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February 9, 2011

BusyCal now works with Postbox 2

BusyCal

BusyCal is a desktop calendar that allows families and small workgroups to easily and cost-effectively sync calendars with MobileMe, Google, the iPhone, and with other Macs on a local area network.

To celebrate, we’re giving away 5 BusyCal licenses!

How to Win:

    1. Follow @Postbox on Twitter and RT the following:

    Postbox is giving away 5 copies of BusyCal, follow @postbox and RT to win!

    2. Follow @BusyMac on Twitter so they can send a direct message to the winners.

    Hurry, you have until Friday at 5PM PST to enter!  Winners will be announced next weeek on Twitter.

    Posted by Sherman Dickman

I Never Thought It Would Turn Out Like This

February 8, 2011

If you look closely, you’ll notice the telltale signs: bits of grey around the sides of your inbox, folders getting a little fuller around the middle and a slight groaning noise when launching the application. Your e-mail’s hit middle age.

E-mail as we know it turns 40 this year. While we may have not recognized it in its youth, e-mail started out with a single, not-very-inspiring message between hosts on ARPAnet. Until that e-mail, written and sent by a programmer named Ray Tomlinson, it had been possible to send messages to terminals on the same computer but never between computers on different network hosts.

The message, the contents of which Tomlinson has forgotten, made it ten feet across a room from one computer to another and the communication medium was born. Offers for discount Viagra quickly followed.

Posted by Sherman Dickman

Tune Up Your E-Mail Workflow: The First of Four Articles

February 4, 2011

How do you deal with e-mail? Everybody’s got an answer. And nobody’s satisfied with it. Like making the perfect martini, finding the perfect e-mail management strategy is a lifelong pursuit. The truth is, there’s no secret solution to e-mail workflows. Much of it comes down to personal preference. Some people like to work out of their Inbox, using e-mail as a message storage and retrieval system. Others want as little in their e-mail client as possible, constantly processing messages out of mail and into some other sort of file system.

E-mail researchers (yes, there are such people) have tracked the ways in which people interact with e-mail. They’ve observed, interviewed, run experiments and generated a mountain of conclusions in the process. As part of the Postbox design process, the Postbox team dug through this research (and we even met with some of the researchers) and outlined three basic e-mail user types. Over the course of the next few weeks, we’ll be covering each of these e-mail styles and suggesting workflow improvements designed specifically for each style. For now, we’ll describe the three main groups that e-mail users fall into. Which one are you?

1. The Inbox Archivists
Inbox Archivists work out of their Inbox. They see no reason to clean it out. After all, if everything’s in the Inbox, you know exactly where everything is. Finding an old e-mail is as easy as searching, sorting and filtering. It’s a great system if your e-mail client is up to the task. If your client’s search capabilities are limited or slow, it could take forever to find the right message, let alone that one attachment you’re pretty sure somebody (you can’t remember who) sent you six months ago. Or was it more like 18 months?

2. The File-As-You-Goer
File-As-You-Goers are the opposite of Inbox Archivists. The File-As-You-Goer doesn’t trust his e-mail client. He’s been burned too many times by failed attempts to find something he knows is somewhere in his e-mail store. The file-as-you-go solution is to let nothing linger. Actionable e-mails get dealt with ASAP. Anything with a longer life cycle gets ported to a to-do list or saved for reference (in a mail folder or outside the mail client). This system is similar to the “Inbox zero” philosophy of Merlin Mann and shares some of David Allen’s Getting Things Done productivity method. Done right, it can keep you on top of your game. But it requires a lot of discipline and is probably more a reaction to the limitations of e-mail clients than it is a holistic solution to dealing with e-mail.

3. Spring Cleaners
Somewhere in the middle live the Spring Cleaners. Less disciplined than the File-As-You-Goers but not entirely comfortable with an overloaded Inbox, they let things pile up, dealing with some messages quickly and leaving others for later. Messages pile up until an overwhelming feeling of disorganization triggers a clean-up. The backlog of old messages is processed, filed or discarded and the mail store is brought back to a more manageable and less ominous level. Then the cycle starts all over again.

None of these systems are bad ones. Each has its pros and cons. Each one, though, places different demands on the user’s e-mail applications. And each one, like every other system, has room for improvement. Next week, we’ll look at the Inbox Archivist system in more detail and share some tricks for making that system work to its full potential.

