Networking when you’re new in town

When I was a student, I was blasé about what it was like going to a new place. I pointed out to someone that it’s startling how often students choose to remain in those new places after graduating, how they so completely fit into the situation that it must surely be easy.

Uh-huh, said this someone. And then she pointed out that when students move to a new place, they meet a gigantic number of other people who have just moved there for the same reason. That’s why it’s at least easier than it would be on your own. So later on moving somewhere else new, by yourself, that’s hard and that’s why fewer people do it.

Can’t disagree. She was completely right, I was completely wrong.

All these years later, it’s an important issue because we don’t necessarily move around a great deal but we do need to meet new people. We need to network for our jobs and actually I’d say for our very souls: I love blathering with new people. The things they know that I don’t, the things they’ve done that I haven’t. The disagreements I can learn from like I did from my fellow student.

All of which is a long way to say that I want to point you at a piece by Meredith Fineman for Harvard Business Review: it’s a short, simple, practical guide to networking from scratch. Do have a read.

All Contacts apps should work like this: BusyContacts for OS X

I’m writing about ten pieces a week for to do primarily with software and given my obsessions, naturally productivity stuff crops up a lot. I mean, a lot. I’ve had the chance to evangelise software that has transformed my working life and I’ve also had the chance to try a range of new applications I wouldn’t – to be truthful here – have been able to afford.

Of the 100+ pieces I’ve written so far, there are many standouts but a recent one that was entirely new to me is BusyContacts. It’s a Mac-only address book and it is tremendous. I don’t think it’s gorgeous, I long to change parts of its look, but for features, it’s great. In fact, it is excellent – and chiefly because of one single feature in it.

From my MacNN review:

That feature is the Activities List. Like any other Contacts app, you can look up someone’s details and get all the regular stuff, like their many phone numbers, email addresses, and so on. In BusyContacts, though, you also get Activities. Right next to their contact card, you get a list of the last emails you two have sent each other (this only works with Apple Mail at present). You also get your most recent iMessage exchanges. Their latest tweets or Facebook updates. All there, all the time and immeasurably useful.

If you know you’ve got to call Bert, look up his contact card — and right there is when you last emailed him. You get the date, time, subject and opening lines, so you are instantly briefed on what you were last doing together. The more people you have to juggle and the more projects you are doing, the greater and greater this feature is.

Hands On: BusyContacts (OS X) – William Gallagher, MacNN, 17 February 2015

That was posted nearly two weeks ago now and I’ve only come to like this app more. Here’s an example of something I’ve found useful that has previously been enough of a chore that I didn’t do it. There is one group of people I need to email from time to time. I could set a group email address but those are oddly awkward to do on Macs and the groups don’t cross over to the iPhone or iPad. It’s not that groups cross over in BusyContacts either, they don’t, but awkwardness and inability to use groups everywhere meant I didn’t bother with them at all.

I used to just find the last email I sent the group, quickly check through the names to make sure I remove a person who asked to be let out of the set, then I write the new email.

With BusyContacts, I can assign tags to contacts. As you read their address book card, type a keystroke and add a tag. It’s easy to do and as you go along merrily adding things like “Writers’ Guild” to a name, you build up a list of such tags in the app. Now I can drag someone’s name to the tag and have it applied.

I can click on the Writers’ Guild tag and only see those people who I’ve tagged with this. So far, so underwhelming, except that once this is what I see in my contacts app, I can Select All and email everybody. BusyContacts lets me send an email to everyone in that list – and it lets me send separate emails to each of them.

That plus the Activity List, it is just startlingly useful. I wish there were an iOS version, I’d be on that like a shot. Read the full piece.

Contact has been made

I do get told that I am a networker. I get told this a lot. Why does that feel wrong, though? Why does it feel wrong enough that I don’t believe it? Maybe because of this:

Research has found that people who engage in “instrumental networking,” where the goal is career advancement, made people actually feel physically dirty. So dirty, in fact, that they thought about showering and brushing their teeth!

Stop Dirty Networking: Make Friends, Not Contacts – Hamza Khan, 99U (1 October 2014)


In my case, I’m just more interested in everybody else than I am in me. I know that sounds false and possibly even stupid but the way I see it, I know all about me, I was there, I saw me do it. Everybody else is new and isn’t that interesting?

This 99U article is about a couple of other sources which you can read if you slog through the full feature. But for once the article is the better bet: as short as it is, it’s to the point. And it suggests:

Opt for spontaneous networking, where the goal is the simply the pursuit of emotional connections and friendship.

Read the full piece.

