Train your bosses to work better

Or at least to work better for and with you. They’ve got a lot on their plate, they know you’re good, it is easy for them to lob more work at you and just assume you’ll do it. After all, you have done every time so far and it’s only cost you an ulcer.

Your employer always keeps a certain distance and it’s always for one good reason, sometimes also for one bad one. The bad is that they’re eejits and up themselves but that type doesn’t last. They last longer than you’d want, but. The good reason is that they will only show you the bits of their job that you need to do yours: they won’t lumber you with the rest of the stuff they’ve got to do, they maybe can’t tell you the rest of the stuff.

(Quick aside? A friend was my manager once at the BBC and she was having a rough time over a particular problem. We chatted like pals and it turned out that she was going to have to let some people go. Yes. I could see the moment those cogs turned and those synapses worked and she remembered that I was highly likely to be one of them. Her face was so funny, I laughed.

On the one hand, it was good and flattering that she could open up to me but on the other, you know she felt bad when she realised. That’s a difficult line to tread when you work for someone you know and like, but it needs to be trod. Especially since I didn’t lose my work then and in fact nobody did. From my point of view, I had some weeks of worry and from hers I was surely distracted and losing time looking for other work, all ultimately for nothing because something outside both our control changed.)


Train your bosses to better understand what you do and what you can do. On Monday morning, email them with a happy note about what five things you’re going to do this week. They probably already know them and it’s certain that something other than those five will come up but email them the list of five on Monday morning. And then on Friday afternoon, email them to say you’ve done those five.

That’s all. It will take ages for this to become a habit for you and for them, but you’re setting out your work for the week and then you are demonstrating that you do it. Without ever suggesting that this is all you’ll do, you’re firstly informing them that they don’t have to think of things for you to do and you’re secondly reinforcing 52 times a year that you do what you say you’ll do.

Your bosses do dump work on you but they also look for things for you to do: they want you happy in the workplace but they want you busy too. You’re an expensive resource and they need to use you fully. With this five-item email, most of the time they will recognise that you’re on the job, you’re on the case, they don’t have to worry about you. And sometimes it will stop them lumbering you with other things. Sometimes.

So it does help them and it does help you in your annual review. But I’m also slightly lying to you.

I don’t care if your bosses ever read your email to them, I only care that you write and send it. Because writing that list of five clarifies your week in your mind and that means you never have to think about it again. Yes, things come up, things change, but for the rest of the week you will not be forever wondering which thing is most urgent to do next.

Sending the list to them adds accountability, again even if they never read it. You’ve said this aloud, that’s what you’ve done.

Then, to be completely honest here, having said aloud that you’re going to do these five things, you will do them. And when you write that Friday afternoon email saying that you have, you will feel great.

And do you know why? Because you are.

Germany looking at banning work emails after office hours

That would be similar to the moves in France where workers could carry on getting all the emails they liked but managers should get a rest.

The following quote comes via Google Translate so I’m sorry for its quality but it is at least a thousand times better than I would’ve managed with a dictionary. This is Germany’s labour minister Andrea Nahles responding to a question this week about whether employees could be protected from emails while on holiday:

Yes. That is my goal. I have made sure that the test of an anti-stress regulation comes into the coalition agreement. There is an undeniable relationship between availability and duration of the increase of mental illness, now the have also recognized the employer. We have to also scientific evidence. Nevertheless, it is a challenge to implement this law quite sure. Therefore, we have the Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health commissioned work up sound, whether and how it is possible to set load thresholds. We need universal and legally binding criteria before we prescribe the establishments something. 2015 to present first results.

RP Online translated to English by Google

Good luck with that. But if France is going this way and Germany’s looking at it, you can bet it’s going to come up in the UK. I don’t think it’ll be the deciding issue in the next general election, but stranger things have been.

Update: Hachette responds to Amazon

I stayed out of this both on here and in my head because I thought Amazon vs Hachette would play itself out quickly, that there was doubtlessly posturing and arguments on both sides, and that I didn’t really understand all the ramifications anyway. Then Amazon sent out a cloying email that so antagonised me I had to vent about it. Apparently their plea for us to email Hachette worked enough, though, because now Hachette has replied publicly.

I still don’t understand all the ramifications. And I’m still not saying Amazon is the bad guy, I’ve just said that they write some really aggravatingly patronising bollocks in their emails. So for completeness, here’s the full text of Hachette’s response.

Thank you for writing to me in response to Amazon’s email. I appreciate that you care enough about books to take the time to write. We usually don’t comment publicly while negotiating, but I’ve received a lot of requests for Hachette’s response to the issues raised by Amazon, and want to reply with a few facts.