Posted by Sherman Dickman

The Do Not Reply Guy

February 3, 2011

Communication media come and go but humans never change. As soon as you tell somebody not to do something, they’re bound to go and do it. Which is why Chris Faliszek found that he was getting thousands of e-mails sent to a domain he had innocently registered as part of an online marketing business.

“We started thinking of all the stupid e-mail names we could register, and we all thought it would be funny to send e-mail from an account at donotreply.com,” Faliszek said.

The funny part turned out to be the e-mails coming in, thousands of replies to the phony “donotreply.com” domain used by spammers, marketers and IT guys who don’t want to hear back about their system announcements.

Before he shut down the domain for good, Faliszek got inside information on bank security holes, reports of troop movements in Iraq from a Halliburton subsidiary and folders full of angry e-mails complaining about junk e-mail.

At the beginning, Faliszek tried to contact some of the companies referenced in the misdirected e-mails but all he got for his trouble was threats of lawsuits from managers who couldn’t understand why he was receiving “their” mail.

“I’ve had people yell at me, saying these e-mails are marked private and that I shouldn’t read them,” Faliszek said. “They get all frantic like I’ve done something to them, particularly when you talk to the non-technical people at these companies.”

Posted by Sherman Dickman

Portrait of the @rtist

January 31, 2011

Depending on your point of view, James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake is either the writer’s greatest work or a failed experiment. In either case it’s full of puzzles, word-games and mysterious references. One of them crops up again and again on Joyce fan pages: “emailia.” As in the sentence “Speak to us of Emailia.” As with much of this famously untraditional novel, the meaning is hard to parse. It comes in a passage about a postman and most scholars think it’s nothing more than a play on the word mail and the name Amelia, a student of the author’s who he pretty clearly had a thing for. Or maybe he saw something coming?

Posted by Sherman Dickman

e-mailhistory@whitehouse.gov

January 28, 2011

Like a lot of inside-the-White-House information, definitive data on which president first used e-mail is hard to come by. Working backwards, the Obama, George W. Bush, and Clinton administrations most certainly used e-mail as a daily part of their workdays. For select White House staff, e-mail, in fact, goes back as far as 1982 when National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane and his deputy, Admiral John M. Poindexter were hooked in to an early IBM office e-mail system. The rest of the Reagan White House came online in 1986.

There’s not much evidence, though, that presidents themselves used e-mail on a regular basis before President Obama, who lobbied to keep his Blackberry despite recommendations from advisors. According to a BBC report on the Obama Blackberry, “neither George W. Bush nor Bill Clinton used e-mail during their presidencies.”

According the the Clinton Presidential Library, however, Clinton was the first president to send an e-mail – two in fact. The first was a test e-mail to see if the president could work the system. He could. The second was an actual e-mail message sent to 77-year-old Senator John Glenn aboard the space shuttle Discovery during Glenn’s 1998 return to space. Glenn replied, making him the first senator to e-mail a president from space. As if being a war hero, astronaut, senator, the first man to orbit the Earth, and the oldest man in space wasn’t enough.

Posted by Sherman Dickman

Ready. Set. Slow Down.

January 26, 2011

Here’s something you’ve been told 100 times. But it’s worth reading again. Because if you haven’t tried it yet, you’re starting your day all wrong. You may be the type who likes to hit the ground running, go straight from the commute to the first phone call, meeting or e-mail without missing a beat. But as efficient as that may seem, starting your work day without a few minutes of planning is a recipe for a meandering workday.

Ten minutes with a to-do list and a little prioritizing will not just help pace and structure your day, it will give you a benchmark to fall back on when the day distracts you with brushfires, impromptu meetings and unexpected emergencies. This may be the most hackneyed productivity tip of all time (well, after “don’t check your e-mail every five minutes”). Nevertheless, it’s repeated so often because it works so well. Try it for a week and see if it leads you a calmer, more productive workday. Oh, and stop checking you e-mail so often.

