Saturday, 17 June 2017

Articles Culled From Fast Company Magazine

Fast Company

    06.16.17

Solar And Wind Energy Aren’t “Alternative” Any More
But they still need a lot more investment if we’re going to make a dent in climate change.
Solar And Wind Energy Aren’t “Alternative” Any More
Solar power is already as cheap as coal-derived electricity in Germany, Australia, the U.S., Spain and Italy. [Source Images: supermimicry/iStock (pattern), Azrul Aziz/Unsplash]

By Ben Schiller 3 minute Read

After just five months in office, the Trump Administration has pulled us out of the Paris climate agreement, proposed deep cuts in research and development for electric cars and renewable energy, and made numerous anti-climate appointments at the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Energy, and Department of Interior. Trump’s entire agenda seems designed to help fossil fuel companies at the expense of the clean-energy sector.
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For anyone who cares about global warming and a less-polluted world, these are surely depressing developments. But there are silver linings. The role of governments–even a government as big and as powerful as the United States’–may not be as important to the future of energy as it once was. Investment in renewables continues to outpace those in fossil fuels two-to-one. The economy is growing and emissions aren’t. And solar and wind are set to become cheaper than coal just about everywhere (if they haven’t already). As Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) chairman Michael Liebreich likes to say, solar and wind aren’t “alternative” forms of power anymore. They’re mainstream, and they’re coming to the fore just as we need them most.

BNEF’s annual New Energy Outlook takes account of these trends and makes predictions for solar and wind that once would have been incredible. It notes that the cost of electricity from solar PV has fallen by almost a quarter since 2009 and is set to fall another 66% by 2040. It says solar power is already as cheap as coal-derived electricity in Germany, Australia, the U.S., Spain, and Italy. By the beginning of the next decade, it says it will be cheaper than coal in China and India as well.
The report foresees U.S. solar becoming 30% cheaper by 2022 and 67% cheaper by 2040.

“Renewable energy sources are set to represent almost three-quarters of the $10.2 trillion the world will invest in new power generating technology until 2040, thanks to rapidly falling costs for solar and wind power, and a growing role for batteries, including electric vehicle batteries, in balancing supply and demand,” the report says. BNEF expects solar and wind to make up almost 50% of the world’s installed generation capacity by 2040, up from about 12% now.

Unlike coal, solar is a technology and technologies tend to get cheaper and more productive over time. The report foresees U.S. solar becoming 30% cheaper by 2022 and 67% cheaper by 2040. By contrast, the cost of coal will remain flat–and will thus see a 51% reduction in generation capacity in the U.S. by 2040, the report says.

Coal use for power will also plummet in Europe, and will only be partly offset by a growth in coal power in China and India. The report sees emissions from all energy peaking in 2026, and being 4% lower in 2040 than in 2016. That’s not sufficient to keep temperatures from rising above the internationally agreed 2 degrees Celsius threshold, however. For that to happen, BNEF says the world needs more than $5 trillion in additional clean energy investments.

The big question with renewables may not be their price, but whether electricity grids can handle their fluctuating nature. BNEF sees electric vehicles and battery storage playing a key stabilizing role, charging up when availability is high and prices are low, and then discharging when solar and wind aren’t as abundant. By 2040, the power stored in EVs will account for 12% of electricity generation capacity, becoming an integral part of our electricity infrastructure.
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“This year’s forecast shows EV smart charging, small-scale battery systems in business and households, plus utility-scale storage on the grid, playing a big part in smoothing out the peaks and troughs in supply caused by variable wind and solar generation,” says Elena Giannakopoulou, lead analyst for the report, in a press release.

To be sure, the Trump Administration’s actions on climate and energy are regressive. But the consolation is that energy markets have their own momentum these days. BNEF makes its forecasts assuming that government subsidies will disappear over time. If they remain in place, or technology takes greater-than-expected leaps, the trajectory for renewables could be more favorable still.
About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.

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    06.16.17 your most productive self

How To Write A Work Email When You’re Really Pissed Off
Just don’t. But if you absolutely must, do it like this.
How To Write A Work Email When You’re Really Pissed Off
[Illustration: “The British Lion’s Vengeance on the Bengal Tiger.” via Wikimedia Commons]

By Jennifer Romolini5 minute Read

Let’s get right to it: You are writing bad emails. Usually that shakes out one of two ways. In the first, you agonize over each word, padding your emails with too much information, a sundae of cover-all-bases requests and hedge-your-bets recaps with an overwrought cherry of pleasantries on top. You spend way too much time crafting the perfect message when the recipient is only going to skim your soliloquy for action verbs, sort out whether they need to respond, and discard it like a flyer for Live Comedy in Times Square.
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Or else it’s the reverse: You under-think, reacting to each group email upon arrival, rapidly crafting a response, your finger hovering over the reply-all button so you can join the group conversation and get your name on the board, clogging everyone’s inbox in the process.

But there are two general rules that can help save you from both scenarios. The first: Say less. The second: Chill. And as it turns out, both rules are super important when you’re angry.
Breathe And Slow Down

Whenever emotions come into play, take “say less” to its ultimate extreme: Just don’t write an email when you’re feeling angry or anxious or sad or ashamed. Don’t speed-read an email that includes critical feedback, get riled up, perhaps misread the message, puff up your chest, respond with something defensive, and subsequently come across as a demented ass.