• Hachette sets prices for our books entirely on our own, not in collusion with anyone.
• We set our ebook prices far below corresponding print book prices, reflecting savings in manufacturing and shipping.
• More than 80% of the ebooks we publish are priced at $9.99 or lower.
• Those few priced higher—most at $11.99 and $12.99—are less than half the price of their print versions.
• Those higher priced ebooks will have lower prices soon, when the paperback version is published.
• The invention of mass-market paperbacks was great for all because it was not intended to replace hardbacks but to create a new format available later, at a lower price.
As a publisher, we work to bring a variety of great books to readers, in a variety of formats and prices. We know by experience that there is not one appropriate price for all ebooks, and that all ebooks do not belong in the same $9.99 box. Unlike retailers, publishers invest heavily in individual books, often for years, before we see any revenue. We invest in advances against royalties, editing, design, production, marketing, warehousing, shipping, piracy protection, and more. We recoup these costs from sales of all the versions of the book that we publish—hardcover, paperback, large print, audio, and ebook. While ebooks do not have the $2-$3 costs of manufacturing, warehousing, and shipping that print books have, their selling price carries a share of all our investments in the book.

This dispute started because Amazon is seeking a lot more profit and even more market share, at the expense of authors, bricks and mortar bookstores, and ourselves. Both Hachette and Amazon are big businesses and neither should claim a monopoly on enlightenment, but we do believe in a book industry where talent is respected and choice continues to be offered to the reading public.

Once again, we call on Amazon to withdraw the sanctions against Hachette’s authors that they have unilaterally imposed, and restore their books to normal levels of availability. We are negotiating in good faith. These punitive actions are not necessary, nor what we would expect from a trusted business partner.
Thank you again and best wishes,
Michael Pietsch [Hachette CEO]

Thanks to Digital Book World for the text and to Jason Arnopp for the tipoff.

You don’t have to decide right now

All stop. An email’s just come in, or a text, or a phone call. Maybe even a real person has just come up to you. That’s a scary thought. But it all demands your attention now and it all rather expects you to reply or decide or just plain do something right now.


I’m not saying that you should be rude to the person who walked up to you – though really would it have killed them to bring you a coffee? – but I am saying that you don’t have to react right this moment. In fact, you shouldn’t. Almost always. You know that this is bollocks when the interrupter is your boss and you, as the interruptee, rather depend on them for eating three meals a day and keeping that roof over your head. But most of the time, with most people, with most interruptions, you are better off taking a little while to do anything about it. has a half-excellent article about this that includes many very good points about it all but maybe gets a bit anal in the details. Writer Kevin Daum recommends that you “Create a Response Schedule”:

Setting a routine for communication can help both with your productivity and with managing expectations of the people with whom you interact. It’s frustrating to spend time chasing other, not knowing when you will get a response. I solve this problem with a simple rule of thumb. Generally, when available, I respond to texts within 20 minutes, phone messages within an hour, and e-mails within 24 hours. You can set your own appropriate timeframe, but once you have a schedule you can better manage your time. You can also let people know what to expect. Those who work with you regularly will soon recognize and respect your habits.

8 Ways to Improve Your Communication Right Now – Kevin Daum, (16 August 2013)

Myself, I think that’s a bit too organised, it takes a bit too much work. I avoid replying to emails instantaneously – which used to be a big thing I did and it got me into day-long ping-pong conversations because I would not let go and I often had a gag I couldn’t resist – by a more brute force approach. My Mail software no longer checks for emails every picosecond. It just looks every quarter of an hour on a regular day, maybe I push that back to an hour if I’m really busy. Sometimes, especially when I’m out and getting emails on my iPhone I will tell it to not get messages at all until I have a minute and can read them.

That means that I just don’t have the issue of replying instantaneously because I don’t get the emails instantaneously.

And the point of all this is that while I am not replying to you at lightspeed, I am getting some work done. No offence.

Do read Daum’s full piece. Also, a nod of the hat to Contactzilla, a site devoted to its eponymous contact management software that I’ve never heard of before it began including productivity articles.

If you’re firing me, get on with it

Last week we had an email from Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella of which the kindest thing you could say was that it was less embarrassing than his previous one. I tried reading it for here, to see if there were any actual news items in it that I would want to tell you, and I just glazed over. Others ripped it apart to mock, many ripped it apart to say there was one fact buried in this palimpsest of overlapping indecipherable sentences.

It was that Microsoft sounded pretty damn likely to lay off a lot of people very soon. They’ve now been laid off.

But the actual blow, the news of their redundancy came after another obfuscated email. This time, it took eleven paragraphs before it got to the point and one writer rips it apart par by par.

Typically, when you’re a top executive at a major corporation that is laying off more than 10 percent of your workforce, you say a few things to the newly jobless. Like “sorry.” Or “thank you for your many years of service.” Or even “we hate doing this, but it’s necessary to help the company survive.”