Posted by Sherman Dickman

Sending the Right Message

January 25, 2011

E-mail is a flawed communication medium – just like all the rest. Like a cell-phone call or an exchange of morse code, an e-mail conversation has its own unique set of shortcomings and potential pitfalls. The problem with e-mail is that it’s only part of the story. Unlike a phone conversation or an in-person meeting, the reader’s only clues about your feelings come in the words you type. This leaves a lot of room for interpretation. We’ve all been part of e-mail exchanges that start with a misunderstanding and spiral down from there. There’s hope for the medium though. It starts with writing to minimize misinterpretation.

1. Short is good. Too short is dangerous.
Sure, you’re overworked. You’re answering a lot of e-mails. Why not keep your replies as minimal as possible? Mainly because they’re going to be read by a human. And very often, we humans interpret minimally worded answers as an indicator of dissatisfaction. It’s OK to be concise but only if you can do it without coming off terse.

2. Season With Greetings
It’s tempting, especially with e-mail replies, to launch right into your message without an introductory greeting. While it saves typing, omitting the “Hi Dave:” or the “Thanks for your e-mail” also makes the reply less personal. Depending on what you have to say next, this may not make too much of a difference in the perceived tone of the message. But especially if what follows is bad news, the opening greeting can help soften the blow and make you seem like a partner, even if you’re saying something the recipient doesn’t want to hear.

3. Beware of Subjectivity
There’s a reason e-mail marketers spend years fine tuning their subject lines. The subject is the first impression that will shape the emotions and expectations the reader brings to your e-mail. Don’t blow it with your first words. Messages whose subjects sound like demands will be read as such, even if you’re carful with your prose in the body of the message.

4. Easy on the Opinion
To minimize negative interpretation, minimize the negatives. Assume that everything you write will be read as a glass half-empty. Dissatisfaction, negative opinions, and above, all indignation, should be kept to a minimum and worded as gingerly as possible. You can’t control how your e-mail will be interpreted but you can minimize the triggers likely to fire off negative assumptions from the reader.

5. Re-read. Re-read Again.
We all type fast. Or try to. Sometimes that means what’s in our heads doesn’t make it to the screen. Omitting a word, letting spell-check replace a misspelling, or funking up your phrasing can all happen without warning. The only way to catch these mistakes is to re-read your message. It’s time consuming. But one unfortunate typo can change the tone, or the meaning of your message. So, re-read. And if it’s really important, have somebody else read it too.

Posted by Sherman Dickman

Postbox Now Available in the Mac App Store

January 23, 2011
Mac App Store

Postbox is now available in the Mac App Store! This exciting new option will enable an even greater number of people to discover, purchase, use, and manage Postbox within their iTunes accounts.

There are some important things to know about Postbox in the Mac App Store, so we’ve compiled a full list of FAQs. Here’s a quick run down of the most common questions:

Can I install Postbox on more than one Mac?
Yes, you can install Postbox purchased from the Mac App Store on any and every Mac that you personally own and use. 

What languages does Postbox from the Mac App Store support?
Postbox from the Mac App Store is currently available in English.

A version of Postbox that contains support for German, French, Spanish (Spain), English (British), Italian, Dutch, Portuguese (Brazilian), Russian, and Swedish has been submitted for review by Apple, and we expect that this version will be available in a couple of weeks.

Are the versions from the Mac App Store and the Postbox Store the same?
Not at this time. There will sometimes be a slight lag between the versions available from the Postbox website and the Mac App Store due to the extra time required for Apple’s review process. Additionally, there may be slight differences in functionality in order to comply with Apple’s application guidelines. 

Why are Add-ons, and iCal and iPhoto integrations not supported for versions of Postbox purchased through the Mac App Store?
Apple requires that applications be self-contained, single application installation bundles that do not install code or resources in other locations. As such, we cannot support add-ons, iCal or iPhoto integrations for versions of Postbox sold and updated through the Mac App Store.

We’re currently working with Apple to determine if there are any possible work-arounds to these restrictions. If we do find a work-around, or if Apple revises their guidelines, we’ll be sure to submit a new version with this functionality enabled.

If I purchase through the Mac App Store, can I download a version from Postbox that supports Add-ons, iCal and iPhoto?
Yes, and you can do so free of charge!

However, once you copy the version of Postbox from our website into the Applications folder, updates from this point forward will be managed by Postbox’s update system as opposed to the Mac App Store.