Related: Six Ways To Write Emails That Don’t Make People Silently Resent You

If you’re experiencing an extreme level of emotion, write a draft of the email you want to send and wait at least two hours to send it (after reading it over first.) Don’t pop off and send something you may later regret. It’s in writing forever.
Say It Out Loud

Read your most important emails aloud before you hit send. If they sound testy or rude, and you don’t want to sound like that, soften the language. Kindness is a choice (and it’s an easy one) once you let down your guard and realize that no one can actually hurt you over this email chain.
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Equally, read your correspondence aloud and listen for overly timid language and excessive apologies—some of us do try to overcompensate when we’re upset or frustrated instead of mouthing off. You’re allowed to be direct and ask for what you want. Just do it with correct grammar and a few niceties, like “Thanks.”
Err On The Side Of Formality

When in doubt, go slightly more formal. (Unless you’re writing to someone you know well, and a formal tone would seem spiteful or passive-aggressive.) Use all of the manners you’ve learned in this world as a civilized human. Be friendly, but polite.
Cut To The Chase

Keep it concise, direct, and to the point. Don’t include feelings or extraneous information. This is a business email, meaning you should become the Raymond Carver of the form, conveying your message in the most specific and sparest of prose. Before you send, see if there are words, thoughts, or paragraphs you can completely delete and still effectively make yourself heard.
Consider Whether It’s The Right Medium For The Message

And as a final gut-check: Are you sure you want this message in writing, or would you rather not have a permanent record of this conversation? Can you achieve what you desire by picking up the phone or walking a few steps to an adjacent cubicle? Would this actually make things less complicated?

For context, let’s apply these rules to an actual email. Imagine you’re trying to get paid for something you’ve written, your payment is late, and you’re following up. Here is your first draft of the email.

    Hi [So-and-so who has not paid me]!

    How are you? I hope you are well! I’m so sorry to bother you about this because I know you must be super busy and I hate sounding like a nag. (Please tell me I’m not one of those annoying people who email all the time? This is my worst fear.)

    Anyhoo: I’m writing today because I wanted to check in about my payment for that story I wrote way back in April. I know we talked about the payment a few weeks ago, and when last we spoke you said I’d have it by June 15th, but now June 15th has come and gone and I still haven’t received a check.

    Maybe it’s lost in the mail? My apartment building is weird right now and it totally could have been lost or taken from the community mail table but I just wanted to see if I should be worried about this or if the check actually hasn’t gone out.

    Totally fine either way!

    Hope everything is great—I really loved working with you guys and would love to pitch something else and write for you again. Let me know when would be a good time to send pitches or what you guys are looking for.

    I mean after this check business is all sorted out. Is there someone else I can call/bother about this?

    Just want to get to the bottom of it. Thanks so much for your time.

    Best,

    [Person who has not gotten paid]

Here is what you should say:
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You’re annoyed, and you sound it! Here’s how you should revise that draft before sending it:

    Hi [So-and-so who has not paid me]!

    I wanted to check in about payment for that story I wrote in April. When we last spoke you said I’d have it by June 15th, but I still haven’t received a check.

    I know you’re busy—is there someone else I can call/ bother about this?

    Thanks so much for your time,

    [Person who has not gotten paid]

Mastering the tone of these emails is delicate. You should report the facts while using the least emotional language possible. Start by telling them that you’re recapping your conversation, or clarifying expectations you might have discussed verbally. But use this judiciously–after all, you don’t want to create a hostile environment if you can avoid it. Your temper will dissipate, but that might not.

This article is adapted from Weird In A World That’s Not: A Career Guide For Misfits, F*ckups, And Failures  by Jennifer Romolini. It is reprinted with permission from HarperBusiness, a division of HarperCollins Publishers.

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    06.15.17 how to be a success at everything

Do These Four Things To Make Your Boring Presentation Sound Interesting
All that data needs to be in there—what can you do? Well, this.
Do These Four Things To Make Your Boring Presentation Sound Interesting
[Photo: NASA/Goddard/Wade Sisler]

By Anett Grant3 minute Read

Let’s be real for a second: You don’t have a monumental bit of news to report every time you have to give a presentation. Maybe the third Tuesday of the month has just rolled around, and it’s time to update your team on the latest batch of figures. And whatever status report, project review, or operational details you’re going to share with them, you know it’ll be dull.
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So how do you make those basic facts and figures more than a form of ritualized torture? Here are a few pointers.
1. Turn Data Into Images

If you’re worried your presentation is going to be boring because it’s heavy on numbers, try using imagery to describe the data. Numbers can become dull if you don’t give enough context about what they all mean and amount to. Unless you make the data concrete, your audience will start to zone out.

It’s simpler than you probably imagine. Think about the last weather report you caught on TV. Maybe the meteorologist was reporting on the size of hail. They didn’t list off the average hailstone’s diameter or weight; they said “golf-ball sized” or “softball-sized.” By using imagery, they become much more engaging and memorable. What’s more, you don’t need to be a graphic designer to throw together effective visualizations; here are a few tips.

Related: PowerPoint Isn’t Dead Yet—Three Presentation Tips That Still Work In 2017
2. Make Sure You’re Selling Something

The surest way to wreck an already boring presentation is to just be the messenger, delivering data or giving an update. In reality, you’re always selling. As the CEO of a Fortune 500 company told me, “Every time you present, you are selling. You’re either selling your idea today or planting the seed for selling your idea in the future.”

And to sell successfully, you need to position yourself as your audience’s trusted advisor. As Mitch Little, VP of sales for Microchip Technology, describes in his book Shiftability, that means getting past “features” to talk about “benefits”—matching your ideas to your listeners’ needs. They’ll trust you when they see you as a partner whose opinion they value—who helps them see things they might’ve missed.
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Yes, that might sound like a tall order when you’re giving a quarterly update. But try stepping back for a moment and thinking about the purpose of that update. Move away from, “I’m just giving them information and telling them why it’s important” toward, “I want to explore how we can move forward together more creatively.” This change in mind-set will can help you position your data in a more “benefits”-oriented way.
3. Add More Context

Sometimes the reason your presentation is so dull is because there’s not much numerical change since the last time you presented. This is really common for leaders who are asked to report on market share, for instance. If you’ve maintained the same market share since your last presentation, how can you make that interesting?

The answer is to just add more context around the latest figures. Let’s say your organization’s market share was the same from the first quarter to the second quarter. To make your presentation more interesting, you could discuss some of the outside factors that were at play. Obviously, you always want growth. But perhaps a competitor introduced a new product—in that case, maintaining the same level of market share was actually positive news.