What you don’t do is bury the news of the layoffs in the 11th paragraph of a long, rambling corporate strategy memo.

And yet, this was Microsoft honcho Stephen Elop’s preferred method for announcing to his employees today that 12,500 of them were being laid off. (18,000 are being laid off companywide; Elop, the former head of Nokia, oversees the company’s devices unit, which was hardest hit by the layoffs.)

How bad was Elop’s job-axing memo? Really, really bad. It’s so bad that I can’t even really convey its badness. I just have to show you.

Here’s how it starts:

Hello there

Hello there? Hello there? Out of all the possible “you’re losing your job” greetings, you chose the one that sounds like the start to a bad OKCupid message? “Hello there” isn’t how you announce layoffs; it’s what you say right before you ask, “What’s a girl like you doing on a site like this? ;)” It’s the fedora of greetings.

Microsoft Just Laid Off Thousands of Employees With a Hilariously Bad Memo – Kevin Roose, NY Mag (17 July 2014)

It’s not funny for the people who’ve lost their jobs, which is the main point of Roose’s piece. It’s also easy to say that you shouldn’t do it in this way, but actually, no. You shouldn’t. Take a read at Roose’s whole piece.

What you, me and especially Microsoft could learn about writing

Earlier this week, Microsoft’s new head Satya Nadella sent out an email to all employees and, practically by natural extension, the world. I started to read it, wondering if I could find out something useful but I stopped when I realised I’d been thinking more about the cooking I had to do that night.

I did have one evil thought, which is that Nadella’s predecessor Steve Ballmer famously wrote a tortuous email like this not very long ago. I remember seeing the sheer length and the utter absence of any information and feeling that this summed up Microsoft. I believe the company is in a better state now with Nadella but I did do a quick word count. I expected Nadella to be quicker and to say at least some things more substantive but no and no.

I left it. But others have not and I think they make smarter points than I could have done. Specifically, Jean-Louise Gassée extrapolates from this one email what a bad situation Microsoft is in and he extrapolates lessons we could all learn in how to write betterer email things, like.

Clarity and ease are sorely missing from Satya Nadella’s 3,100 plodding words, which were supposed to paint a clear, motivating future for 127,000 Microsoftians anxious to know where the new boss is leading them.

Nadella is a repeat befuddler. His first email to employees, sent just after he assumed the CEO mantle on earlier this year, was filled with bombastic and false platitudes:

“We are the only ones who can harness the power of software and deliver it through devices and services that truly empower every individual and every organization. We are the only company with history and continued focus in building platforms and ecosystems that create broad opportunity.”

Microsoft’s new CEO needs an editor – Jean-Louis Gassée, Monday Note (undated but probably 14 July 2014)

That was shockingly bad: Nadella’s line about what only Microsoft can do is bad. I remember reading this on an Apple iPad. That would be a device that did everything Nadella says only Microsoft can do, but it would also be a device that Microsoft didn’t do and so far can’t come within sight of competing with. Gassée has some thoughts about this. But he also points with detail toward this core idea that I think, and he clearly thinks, is relevant to us all:

As I puzzled over the public email Microsoft’s new CEO sent to his troops, Nicolas Boileau’s immortal dictum came to mind:

Whatever is well conceived is clearly said,
And the words to say it flow with ease.

I’ll have that. Even though I know I ramble, I’ll keep focused and clear. In my head, anyway.

Gassé isn’t a fully uncontroversial figure but he’s been around the block in this industry for a long time and he writes this analysis well. He does include diagrams of how such emails should be written and I just naturally recoil from so much prescription but I have agree it makes sense. And that Nadella’s email truly lacks anything but a hip photo at the top.

Two emails will save you hours every week

I’m convinced 95% of cubicle workers who work over 60 hours a week constantly can cut it down to 40-45 hours by sending 2 emails a week to their boss:

Email #1: What you plan on getting done this week

Email #2: What you actually got done this week

That’s it. These 2 emails will prevent you from working 60 hours a week, while improving your relationship with your boss and getting the best work you’ve ever done.

How to Go From Working 60 Hours a Week to 40 By Sending 2 Emails a Week – Robbie Abed, Fire Me I Beg You (25 June 2014)

Sold. Read the full piece for more and you will be too.

Via Lifehacker

IFTTT adds an email digest channel

If you read that heading and knew what IFTTT stands for, you've just understood the entire story. Move along. Nothing more to see here. (But check out IFTTT's own announcement for the details.)

I do know that it stands for If This Then That and I do use the service but at such a low level that I forget it's there. If I mark somebody's tweet as a favourite, for instance, I know that If This Then That has been set up to automatically save that tweet to an Evernote note of mine. But I can't remember how I did that, I don't remember when I set it up, and I hardly remember that it's there: I just tap that Favourite button and forget about it.

