Everyone Hates Your Out-of-Office Reply

It’s the end of summer, which means our inboxes are filled with the out-of-office replies from all those lucky folks on vacation while we’re still stuck at work. In the face of this, New York Magazine has listed the worst offenders of the vacation-reply list:

1. The Location-Brag
: An auto-responder that says, “I’m sunning myself on a pristine beach in Santorini and will have limited access to e-mail until Tuesday” might be an accurate reflection of your travel plans. It’s also going to make you look like an asshole.

2. The Seniority Show-off
: On a similar note, please do not conclude your away message by reminding others of the power you wield at work. (“If you need immediate assistance, please contact my executive assistant at kathleen@megacompany.com, or my associate executive assistant at tabitha@megacompany.com, or my executive assistant’s executive assistant at meredith@megacompany.com.”) We get it — you’re rich.

3. The Overly Complicated Reply Process
: If your auto-responder includes more than two ways to get in touch with you in an emergency, you’re doing it wrong. By the time you get to “If your message is urgent, contact me through awayfind.com/joeschmoe, then text ’50445′ to my Google Voice number, then shoot an e-mail to vacationjoe@gmail.com,” we’ve already given up. This is an out-of-office message, not a last will and testament.

 Read the rest over at their article, “The 7 Kinds of E-mail Vacation Auto-Responders Everyone Hates.”

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How Must-Do Thinking Can Hold Us Back

Designed by Silly Lili for the Noun Project

Designed by Silly Lili for the Noun Project

We can’t always do what we want. But for our businesses, we should build, start, and create things that we’re truly passionate about. We tend to be more successful when we’re working on projects that electrify us.

When it comes to growing our businesses, we may want to step back into the shoes of our young selves when we approach our work, suggests John Petersen, CEO of Firehawk Creative. In an article for We Work magazine, he writes:

 Kids do what they want to do. If you force them to do something, they put in as little effort as possible to get to a time when they can do what they want.

He also reminds us that:

 Kids aren’t trying to come up with some scheme where they never have to work again. They just want to do their thing.

Yes, we need to pay our bills. Yes, there’s always laundry to take care of. And yes, responsibilities only seem to grow as we get older. But building something in hopes that you’ll be Zuckerberg-rich will more than likely leave you anxious and frustrated. Instead, focus on building the best, most authentic business you can.

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Yves Behar: Trade Briefs for Relationships

Briefly from Bassett & Partners on Vimeo.

Yves Behar, CEO of Fuseproject, doesn’t believe in design briefs. In the film Briefly, he explains that far more can be learned through client relationships:

I don’t believe in briefs; I believe in relationships. The difference between a brief and a relationship is a brief can be anonymous. And I’ve tended over the last fifteen to twenty years to really work with people who give you a really deep sense of where it is they want to go, what it is that they are dreaming about. And that, in turn, has informed us on the projects more than any brief has ever done so.

Initial discussions should provide not only the vision for the project, but the aspirations of the company. Instead of anonymously sending out briefs, make it a collaborative thing: the brief will naturally evolve out of these client conversations. With continued dialogue, you build the trust you need to really question ideas and find innovation. Use the brief as a creative tool to open up dialogue with your clients, negotiate easier, and get to the heart of the problem.

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The Zero Notification Challenge

Bell by Sebastian Langer from The Noun Project

Bell by Sebastian Langer from The Noun Project

Ping!…Email.
Ping!…Tweet.
Ping!…iMessage.

Do notifications impact your workflow?

Co-founder and CEO of Buffer, Joel Gascoigne, undertook an experiment in which he disabled all notifications on his phone. Not only did he regain his focus, he was also able to convert his workflow from reactionary to proactive:

It is now completely up to me when I choose to check my email, Twitter, Facebook, etc. I have no excuse that a notification came in. If I check it too frequently and find myself procrastinating, it is only my fault: I went out of my way to go and look.

Focus isn’t a magic ability. It’s simply a function of limiting the number of options you give yourself for procrastinating. 99U challenges you to turn off all notifications for a week, and let us know how it goes below.

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Are You Inspired or a Copycat?

User designed by Wilson Joseph from the Noun Project

User designed by Wilson Joseph from the Noun Project

It’s important to be aware of inspiration that simply influences us versus inspiration that turns us into a copycat. Knowing the difference can help turn us into the type of creative worker we strive to be. As Evernote designer Joshua Taylor explains in this interview over at the InVision blog:

Researching and seeing what others are doing is important. I try not to do that too much though because I think there’s a subconscious tendency to copy as soon as you start looking at everyone else’s stuff. My advice is that if you are going to look at others’ work, look at a ton of them so that there’s enough influences and you can’t distinguish between them. Constantly looking at other people’s work has a huge impact on who you are…We are all products of our environments, so surround yourself with great things.

The right inspiration, at the right time (and in the right amount), can be just what we need to improve our own ideas and creative work. It’s when we catch ourselves looking for inspiration as a way to solve the task at hand or complete the work we’re doing that we know we’ve stumbled into possible copycat territory.

Instead, we must strive to constantly surround ourselves with a lot of varied and high caliber work.

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Why Your Business Idea Isn’t Taking Off

Designed by Laurent Canivet for the Noun Project.

Designed by Laurent Canivet for the Noun Project.

Your business idea (be it for a design studio, an app, or consulting practice) has yet to become a success and you can’t figure out why. In an interview over at Entrepreneur with Scott D. Anthony, author of The First Mile: A Launch Manual for Getting Great Ideas Into the Market, the strategy and innovation consultant discusses the most common reasons why your business idea is stagnant:

One extreme is something called “paralysis by analysis,” where the business exists only in someone’s head. They’re trying to make the business plan perfect and remove all risk before taking the first step. The other extreme is “doing without thinking,” where you put something out into the market to see what happens. You can waste a lot of time and money learning things the world has already discovered.

 Do either of these two scenarios look familiar? If so, it may be time to take some focused action to get your business off the ground. The real answer lies in between the two extremes: the best action is usually securing your first customer and then building upon that success.

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How to Deal (or Not Deal) with Phone Calls

No Phone by Scott Lewis from The Noun Project

No Phone by Scott Lewis from The Noun Project

Do you get pissed off whenever someone asks you to setup a “quick call” to chat? Gary Vaynerchuk bets that you do:

We have gotten to a place where everything happens on our time. You watch the TV show when you want to watch it, not because it airs on Wednesday at 8 (7 central). You text because you can respond to that person on your time.

In a thoughtful tirade against phone calls, Dharmesh Shah, founder of HubSpot, left some important takeaways for how to deal with phone calls (and by extension, meetings), including:

To avoid the awkwardness around small-talk, try to outline what the topic of the conversation is going to be.  It makes you feel less guilty for transitioning into the purpose of the call.

Use email to get your high-level thoughts communicated first, and then use a phone call to add a personal touch or to have a higher bandwidth conversation.

If your work requires phone calls, that’s understandable. But remember that more often than not, synchronous communication puts you in a reactionary state. Don’t feel obligated to answer the phone every time it rings; what’s urgent isn’t always important.

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