You can also put information in context through comparison. For example, if I tell you that Poland exported $1.6 billion of chocolate last year, that’s not necessarily an interesting data point. But if I tell you that it produced twice the amount of chocolate that Switzerland did, that might surprise you. So if you’re having trouble making your facts and figures sound interesting, look for comparisons.
4. Share Something They’ve Never Heard Before

Finally, if you’re struggling to spice up a dull presentation, tell your audience something unfamiliar. Share a compelling conversation you had or some insider information that few people know about yet. That can create an “aha” moment for your audience to come away with.

Maybe you work in financial services and need to give a status report. Unfortunately, not much has changed. But you did have an interesting conversation with someone from the Federal Reserve, who told you that a proposed regulation was going to be rolled out slowly. This would be something you could tell your audience that would make your presentation more intriguing.
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You might feel like you work in a boring industry or department, but that doesn’t mean you can’t engage your audience. These simple strategies can help you leave more of an impact—even if the facts and figures, all on their own, don’t.
About the author

Anett Grant is the CEO of Executive Speaking, Inc. Since 1979, Executive Speaking has pioneered breakthrough approaches to helping leaders from all over the world--including leaders from 61 of the Fortune 100 companies--develop leadership presence, communicate complexity, and speak with precision and power. Executive Speaking offers both one-on-one private coaching and group Leadership Speaking Bootcamp 360 programs.

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    06.11.17 career evolution

Recruiters Explain What The Worst LinkedIn Profiles Have In Common
Recruiters and hiring managers need to find your profile in the first place. Then they need to like what they see there.
Recruiters Explain What The Worst LinkedIn Profiles Have In Common
[Photo: Flickr user amanda lohr]

By Lars Schmidt4 minute Read

Recruiters spend lots of time combing through LinkedIn profiles—possibly more than many would like. After awhile, they can start to blend together, which means that whatever you can do as a job seeker to stick out from the crowd (at least in a way that reflects well on you) is probably worth trying.
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At a minimum, though, you’ve got to sidestep the most common mistakes and drawbacks that recruiters encounter on LinkedIn constantly. These are some of the issues that recruiters, hiring managers, and execs who constantly use LinkedIn to staff their teams say the worst profiles have in common.

Related: Career Experts Make Over These Mediocre LinkedIn Profiles
1. It’s Outdated

Whether you’re barely keeping an eye on what’s out there or are actively looking for your next role, a complete and current profile can unlock doors—and an outdated one can slam them shut. Many users treat their LinkedIn profiles like their resumes, as a static resource they only bother to update in times of need. That’s a bad move says Stacy Zapar, founder of the recruiting consultancy Tenfold; she relies heavily on LinkedIn to find and make hires.

“Think of your LinkedIn profile as an online portfolio,” she suggests. It’s got to be “a dynamic, real-time representation of your professional experience. If you wait until you’re actively job seeking, you may forget key details, or you may have already gotten passed over by recruiters with great opportunities because those details were not included in your profile.” Even if you’re not on a job hunt, it never hurts to keep your latest qualifications in full view of recruiters and hiring managers, this way they can come to you with opportunities you might never have known about or considered otherwise.

Plus, Zapar points out, “making a bunch of updates to your LinkedIn profile all of a sudden often raises red flags with your current employer.”
2. Your Headline Sucks

When recruiters search profiles on LinkedIn, they see a list of candidates that match their search criteria. The details on the search results page itself are pretty minimal. Often recruiters don’t have much to go on beyond job title and headline when they’re deciding whether to click your profile and read further.
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This means your headline can be a huge draw. “The headline is the first thing we see,” says GoDaddy’s VP of talent acquisition, Andrew Carges. “Be sure to use this valuable real estate to tell more than your job title. Grab my attention and give me a reason to keep reading.” If you don’t, you’ll just blend into the sea of other people with the exact same job title as you. Not sure how to make it more memorable? See entrepreneur Cindy Gallop’s LinkedIn profile for inspiration—her headline reads, “I like to blow shit up. I am the Michael Bay of business.”

But keep SEO in mind even as you get creative. LinkedIn is essentially a search engine, and it indexes headlines, so make sure you’re also including a couple of keywords that are relevant to your work (Gallop’s doesn’t but still gets points for being memorable).
3. It Doesn’t Tell A Coherent Story

Most users write their LinkedIn summary and experience sections to reflect their resumes, and wind up with a linear run-through of their employers, responsibilities, and accomplishments. This is effective at conveying what you’ve done and where, but it doesn’t do much to help you stand out.

Consider approaching your LinkedIn profile like a story. Creative strategist Victor Nguyen-Long takes that advice literally; each of his employer sections reads like a mini narrative, explaining why he moved into each new role. Here’s the first line of one of them: “After 3.5 years in Portland, I decided I wanted to move back to Washington, DC to be closer to family.”

You don’t have to take the storytelling approach this far, but you should go beyond just recording what and when, add some why and how. That additional context can help your profile stand out, showcase your creativity, and explain to recruiters what motivates you.
4. It’s All Business

As Nguyen-Long also realizes, separating all things business from anything remotely personal will leave your LinkedIn profile sounding sterile. You want to give recruiters and hiring managers a chance to see common threads.
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And not just recruiters. In fact, you never know who will be reviewing your profile, or where they may find common ground that could give you an advantage. Job opportunities sometimes come from surprising places. Do you have a favorite charity or volunteer your time somewhere? Great—mention that! Do you have projects outside your core job that you work on? Add them to the project section. Speak other languages? Include that, too.

Go against the grain wherever you can. At a minimum, don’t just write a bland professional overview in the summary section and leave it at that. Throw in some details about your hobbies, interests, pursuits, and why you do what you do. Sticking just to your business experience alone doesn’t create a complete picture of what you’ll actually be bringing to an employer.
5. You Haven’t Written Anything

LinkedIn’s publishing platform opened up to all members a few years ago. For bloggers and writers, adoption was easy. For most users, not so much.

You don’t have to be a prolific writer to use this feature to your advantage. Be strategic and selective. Consider writing a couple of posts that showcase the way you see your field, how you work, or some thoughts about recent news in your industry. Sankar Venkatraman, a senior product manager at LinkedIn, says these posts can be as short or long as you like, just as long as they let you “share your experiences and expertise around a specific field of interest.”