Contact has been made

Or rather contacts, plural. I hate the word contacts: it’s like networking. I relish meeting people and having a natter but that’s nattering and meeting people: it isn’t networking my contacts.


It is weird how your work changes, isn’t it? In this last year I’ve turned from being locked to my desk to barely being at it. Neither is great: both are problematic. But being away a lot comes from working with a lot of people and I am forced to change my mind about how bad my memory is: I’ve had some awful moments when I’ve gone blank but generally I’m far better at names than I thought. Or maybe it’s just that everyone I meet is so distinctive. They are, but maybe that’s how I’m getting better.

Nonetheless, I’ve been prompted into looking into a way of keeping track of everyone I’m talking with: I can’t promise someone something and then not deliver, I can’t. And earlier this week, the makers of BusyCal released a public beta of BusyContacts which has set me off down a wormhole of looking into this subject.

BusyCal is the calendar app made by the makers of once-powerful and actually just once-existing Now Up to Date which I loved and adored and cherished in the 1990s. Back then they had a companion application called Now Contact. It was so much a companion that the two were just always sold together as Now Up-to-Date and Contact.

Fast forward all these years and the company is doing very well with its BusyCal product but I don’t happen to like it. Purely for aesthetic reasons, it just doesn’t do it for me and since you spend a lot of time staring at this stuff, that matters. I went with Fantastical instead and am happy with it.

But somehow I ended up on the public beta list for BusyContacts. I must’ve registered – and you can do that yourself right here – but so long ago that I don’t recall. Anyhow, a beta copy came my way this week and… I’m not very keen on the aesthetics. Fair enough, really.

But it is interesting. Chiefly for this reason: when you look up someone in your contacts list, BusyContacts shows you the text of the last email exchange you had and a clickable list of all the email contact you’ve had. I adore this. Adore it.

Have spent the week trying to get it on an app that a) I like the look of better and 2) works on my iPhone and iPad.

Tried and failed.

I think I’m going to have to buy BusyContacts when it comes out. But I’d still like it look better. And I still want a way to get this feature on my phone.

Plus, I’ve just discovered hundreds of email addresses that I use all the time that are not in my Contacts. They’re in my previous recipients list. Who knew? Working to get those out.

Add numbers to your phone as soon as you get them

I’m not great at this but I try. If you give me your phone number or I’ve found you on some research thing, I will add you to my Contacts list. I don’t like the word Contacts, I’m not suddenly thinking of you as a contact instead of a human being. But I am adding and I will add you to my Contacts app. Whatever machine I’m near at the time – iPhone, iPad or Mac – I will try to enter your number right after we’ve spoken.

Given how easy it is to get photographs of people now too, I will often drag a photo to your contacts page too. That usually happens if I’m on my Mac and you’re not obscure. Or have the same name as someone who turns up a lot on Google. If all of this is true, one drag and you’re in my book.

Which is why today I got a call from a charmingly modest woman who wondered if I remembered her – and of course I did. She rang on my mobile, there was her name in big letters and there was her photo from her website. I hope that I would’ve remembered anyway but I’m suffering under a cold not terribly with it today, so this was a real boon.

All because when we spoke a couple of weeks ago, I put her name and photo into my contacts app. Right away.

US-only (for now): Refresh app briefs you on people

New in the US App Store for iPhone, Refresh parses your calendar for the names of people you’re meeting and then compiles as much information about them as it can.

The information is gathered from social media sources in much the same way that you could and perhaps do yourself. Mynd does the same thing. But Refresh feels like it digs deeper and then it makes certain connections. Small but smart things: it will see, for instance, that someone’s Linkedin profile says they joined a company in 2010 but it will tell you they’ve “…been at Acme for nearly four years”.  A tiny difference but one that more fits how we might think of someone or how we might phrase it if we opened a conversation with them.

That bothers me a touch. On the way in to a meeting, it’s working to prompt you with things you might need to know about folk. It feels a little bit icky and especially so when it directly suggests conversation-starting topics related to their previous employment, their holiday or whatever.

Personally, my only conversation-starter is “Hello”.

But I am ferociously interested in people. It’s exciting meeting someone new and up to that conversation prompt, Refresh is good. I like the name: it’s really refreshing my memory of whomever I’m meeting.

Any time you dig too deep or you make, I don’t know, intense briefing notes about their pet dogs just so you can appear matey or chummy in future, I am uncomfortable. Embarrassed. Yet when you meet a lot of people and they are all doing work that you really want to know more about, it’s not an awful idea to make the odd note.

Recently I’ve been adding just a line to the Notes field in my OS X Contacts. I might say what we’re working on together. There was one woman whose husband’s name would simply never stick in my mind so I did write that down.

