issues with Drawing A3.54 Elevator Vestibule” it would save him and his client a great deal of time.

Tip 3: Say it in One Line

As more and more people rely on portable devices, emails are increasingly shrinking in length. Subject lines become even more important in this context since it saves people the trouble of opening up an individual email message. Many believe that even desktop emailers should rely exclusively on subject lines in certain situations. It saves everyone time and lets people off the hook in using social niceties, like greetings and salutations.

Emailers on the go would also argue that it’s nice to know as much about the issue (or lack thereof) simply by reading the subject line in order to facilitate prioritizing which emails to get to first. For instance, an email from your boss with the subject line, “Never Received Documents for Today’s Presentation. Send ASAP!” will most certainly take precedent over an email sent from your mom entitled, “NYTimes.com: Woody Allen’s Quest to Find New York’s Best Chicken Soup.” Similarly, your mom’s email might be bumped to the highest priority if the subject line reads, “Call home immediately. Emergency with Dad.”

Examples of good vs. bad one-line emails:

Bad: “Late”
Good: “Running 15 minutes late for 2:30 meeting.”

Bad: “Important”
Good:“Re-Send Tartofsky Memo as Attachment ASAP”

Bad: “Read This”
Good: “Article from WSJ on Budget Deficit that we Discussed”

Bad: “Coffee?”
Good: “Are you free to grab coffee next Tues. at 10 a.m.?”

Bad: “Meeting”
Good: “Meeting notes from Wednesday June 6, 2009”

Tip 4: Use Acronyms

Taking this to the next level involves using acronyms at the beginning or end of a subject line to help the recipient decipher the intention/importance of a message.

Katie, an event planner at a nonprofit organization, receives an onslaught of emails every day. Her organization has established some guidelines for sending emails that encourage staffers to use acronyms to help other staffers prioritize their inbox. These acronym are used widely today and are touted by efficiency experts.

Katie’s organization, for instance, uses “RRR”, which stands for “Read, Review, Respond”, at the beginning of a subject line, such as, “RRR: Proposal to Cooper Foundation.” This allows Katie to easily identify an email that needs attention, as opposed to an email that’s non-work related, but sent from a colleague, or a low-priority work email. If it’s non-work related, staffers are encourage to use “ZZZ”, such as “ZZZ: Peet’s Coffee coupons in the kitchen”. If it’s work-related, but more office-oriented, they write, Office Related Matter, “ORM: printer broken on 4th floor”.

Two widely-used acronyms are “EOM” or “End of Message”, which lets the reader know that the whole message is contained in the subject line, and “NRN” or “No Reply Needed”, which frees the recipient from any obligation to reply to the message.

Other widely-used acronyms are: AET: Answer Expected Today; AR: Action Required;
and RR: Reply requested.

If this all seems overly-complicated or a potential time-suck, just remember, the whole point in writing good subject lines is to save time. Think about the most important/actionable item in the email and stick it in the subject line. And, be sure to think about what will help you and the email recipient save valuable time when searching for an email if it gets buried in an inbox. A couple of extra moments spent on a subject line might save you a whole lot of time and frustration down the road.

And, if you are looking for some inspiration, take a look at Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox, where he discusses the BBC’s brilliant use of precise communication in its headlines.


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Xobni’s contact management products offer lightning fast email search and organization of your inbox, as well as an innovative and comprehensive address book for the mobile device.

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