The goal of blogging periodically on LinkedIn is twofold, he says—to “give recruiters further insight into your ideas, as well as improve how you show up in searches.”

In fact, the same logic is behind avoiding all five of these pitfalls. Not only will sidestepping these common errors make your profile show up more often in searches, it’ll also pique recruiters’ interest once they do find you.
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Correction: An earlier version of this article referred to Tenfold as a software company; it is a recruiting consultancy.
About the author

Lars Schmidt is the founder of AMPLIFY//, a recruiting and branding agency that helps companies like Hootsuite, NPR, and SpaceX reimagine the intersection of culture, talent, and brand. He's also the cofounder of the HR Open Source initiative.

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    06.09.16 your most productive self

Surprisingly Simple Ways You Can Trick Your Brain Into Focusing
This research-based approach has shown improvements in brain function in as little as 12 hours.
Surprisingly Simple Ways You Can Trick Your Brain Into Focusing
[Photo: Flickr user Liz Henry]

By Gwen Moran5 minute Read

What separates strategic, visionary thinkers from the rest of us? And why do we tend to worry about our ability to remember names—or where our keys are—rather than loss of cognitive memory that makes great performers?
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These were questions that puzzled Sandra Bond Chapman, founder and chief director of the Center for Brain Health at the University of Texas—Dallas. She wondered if high-level cognitive function could be taught or improved and set about figuring out how to do so. As a result, she and her team have developed Strategic Memory Advanced Reasoning Training (SMART), a research-based brain training program that they claim can improve focus, memory, and cognitive function, starting with just nine hours of training.
"Multitasking, information overload, and constant interruptions are impairing the way our brains work."

If that seems unlikely, randomized clinical trials indicate that even relatively short periods of this type of training can have an impact. A 2013 study found that just 12 hours of directed brain training altered brain function, increasing blood flow, enhancing information communication across key brain regions, and expanding the connections between brain regions that lead to new learning in adults over 50 years old.

“It’s paradoxical that some of the things we think are good for our brain, the brain science is showing are almost like tobacco for the brain,” Chapman says. Multitasking, information overload, and constant interruptions are impairing the way our brains work, she says.
The SMART Approach

The SMART program focuses on the brain’s top-down processing. Think about when you’re listening to someone tell a story: You think about the main themes and the bottom-line summary of what’s being said. Bottom-up processing is where you pay close attention to the specific details to understand what’s being said. That’s important because you need to be master the fundamentals, but if you get stuck in that way of thinking, it’s tough to be visionary, she says. To help improve the brain’s ability to think in these broader, bigger ways, the program has three areas of focus.

Strategic Attention Focus is essential for memory and learning. The SMART program teaches participants to eschew multitasking and, instead, truly concentrate on the task at hand. The increase in productivity and learning when we stop trying to do several things at once is remarkable, Chapman says. Participants learn how to block irrelevant or extraneous elements and better understand root issues.

Integration Chapman says this area is where the training has the most impact. Integrative reasoning hones mental tools that exert cognitive control to “zoom in” to quickly scan the critical details, then quickly reprocess that information into global ideas by “zoom out” strategies, evaluating how those details fit into the big pictures. Trainees learn to reach broader perspectives and construct generalized applications through that toggling of focus, otherwise known as “zooming deep and wide.”
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Mental Flexibility Being able to consider varied viewpoints and perspectives is another, possibly surprising, element of improving mental sharpness and cognitive function. Rather than processing information in the same way, adopting different perspectives and using information in new ways is important to improve key aspects of brain performance.

The center has plans to release an app based on SMART called “BrainHealth” later this summer. In the meantime, Chapman says that there are things we can do in our everyday lives to mimic some of the training’s methods and improve our own brain function.
Stop Multitasking

When we’re constantly shifting our attention from one thing to another, we inhibit our ability to learn and to get things done, Chapman says. While it’s fine to watch television while cooking dinner, for example, trying to answer email messages while focusing on a big writing project is likely going to detract from performance on each.
"The increase in productivity and learning when we stop trying to do several things at once is remarkable."
Distill And Summarize

Chapman says that we should all think like reporters, meaning that we should be looking at information, stories, and other forms of input for the key thematic element, as well as the broader storyline, then focusing on the particular applications and meaning.

Shifting back and forth between that “big-picture” perspective and the nitty-gritty of what it means to us helps us gain greater understanding and learn more. “If we can move it through taking in information, abstracting very quickly, and applying it, we get brain change very dramatically,” Chapman says.
Explore New Views
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    Your Brain Has A “Delete” Button—Here’s How To Use It
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    Here’s How To Trick Your Brain Into Making Smarter Mistakes
    How Your Brain Reacts To Change

Chapman says that forcing ourselves to think in new ways and develop understanding of how other people view things is another important element of the training. Sometimes, that requires difficult work. In her team’s work with Navy SEALS, she asks them to consider why Osama Bin Laden was a charismatic leader to some people.
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That’s an unthinkable concept to many, but pushing people to be more broad-based in their thinking is essential to developing visionary ability. It also helps participants get used to exploring highly volatile or uncomfortable ideas without getting emotional.
Take Brain Breaks
"“The more information we download or take in, the more shallower our thinking is, and the more fragmented our brain systems are.”"

Five 5-minute breaks each day where you get away from technology and work, and give your brain a few moments of rest can yield remarkable results. That’s all it takes, Chapman says. She jokes about the power of bathroom breaks during her sessions. “People go to the bathroom and come back and they had a breakthrough idea, and I say, ‘What was going on in the bathroom?’ It really is just because they stopped trying push through. The brain break is one of the ways to keep your brain’s mental energy on high charge,” she says.
Read Less—And Deeper

Stop trying to know everything about everything and be more selective in the information you’re taking in. Instead of skimming dozens of stories each morning, choose a handful on which you can truly focus and you’ll retain more, Chapman says.