Refresh wants you to do more and it prompts you to do so.

refresh-app-blurredI got a push notification on my way out from a thing today and it’s still on my Notifications list as illustrated here in by far the most blurred-out screen grab I have ever taken.

I don’t like the line “What’s worth remembering about…” because the answer is EVERYTHING.

Still, if I wanted to, I could note that this fella was doing that work, this woman was doing that other work. And actually there was a fella today who is now doing a gig that he told me when we met back in November. If I’d made a note then, I might have remember to book a ticket in time.

So Refresh is very useful and it has some smart ideas that it has implemented well. I think it’s usefulness is directly tied in to how you think about people you meet and what you feel about briefing yourself this much.

It’s a free app so you can try it out very easily – but only if you have a US iTunes Store account. I asked the company and they confirm there will be an international release but there’s no date yet.

If you have a US account, you can find the Refresh app here. And whether you do to not, you can read more about it and the company on their official website.



Email hacks – create a temporary group in OS X Mail with TextExpander

File this under I Needed To Know But Couldn’t Find It On the Internet. So here I am putting it on the internet.

My problem was that I now have to regularly email the same group of about 25 people, a good dozen or more are not in my address book. OS X Mail remembers who you’ve emailed before, whether or not they’re in your address book and that is remarkably confusing. I’ve just been slogging through this and discovered the strangest people are not in my address book: people I email often, people I like enormously, they ain’t in there.

They are now.

Side tip: in Mail, choose the Window menu and the entry for Previous Recipients. You get a long list. A long list. But if somebody is in your book, you get a little contact-card-like icon next to their name. And if they aren’t, you don’t. Click on the first one who isn’t there then option-click on each other one you want. Thump the Add to Contacts button and you’re done.

But with my group, I don’t actually know that many of them. Certainly not enough that I could glance down that list and know who was in the group, who isn’t. So I thought I was faced with adding each one separately and then collecting them into a group.

I was. Except I had a Damascus moment: I’ve got TextExpander.

So this is what I did – and I apologise for how geeky it sounds, I promise that it took seconds.

1) Found the last email to the group

2) Hit Reply to All

3) Selected all the names in the To: field and dragged the lot into the body of the message. They turned from the familiar blue-button names into names plus email addresses. They looked like this: “William Gallagher <>” except with twenty-five more of them, all in one massive lump with commas between them.

4) Copy and paste into Word.

5) Search and replace “>, ” (the closing bracket, comma and space that is at the end of every address) and replace with “^p” (Word’s code for a paragraph)

6) Set a tab halfway across the page.

7) Search and replace ” <” (the space and opening bracket that is at the start of every address) and replace with “^t” (Word’s code for a tab)

8) That got me what looks like two columns: the first with people’s real names, i.e. “William Gallagher” and the second with their addresses, “”

9) Option drag to select the column of names and the white space over to the start of the addresses.

10) Delete.

11) I was left with one column of addresses.

12) Search for “^p” and replace with “, ” (comma, space)

13) That got me back to one massive block of text that was every email address separated by a comma. Select and copy the lot

14) Open TextExpander and create a new snippet, a piece of text I want to use often. Paste my massive block of addresses and commas in to that and set a short key combination for the lot

So now whenever I’m writing an email message, I can type “;swf” (with the semicolon but without the quote marks) and the To: field is filled out with all of these nice people.

Now, truly, if you read out the above at the standard speaking speed of three words per second, it would take you a minute and forty seconds. I’ve just worked through the instructions again to check and the whole shebang took me… oh… a minute and 35 seconds. Okay. That was rubbish.

But next time I want to email this group, it will take me a seventh of a second. No searching for the last one, no adding some from the address book, some not, just “;swf” and wallop.

There is the downside that the people who weren’t in my address book still aren’t in my address book. As I talk with any of them individually, I’ll have to remember to add them. And I could have continued to just find the last email and Reply to All. I definitely could’ve done that and I have done for a month or more now. But each time I do it, I have to check the list because some people have asked to be taken off the group. Now I can forget that and just email everyone in one go. If anyone new asks to come off the list, it’s a moment’s work to edit the TextExpander snippet.

No, face it, William, this was a five-pound hammer for a one-cent problem. But it’s done now, get off my back.


Definitely TextExpander. But then you need that for everything. Promise. Read more about TextExpander on its official site.

Microsoft Word. Any word processor would probably do this but I turned to Word – even though I don’t use it so much any more – because I knew the codes for paragraphs and tabs. See more about Microsoft Word on its site. I used the Mac version which takes a little more digging to find on Microsoft’s site. Can’t imagine why.