Can I convert a purchase from the Postbox Store to a copy managed by the Mac App Store?
There’s no way to convert a Postbox Store purchase to a Mac App Store purchase without repurchasing Postbox on the Mac App Store. 

If you wish to purchase Postbox from the Mac App Store, just drag Postbox from your Applications Folder to the Trash, empty your Trash, restart your computer, and the Purchase button will then be re-enabled. Your mail settings and mail databases will not be affected. 

Is the Postbox Family Pack available in the Mac App Store?
Not at this time. If Apple provides this functionality in the Mac App Store, we’ll be sure to pursue it!

Are there student discounts in the Mac App Store?
We do not have special discounts for students in the Mac App Store. However, students can purchase from the Postbox Store for $19.95. Please visit our Student Discount page for details.

Posted by Sherman Dickman

Another Reason For Multiple E-Mail Accounts

January 21, 2011

We all know our employers have control over workplace e-mail. The standard legal thinking is that they own the system and therefore the messages. But as of last week, employers gained even more control with a ruling from a California court of appeals.

The Sacramento court ruled that e-mails between lawyers and their clients are no longer protected by attorney client privilege if they’re written at work. So, if you’re planning on suing your employer, pick up the phone.

More on the story at Wired News.

Posted by Sherman Dickman

Background Check

January 20, 2011

Before you click the next not-safe-for-work e-mail attachment, look over your shoulder. In the NSFW e-mail story of 2010, an Australian banker temporarily lost his job for opening nude photos e-mailed to him at work. How did he get busted? Uh, he opened the e-mails on TV.

During an evening news live segment from an investment firm, one unfortunate Dave Kiely can be seen in the background clicking through a number of fleshy e-mail attachments. While the video went viral, his employers sent him home and decided what to do with him.

In Dave’s favor:

  • The photos were less-than-nude shots from an issue of GQ.
  • The model, Miranda Kerr, made a public statement that he should keep his job.
  • Working against him:

  • Opening nude photos on the evening news.
  • Dave kept his job. This is a good place to mention that Postbox makes it easy to archive, find and view e-mail attachments. If, however, you’d rather view Dave in the act, we’ve got that too.

    Posted by Sherman Dickman

    Get Shorty

    January 19, 2011

    The too-long e-mail generally induces the following behavior in recipients:

    • A sigh
    • Closing the e-mail and marking it as “unread”
    • Getting around to it later
    • Skimming
    • Reading partway through and saying “yeah, yeah, I get it”

    Nobody wants to write the too-long e-mail but sometimes it’s unavoidable. Some things simply take a lot of prose to explain. Fortunately, there are some tricks to make a too-long e-mail less burdensome to the recipient.

    1. Write an outline.
    Despite her speech impediment and the faint smell of mothballs, your 9th grade English teacher was right. If you don’t know exactly what you want to say, you will dither around and waste words.

    2. Write short paragraphs, even if it takes a lot of them.
    Look at a newspaper. Long stories get broken up into lots of short, few-sentence paragraphs. Those little pauses make the page (or the message window) look less intimidating to the reader.

    3. Use bullets and numbered lists.
    Sites like eHow and Instructables break complicated explanations down into a few discrete steps. This kind of slicing and dicing makes for easier skimming.

    4. Employ the sub-head.
    Magazines and newspapers use short (often bold) lines of type to introduce sections of a longer article. You should to. In addition to breaking up a long grey page, they let readers know what’s coming so they can adjust their attention level.

    5. Get abstract.
    Every academic paper starts with an abstract, a few-sentence overview of what the paper will be about. Business and government reports use something similar: the executive summary. Whatever you call it, it’s a great way to let the reader evaluate the importance of the e-mail. If they can understand at a glance what it’s about, they may just choose to give the rest of the e-mail the time it deserves to be digested thoroughly.

    Posted by Sherman Dickman

    Positive Procrastination: The Later Box

    January 18, 2011

    There’s a famous line in Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina about families: Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. If Leo were writing on a PC in 2011, he might have said the same about e-mail. I can think of at least 50 kinds of unpleasant e-mails, everything from forty flavors of spam to the unsettling “I’d like to see you in my office.”