“The more information we download or take in, the more shallow our thinking is, and the more fragmented our brain systems are,” she says. “it’s counterintuitive because we think that if I could just take in 20 things and quickly absorb them, I would be smarter, and the science has shown that the smartest leaders are those who know from the get go to literally block out some information.”

So, while our focus on getting more done through multitasking, skimming, and moving on to the next thing as quickly as possible seems effective, Chapman says the key to truly developing the sharp focus necessary to get things done requires working at a deeper level. “We keep loading ourselves down so we’re mentally exhausted all the time. Our battery is too worn down to really engage in deeper-level thinking and be more efficient,” Chapman says. Cognitive improvement is possible when we slow down, stop letting technology interrupt us repeatedly, and practice focusing on the task or information with which we’re engaged, she says.
Start Beating Your Procrastination With These Tips
About the author

Gwen Moran writes about business, money and assorted other topics for leading publications and web sites. She was named a Small Business Influencer Awards Top 100 Champion in 2015, 2014, and 2012 and is the co-author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Business Plans (Alpha, 2010), and several other books.

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    06.07.17 the future of work

NASA’s Future Astronauts Will Need These Job Skills
The most important skill an astronaut can have doesn’t necessarily involve hard science.
NASA’s Future Astronauts Will Need These Job Skills
[Photo: NASA]

By Lydia Dishman4 minute Read

NASA is announcing a new class of astronauts today—but only after a selection process that’s been about 18 months in the making. That’s partly because more than 18,300 hopefuls from all 50 states plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, and American Samoa have flooded NASA with applications to join its human spaceflight program.
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That’s a record figure, according to NASA–nearly double the all-time high of 8,000 applications that the agency saw way back in 1978. For some organizations, the bigger the pool, the better (like when the 2012 Olympics hired 9,000 people all at once, or last year when multinational professional services firm EY went on a hiring spree to add more than 15,000 staffers). But NASA, like Google, has to narrow its candidate cohort down to a fraction of everybody who’s applied—which in this case means between 8 and 14 individuals.

How does that happen, and what exactly are the skills NASA’s hiring team is looking for in its next crop of astronauts?
The 2017 NASA Astronaut Class: (from left) Zena Cardman, Jasmin Moghbeli, Jonny Kim, Frank Rubio, Matthew Dominick, Warren Hoburg, Robb Kulin, Kayla Barron, Bob Hines, Raji Chari, Loral O’ Hara and Jessica Watkins. [Photo: NASA/Robert Markowitz]
Minimum Requirements

For starters, there are some basic requirements such as U.S. citizenship; a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution in a science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) field; and at least three years of related experience, or at least 1,000 hours of pilot-in-command time in jet aircraft. “Related experience” doesn’t always mean military service, though. NASA says that teaching, including at the K–12 levels, is considered an acceptable qualification.

Related: The First Black Female Astronaut On Fear, Audacity, And Inclusion

Tackling this stage of the vetting process is similar to college admissions. NASA public affairs specialist Brandi Dean tells Fast Company that there’s a dedicated group of about 50–60 people, primarily from human resources, whose job it is to do this first round of vetting. But due to the record volume, she says, “We had to bring them in from other NASA centers to help our human resources team here at Johnson Space Center [in Houston].” The team reviewed applications to make sure they met the minimum qualifications, then sorted those that did according to their discipline.
NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy, 2013. [Photo: NASA]
Callbacks

Next, the remaining candidates get reviewed by the 50-person Astronaut Rating Panel, most of whom are current astronauts. The panel narrows the pool down to a few hundred of the most highly qualified applicants, who then go through a reference check.
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Those who pass get to come in for in-person interviews with the Astronaut Selection Board, a team of about a dozen people—which is also primarily, but not exclusively, made up of astronauts, says Dean. At this point, the team is looking at roughly 120 of the top candidates. That handful gets winnowed even further to 50 who come back for a second interview and additional screening.
Making The Cut With “Expeditionary Skills”

It’s at this stage that NASA really digs into the candidates’ skills–both hard and soft. Dean isn’t authorized to share exactly what tests applicants are given, but she does say that candidates have to demonstrate emotional intelligence (EQ), too. That’s assessed through their interviews, as well as other psychological testing.

NASA considers having a strong EQ and great teamwork abilities just as essential as technical expertise and so-called leadership skills. That’s why the Astronaut Selection Board looks for candidates who demonstrate good “expeditionary skills” in their previous experience. Dean says that includes things like showing cultural competency (recognizing that everyone’s contribution has value, no matter how unfamiliar), good self-care and team-care, and excellent communication skills in variety of situations.

Leadership And “Followership”

Make no mistake—NASA does look for good leadership skills. The agency’s hiring team understands that knowledge is important, as is initiative and decisiveness. They seek out candidates who can listen well, since that’s a crucial skill for any good leader to get to know their team member and help them succeed. They know how to credit the team for success while taking responsibility for a team’s failures.

Related: Why Your Leadership Skills Won’t Get You Hired (But These Four Other Things Might)
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But NASA needs its astronauts to demonstrate “followership,” too. Good followers know how to assess their own roles on a team and understand whether their efforts are helping or hindering the team’s goal.

“All astronauts must be able to be leaders as well as followers,” says Dean. For instance, one might be the commander of the mission, but a crew mate might be the lead spacewalker. “You need to be able to lead that person in general tasks, but also let them be the leader when it comes to the spacewalk,” she explains.

Dean also points out that that the chief astronaut rotates into that position for a few years, then steps aside in order to train for another mission where they’ll answer to somebody else. In other words, there’s no room for anyone who can’t collaborate or take constructive feedback. Says Dean: “You have to be able to be both.”
About the author

Lydia Dishman is a business journalist writing about the intersection of tech, leadership, commerce, and innovation. She is a regular contributor to Fast Company and has written for CBS Moneywatch, Fortune, The Guardian, Popular Science, and the New York Times, among others.