So I'm not the best guy to tell you about any new IFTTT channel – any new thing you can control via IFTTT – and I don't usually try. But this one looks good:

“We’re thrilled to introduce a powerful Channel that everyone can use — no activation necessary. The new Email Digest Channel collects the content you care about and delivers it on a daily or weekly basis.


The examples include getting the service to email you the weather report every day. Or if there's a new free app on the App Store, email you about that. (Somebody's really done that. Are they mad?) Take a look at the short IFTTT announcement and then follow its links to what people are already doing with this. If you see something you like, a few taps and a sign-in get it working for you. For free.

Take a breath. Or a holiday. Or something in between

A couple of weeks ago I got an email that so annoyed me, I wanted to reply instantaneously. But instead I calmly made lunch, watched an episode of How I Met Your Mother – and then exploded.

It was going so well until the end there, wasn't it? I sounded so calm and professional. Once in a very long while, though, it is fun to make the ground shake – and that's not what I want to talk to you about. It's that 45 minute break I took before replying, that's what's key, that's what you and I need to talk through.

Number one thing: just because someone has emailed you, that doesn't mean you have to reply at all, let alone that you have to reply right away.

I'm a scriptwriter and the analogy I leap to is when you read a script that has a character asking a question. In a bad, tedious script, the next character will always answer it. In good scripts, they won't. For at least three reasons, the greatest being that it is extremely boring. Then there is also the fact that we don't tend to talk like that in real life. And there's also that often the answer is a chore to get by because you've done all the work with the question.

Follow. Here's a bad line of dialogue:

DAD: Do you really think I'm going to keep being a taxi for you? That I'm going to pick you up at 6pm, drive you to this “Sally's” place and wait outside until 1am?

You know that the next line belongs to his son. You know that this happens a lot, you know that his son uses the Dad Taxi all the time. You know the father doesn't like Sally. And you even know what time the next scene is going to start and end. It's not that bad a line, since it gives you all of that attitude along with all of those facts, but it is a question that does not need an answer. In real life, the kid would sulk. In scripts, bad writers automatically write him an answer and that answer will be rubbish. It will be an answer because of course he must reply with one. It won't have any value, it will just be a delay before the next thing happens.

Just let me stay on scriptwriting dialogue for a moment. This is an aside, I know, but even in an example, I want to be clear that there is a difference between an answer and a response.

This is how that exchange would go in a bad script:

DAD: Do you really think I'm going to keep being a taxi for you? That I'm going to pick you up at 6pm, drive you to this “Sally's” place and wait outside until 1am?
SON: But you promised you would! I've told Sally I'm coming and everything.

And this is it in a better one:

DAD: Do you really think I'm going to keep being a taxi for you? That I'm going to pick you up at 6pm, drive you to this “Sally's” place and wait outside until 1am?
SON: I can go over to mom's, she'll drive me.

It's a response and it also tells us that the mother and father are divorced.


Back to the point about replying and responding instantaneously. We do think we have to, we feel bad if we don't. It's as if it's a phone call to us, we feel the pressure to reply, the pressure that the other person is waiting. And they are.

But still: train yourself to not automatically reply to emails.

I'm not saying be rude, I'm saying avoid kneejerk reactions by avoiding replying. Maybe just for a short while, maybe forever.

A few days ago, a friend asked advice on a technical thing and I didn't know the answer. I was replying instantly to say this when the phone rang and I had to go off doing something. I felt bad leaving her hanging, leaving her thinking that I might be able to help. About an hour later, I got to reply to her – and in the hour I'd thought of something. Completely unintentionally, completely without planning or even conscious thought, something had whirred away in my noggin and popped out when I was ready to reply. It didn't solve her problem, it didn't save the day, but it was useful and I got it because I took time before replying.

That was an hour. The lunch and HIMYM was about 45 minutes.

Jo Warwick writes on the Dumb Little Man website that maybe you should take a break that is proportional to the issue. Have a coffee, take a walk – or even take a holiday. Seriously.

Take some timeout and let the dust settle, before you do something drastic, that you just might regret…
The expense of replacing some things in life and starting again can be too costly, heart-breaking or sometimes impossible and you could end up losing the one thing that it’s totally irreplaceable….
So walk away, take some space and give yourself however long you need to breathe, calm down, relax and gain a little perspective on the situation.

How Not To Make A Drastic Mistake You Will Regret – Dumb Little Man

It's not like you can just take a hike whenever you feel like it, she's not arguing that. But she is arguing persuasively that time out saves lives. Read her whole piece on the Dumb Little Man site that, actually, I'd never heard of before ten minutes ago. I'm off to have a look around it.