    One kind of unpleasant e-mail is a particular drain on workplace happiness and productivity. It’s the one that requires a very carefully worded reply. These e-mails happen all the time. Sometimes it’s a complaint from a disgruntled customer. Sometimes it’s a co-worker trying to pull you into a meeting you’d rather not attend. In themselves, the e-mails aren’t so bad. The problem is the dread associated with the reply, a dread so insidious that it can sap time and energy from your day.

    The trick, like so many workplace solutions, is avoidance. Just avoid dealing with the e-mail. Not forever, but long enough to get on with the rest of your day. Try this avoidance system: the Later Box.

    Create a folder (or a Topic tag in Postbox) specifically for those e-mails requiring careful replies. When you read an e-mail that makes that little voice in your head say “man, I don’t want to deal with this,” stick it in the folder and get on with your day. You’ll need a block of time to revisit your Later Box when you have the stomach crank through your replies.

    When and how you “process” these depends on your temperament. Some people can dispatch them first thing in the morning and begin the day with the satisfaction of knowing they’ve already tackled the toughest task of the day. For others, commute time on a train, bus or ferry is the perfect no-man’s land to spend half-an-hour in reply mode. But any way you do it, getting these e-mails out of your head for a few hours is one of the few productive kinds of procrastination.

    Posted by Sherman Dickman

    Be The Abbreviator

    January 14, 2011

    Nobody likes meetings. But nobody seems to know how to make them go away. We don’t have the answer either but we do have are a few tips to help shorten your next business epic.

    1. Arm Yourself with the Agenda
    Most meetings have agendas. But few of them get used properly. The agenda isn’t just a list of what to talk about, it’s a meter for measuring the progress of the meeting and a lever to move it along when it’s bogged down. Be the “agenda guy,” reminding people that you need to get to the next item before you all run out of time. It’s a great excuse to suggest that unresolved issues get tabled, worked on offline or postponed to the next inevitable meeting.

    2. The Secret Ballot
    Everybody knows that meetings without goals are a waste of time. A few of us even take the time to spell out those goals at the start of a meeting. What almost nobody does, however is to look at whether those goals were met at the end of the meeting. One way to implement this meeting post-mortem is to use a grading system. After each meeting, attendees slip a letter grade into a shoebox by the conference room door. Each grade should reflect one attendee’s opinion of how close the meeting came to meeting its goals. Consistently bad grades may be the lever you need to shake up how (and how often) meetings are run. You can even try to connect meeting grades to the bottom line with a Meeting ROI.

    3. Threaten Longer Meetings
    One reason meetings don’t work is that attendees don’t come prepared. They haven’t read the pre-meeting packet or taken the time for some other bit of homework intended to make the meeting go faster. One way around this is to offer attendees the option of even longer meetings. When planning a meeting, give attendees the choice of doing their pre-meeting homework in the first half-hour of the meeting. Most will get the idea.

    Posted by Sherman Dickman

    Productivity Pills? Possibly.

    January 11, 2011

    It’s hard enough to concentrate at the office without our own bodies working against us. But that’s exactly what happens to most office workers in the early afternoon. Endocrinologists call it the postprandial dip and it stems from a drop in blood glucose as your body concentrates more on digesting lunch than on helping you concentrate.

    Until the beginning of the last decade, your only (legal) option for a workday energy boost was a cup of coffee and a glazed donut. Then came the tidal wave of energy drinks. From Rockstar to 5-Hour Energy, there are now dozens of drinks. Despite claims of the benefits of amino acids and B vitamins, most nutritionists attribute any energy boost to their high levels of sugar and caffeine.

    A less sugar-laden way to boost concentration may be available in herbal supplements. Leading the list are ginseng and gingko biloba. The first is credited by advocates with curing everything from impotence to diabetes. Despite the hype though, there is some evidence that it can improve abstract thinking and mental reaction times. Ginseng, taken in combination with gingko biloba, it might even be a memory booster, according to the National Institute of Health’s MedLine Plus database.

    So far, most of the research into ginkgo biloba has been to gauge its effectiveness as a defense against Alzheimer’s and dementia. While less research has been done on how good it is at improving concentration in healthy adults, there may be something to it. One British study showed improved cognitive reaction times peaking about 2.5 hours after taking just one dose of the extract. Not exactly a quick fix but potentially healthier than a caffeine and sugar bomb. Or you may be better of with a clandestine afternoon nap.

    Posted by Sherman Dickman