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    05.11.16 your most productive self

Your Brain Has A “Delete” Button–Here’s How To Use It
This is the fascinating way that your brain makes space to build new and stronger connections so you can learn more.
Your Brain Has A “Delete” Button–Here’s How To Use It
[Photo: NICHD/P. Basser]

By Judah Pollack and Olivia Fox Cabane3 minute Read

There’s an old saying in neuroscience: neurons that fire together wire together. This means the more you run a neuro-circuit in your brain, the stronger that circuit becomes. This is why, to quote another old saw, practice makes perfect. The more you practice piano, or speaking a language, or juggling, the stronger those circuits get.
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"The ability to learn is about more than building and strengthening neural connections."

For years this has been the focus for learning new things. But as it turns out, the ability to learn is about more than building and strengthening neural connections. Even more important is our ability to break down the old ones. It’s called “synaptic pruning.” Here’s how it works.
Your Brain’s Delete Button And How to Use It
Your Brain Is Like A Garden

Imagine your brain is a garden, except instead of growing flowers, fruits, and vegetables, you grow synaptic connections between neurons. These are the connections that neurotransmitters like dopamine, seratonin, and others travel across.

“Glial cells” are the gardeners of your brain–they act to speed up signals between certain neurons. But other glial cells are the waste removers, pulling up weeds, killing pests, raking up dead leaves. Your brain’s pruning gardeners are called “microglial cells.” They prune your synaptic connections. The question is, how do they know which ones to prune?

Researchers are just starting to unravel this mystery, but what they do know is the synaptic connections that get used less get marked by a protein, C1q (as well as others). When the microglial cells detect that mark, they bond to the protein and destroy–or prune–the synapse.

This is how your brain makes the physical space for you to build new and stronger connections so you can learn more.
Why Sleep Matters

Have you ever felt like your brain is full? Maybe when starting a new job, or deep in a project. You’re not sleeping enough, even though you’re constantly taking in new information. Well, in a way, your brain actually is full.
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When you learn lots of new things, your brain builds connections, but they’re inefficient, ad hoc connections. Your brain needs to prune a lot of those connections away and build more streamlined, efficient pathways. It does that when we sleep.

Your brain cleans itself out when you sleep–your brain cells shrinking by up to 60% to create space for your glial gardeners to come in take away the waste and prune the synapses.

Have you ever woken up from a good night’s rest and been able to think clearly and quickly? That’s because all the pruning and pathway-efficiency that took place overnight has left you with lots of room to take in and synthesize new information–in other words, to learn.
"Thinking with a sleep-deprived brain is like hacking your way through a dense jungle with a machete. Its overgrown, slow going, exhausting. "

This is the same reason naps are so beneficial to your cognitive abilities. A 10- or 20-minute nap gives your microglial gardeners the chance to come in, clear away some unused connections, and leave space to grow new ones.

Thinking with a sleep-deprived brain is like hacking your way through a dense jungle with a machete. It’s overgrown, slow-going, exhausting. The paths overlap, and light can’t get through. Thinking on a well-rested brain is like wandering happily through Central Park; the paths are clear and connect to one another at distinct spots, the trees are in place, you can see far ahead of you. It’s invigorating.
Be Mindful Of What You’re Mindful Of

And in fact, you actually have some control over what your brain decides to delete while you sleep. It’s the synaptic connections you don’t use that get marked for recycling. The ones you do use are the ones that get watered and oxygenated. So be mindful of what you’re thinking about.
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If you spend too much time reading theories about the end of Game of Thrones and very little on your job, guess which synapses are going to get marked for recycling?

Related

    Five Everyday Activities That Hurt Your Memory
    How To Dramatically Improve Your Memory
    Can Exercise Really Make You Grow New Brain Cells?
    3 Simple Steps To Boost Your Memory
    6 Science-Backed Methods To Improve Your Memory

If you’re in a fight with someone at work and devote your time to thinking about how to get even with them, and not about that big project, you’re going to wind up a synaptic superstar at revenge plots but a poor innovator.

To take advantage of your brain’s natural gardening system, simply think about the things that are important to you. Your gardeners will strengthen those connections and prune the ones that you care about less. It’s how you help the garden of your brain flower.

Judah Pollack is the co-author of The Chaos Imperative, and Olivia Fox Cabane is the author of The Charisma Myth.

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    05.01.17 career evolution

I’m Facebook’s Head Of People–Here’s What We’re Hiring For Right Now (And Why)
Facebook recruiters want to hear about your absolute best day at work, even if it wasn’t your typical workday.
I’m Facebook’s Head Of People–Here’s What We’re Hiring For Right Now (And Why)
It makes sense to focus on strengths. [Photo: courtesy of Facebook]

By Lori Goler3 minute Read

When I joined Facebook in 2008, we could’ve fit all of the company’s employees into a single movie theater. There were just a few hundred of us, mostly based in Palo Alto. Now, nine years later, we’d need a stadium. As the company has grown nearly 35 times–to 17,000 people in more than 50 offices in 30 countries–we’ve recruited entire teams we never imagined we’d need.
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So it’s no surprise that our recruiting process has had to evolve with us. Here are three key factors we want job candidates at Facebook to show our recruiters and hiring managers–no matter at what level, on which team, or where in the world we’re hiring.

Related: This Is How To Get Hired At Facebook In 2017
1. Your Strengths (Well Proven Or Otherwise)

Yes, this sounds totally obvious, but it isn’t in practice. Very few companies actually work hard enough to understand and identify candidates’ talents, then successfully match those to their hiring needs. In fact, some recruiting experts suggest that past performance isn’t a good indicator of how someone will do on the job–that hiring for potential is often smarter than hiring for performance.

But sometimes the things somebody’s already done really do hint at even greater things to come. In both cases, it makes sense to focus on strengths. People in jobs that play up their talents and let them do work they enjoy are more engaged and perform better than people in roles that don’t play to their strengths.

So I like to ask candidates, “What were you doing on your very best day at work?”–and then give them a hint: “It was probably a day when you lost track of time because you were so engrossed in your work.” We want you to do that not just on your best day but every day.
2. The Skills To Build It Yourself

Builders look at the world with fresh eyes. They see things that are good, but could be better, and figure out how to make it so. Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg still really likes to code; just last year he built an artificial intelligence system for his own home. We look for candidates who’ve got that same building mind-set, whether they’re applying for executive roles or internships.
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Hyla Wallis, a university recruiting programs manager, who hires hundreds of Facebook’s interns, told Fast Company recently about “a student who actually collected a database to show events or activities [and] volunteering opportunities within their community.” This information wasn’t all in one spot, so the candidate “built something and shared it out,” Wallis said.

If you can show a hiring manager at Facebook something you yourself thought of, put together on your own, and then convinced other people to start using, you’ll stand a better chance of sticking out.

Related: Here’s What It Takes To Start Your Career At Facebook, BuzzFeed, Nike, And Refinery29
3. Comfort With Learning The Hard Way

Tomorrow’s technology depends on the imagination of the people we hire today, which demands genuine intellectual curiosity, not just a great GPA. This kind of learning often involves risk-taking and resilience–and it isn’t always easy to find.

While other companies might look for people with a constant stream of successes to point to, we look for a steep learning curve. Have you tried something really hard and failed the first time, and the second, maybe even the third–and learned from it? You can’t envision and iterate on brand-new platforms, devices, or uses for AI and virtual reality without a deep and serious love of learning–not to mention the resilience to push through the stumbles along the way.

So when you’re interviewing for a job at Facebook, don’t hesitate to talk about the blunders you’ve made in the pursuit of big ideas–we want to hear about those as much as your wins. If you’re a builder with a learning mind-set, give your strengths some real thought first: What are you good at? What have you tried to make? And what did you learn from the experience–no matter how it went? If you can explain that, then Facebook might be the right place for you to do the very best work of your career.
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Lori Goler is Head of People at Facebook.

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    08.27.14 work smart

Templates And Hints For The Perfect Email For Almost Every Situation
If every email you sent was perfectly phrased and well-received right out of the inbox, how much time could you save?
Templates And Hints For The Perfect Email For Almost Every Situation
[Business: Kazoka via Shutterstock]

By Kevan Lee10 minute Read

Have you ever received an amazing email, one that you’d like to print out and pin to your wall, one that made you grin from ear to ear or slow-clap in appreciation and reverence?
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When I come across these gems, I drop them into a “Snippets” folder. I study them, I swoon over them, and I borrow bits and pieces of them to send better email.

Now imagine that every email you send is as great as these occasional all-stars you receive. Impossible? Not at all. Worth shooting for? Definitely.

Related: Six Ways To Write Emails That Don’t Make People Silently Resent You

At Buffer, we strive for 100% awesomeness in the emails we send to customers, and that pursuit of excellence carries over to the emails we send to teammates, colleagues, friends, and family. We want to send better email, the kind that delivers the intended message plus the desired emotion.

So I’m happy to share some of my sources of email inspiration. These are the templates and snippets that have caught my attention over the past few months, and which I’m hoping to include in more of my communication in the inbox. Think you might like to try any of these out in your daily emailing?
An email template for shaving 20 hours off your work week

Author Robbie Abed took to LinkedIn to share a pair of emails that he had used successfully to shave his workweek from 60 hours to 40 hours.
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Here is email number one, which is to be sent on Monday.

    Subject: My plan for the week

    Jane,

    After reviewing my activities here is my plan for the week in order of priority. Let me know if you think I should re-prioritize:

    Planned Major Activities for the week

    1) Complete project charter for X Project

    2) Finish the financial analysis report that was started last week

    3) Kick off Project X–requires planning and prep documentation creation. Scheduled for Thursday.

    Open items that I will look into, but won’t get finished this week

    1) Coordinate activities for year-end financial close

    2) Research Y product for our shared service team

    Let me know if you have any comments. Thank you!

    –Robbie

The clear intention here is to set the expectation for the week ahead and give a supervisor a clear understanding of what you’re working on.

Then, on Friday, you send a second email, summarizing what you completed during the week and noting any open items that need further attention or follow-up from colleagues.

Related: The Only Five Email Folders Your Inbox Will Ever Need

The idea here is simple: Set expectations early on in the week and follow through at the end of the week. According to Abed, this provides clear boundaries on your time, it shows your supervisor that you are responsible and organized, and–if everything goes according to plan–it might get you out of the office on Friday having worked zero overtime.
How Michael Hyatt says no to guest bloggers

Author and speaker Michael Hyatt gets a lot of email requests for a lot of different things. One of the most popular requests is for guest blogging – either bloggers who wish to submit guest posts to his site or other sites looking for Hyatt to write for theirs.
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Here’s how he says no to guest blog pitches.

    Dear [name]:

    Thanks for your interest in being a guest blogger on my site. I am grateful that you took the time to write this post and submit it. Unfortunately, I don’t think I will be able to use it.

    I have received scores of submissions–more than I expected. As a result, I am having to turn down many well-written posts, including yours. Sometimes this is because the topics overlap or the posts are too general for my audience. Regardless, because of my time constraints, I can’t really provide more detailed feedback.

    I wish you the best in your writing endeavors. If you have another post, I would be happy to consider it.

    Kind regards,

    Michael

Here’s how he says no to invitations to guest blog.

    Dear [name]:

    Thanks so much for thinking of me as a potential guest blogger. I am honored.

    Unfortunately, I just don’t have the time. It is all I can do to keep up with my own blog! As a result, I’m afraid I will have to decline your kind invitation.

    Again, thanks for thinking of me.

    Kind regards,

    Michael

I’ve been on the sending and receiving end of similar emails several times over the past few months. I happened to save a favorite “thanks but no thanks” snippet that I thought sounded appreciative and kind yet still said no.

    I’d love to take part and it sounds like an amazing opportunity. Unfortunately I’ll have to pass, as I’m currently a little over-committed and won’t be able to make the time right now.

Related: Here’s When You Should Use Email Instead Of Slack
Email snippets for saying no

In the examples above, Michael Hyatt said no to guest blogging. That’s a great start. And what about the scores of other opportunities we may need to turn down throughout the week?

Elizabeth Grace Saunders, a time coach and trainer, shared a series of snippets for saying no in a post published on 99U. She seemingly had a “no” snippet for any scenario. Here are a few of my favorites.
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When you receive perpetual last-minute requests:

    I would love to help you out, but I already made commitments to other (coworkers, clients, etc.) to complete their projects today. It wouldn’t be fair to them to not follow through on what I said I would do. I will be sure to fit this in as soon as possible. Thanks for your understanding.

When people ask you about everything instead of directly contacting the appropriate person:

    That’s not my area of expertise. I would be happy to connect you with someone who could best help you solve this problem.

When you’re given an exceptionally short deadline:

    I know this project is a high priority for you, and if it’s absolutely necessary for me to turn something in by that date, I can make it happen. But if I could have a few more (days, weeks, etc.), I could really deliver something of higher quality. Would it be possible for me to have a bit more time?

When asked to do something optional that you can’t commit to right now:

    I appreciate you thinking of me, and I’m honored by the request. But unfortunately, I don’t have the time to give this my best right now. I think you would benefit from finding someone who can devote more time and energy to this project.

Related: How To Cut Your Email Time In Half
7 simple sentences to set better boundaries

Could it even be as simple as a sentence? Wharton professor Adam Grant has a pretty quick list of seven different sentences that might work to set boundaries on your work/home life. Here’s the list:
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    The Deferral: “I’m swamped right now, but feel free to follow up.”
    The Referral: “I’m not qualified to do what you’re asking, but here’s something else.”
    The Introduction: “This isn’t in my wheelhouse, but I know someone who might be helpful.”
    The Bridge: “You two are working toward common goals.”
    The Triage: “Meet my colleague, who will set up a time to chat.”
    The Batch: “Others have posed the same question, so let’s chat together.”
    The Relational Account: “If I helped you, I’d be letting others down.”

Of these seven, I’ve had a chance to try Nos. 1 and 3 just in the past week. The first felt great, as it truly was an opportunity I was excited to pursue yet the timing just wasn’t ideal. Sentence No. 3 felt just as good; had I committed, I would have been way in over my head. So not only was I able to set a boundary, I was able to ensure that the work was completed the best way possible.
How to send the best emails to your customers

In The Customer Support Handbook: How to Create the Ultimate Customer Experience For Your Brand, Sarah Hatter describes in expert detail exactly which words and phrases should be used in a modern-day customer conversation (and which shouldn’t).

Empty words (do not use):

    Feedback
    Inconvenience
    This issue
    That isn’t
    This isn’t
    We don’t
    No
    We’re unable to
    I can’t

Full words (use liberally):

    Thank you!
    I’m really sorry
    This sucks
    I know this is frustrating
    You’re right
    That’s a great idea!
    Let me check and get back to you
    Thanks for sharing your idea/thoughts/taking the time to help improve the product

Magic phrases:

    “You’re right.”
    “I’d love to help with this.”
    “I can fix this for you.”
    “Let me look into this for you.”
    “I’ll keep you updated.”

Power replies:
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    “You’re right, we could definitely do this better.”
    “Thanks for being open and honest about your experience so we can learn from it.”
    “I really appreciate you helping us improve our process–we don’t want this to happen again.”
    “I know this is a huge disruption to your day and I’m working to get it fixed.”

I had a chance to use the “disruption” line just today with a customer who had a less-than-ideal experience. I’m not sure if my choice of words was what won him over or not. I am happy to say that he was super pleased to receive my reply–nothing to sneeze at for a customer we might have wronged.
What to say instead of “Let me know if you have any questions”

Chris Gallo at Support Ops has an interesting, applicable way of looking at that all-too-common wrap-up to the emails we send. How do you end your conversations on email? Seems like we typically choose one of these cookie-cutter sign-offs.

    “Please let me know if you have any questions.”
    “If you have any other problems, just let me know.”
    “If there is anything else you need, please let me know.”

Compare this with how you end conversations in real life. Gallo points out that none of us talk this way to our friends and family; why should we talk this way to our beloved customers?

Perhaps the best example Gallo cites is this one:

    “If there is anything else you need, please let me know.”

    Should I need something else? Am I going to need something else soon? Are you saying that I’m needy?

Instead of the stock answers, try these questions, which sound more human and feel more conversational.

    “Does this help you?”
    “Did that answer your question? And does it make sense?”
    “Anything else that I can help with today?”

(The above example comes from Chase Clemons’s Support Ops email guide, which has loads more examples, if you’re interested.)
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I’ve been trying these new signoffs in my personal emails for the past couple weeks, and I will say that it can be a little disarming at first. I definitely felt the urge to end with a token platitude rather than an open-ended “Does this help you?”

Fortunately, it gets easier the more you use it. And I’ve had many meaningful conversations that I might not have had otherwise.
Out with the “buts,” in with the exclamations

This one I’ve borrowed from our Chief Happiness Officer Carolyn who wrote about her removal of every instance of “but” and “actually” from her customer support emails.

With “but,” Carolyn removes the conjunction and replaces it with an exclamation point, splitting one compound sentence into two simpler ones.

    Sentence 1: “I really appreciate you writing in, but unfortunately we don’t have this feature available.”

    Sentence 2: “I really appreciate you writing in! Unfortunately, we don’t have this feature available.”

With “actually,” she removes the word entirely, often opting for a new word or phrase to open the sentence.

    Sentence 1: “Actually, you can do this under ‘Settings.'”

    Sentence 2: “Sure thing, you can do this under ‘Settings!’ :)”

I was inspired by these examples, so much so that I’ve gone to the extreme and attempted to remove all “buts” from the blogposts I write and the conversations I have. It’s interesting, even if I’m unable to follow through 100% of the time, just to note how often the word might come up. I’m prone to use it more often than I thought.
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I’ve found that recognizing great emails is one thing, and using them is another. This is why I started cataloging the emails I love and referring to them regularly when I need inspiration on what to say. I go with a fairly straightforward copy-and-paste, which can take a bit of time. The SupportOps crew (and many of our Buffer heroes) use Text Expander to have snippets available via a keyboard shortcut.

This article originally appeared on Buffer and is reprinted with permission.

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