An Empty Inbox

Much has been written about how to tame one’s inbox. All of the suggestions would probably fill an inbox.

The February 2019 issue of Fast Company notes that 2.6 hours each day are spent on email, which amounts to 27 days each year.

That is a lot of time spent on email. And the topic was top of mind because as we were closing out 2018, a team member asked how the rest of us manage our inboxes. She was still wrestling with hers. We all shared our approaches, and reassured her that we, too, were still wrestling.

The takeaway for me is that one size doesn’t fit all. I use my inbox as a to do list. It works well for me. I also maintain folders, but they are for reference and filing. If I move an email into a folder without first taking action on it, I’ll likely never get back to it. I know others who move every email into a folder and then begin to take action.

For me, about 50 emails in my inbox is reasonable. More than that, and I know I am falling behind. In December just before I left the office for almost two weeks, a tiny miracle happened.

Actually, it was a huge miracle – I left with zero emails in my inbox. I was able to address everything either by handling it or scheduling it on my calendar for 2019.

What an incredible feeling. Here’s what an empty inbox looks like:

Empty Inbox.PNGOf course, within a few hours, the emails were arriving. They didn’t bother me, though, because most I could delete. And the few that remained were ready for me to handle in 2019.

Here are a few email tips to get you set for 2019:

  • Make your inbox work for you. That’s a great tip from Carson Tate, who offers a course in taming the inbox and is the author of “Work Simply: Embracing the Power of Your Personal Productivity Style.”
  • Set aside 20 minutes midweek to review your inbox to ensure that you have not overlooked any critical emails. I also delete those that require no action and offer no information.
  • Move reference emails to a retrieval system. I either file emails into clearly defined folders or I file the attachment into a World folder so I can retrieve it later.
  • Don’t reply to an email the second it arrives. You don’t want to set the expectation that you are always available. It’s important to focus on your priorities.
  • Stick to a schedule when checking and responding to email. This is advice I gleamed from Michael Smart. It resonated because he helped me to realize that emails are not my priority. They often are a means to reach my priorities – whether that is pitching a story and having it placed in a news outlet or tracking down information to write a blog post.

What tips do you have for taming your inbox?

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Review, Celebrate Your Best Work Through Contests

Each year around this time, I say to my colleague, “I don’t think I have anything to enter.” I’m referring to a communications contest she and I typically enter each year.

She, fortunately, rolls her eyes and reminds me of some good work that I have done.

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Photo by Cynthia Price

Whether we win an award or not, entering the contest has merit for us. Before entering the contest, we review our work. When we get our entries back, we read the judges’ comments and see what we can learn from them. If we win an award, we feel great about our work.

The review process itself is a good measure of our work. We start of by collectively looking at the categories and reviewing our work product throughout the past year. We determine if we have good stuff to enter. Some of the work we consider we probably could have elevated the results further so we decide not to enter that work. Reviewing what we have done also reminds us of communications we might replicate in the coming year.

The judges’ comments also are important. They offer suggestions that can make the work stronger. I find the comments useful as I embark on the next project. When they note that I’ve done something well, I feel good, but I also want to be sure to replicate it if appropriate.

Most communicators work hard on an article, a campaign or a project, but when it’s finished, we quickly move on to the next thing. An award for the article, campaign or project acknowledges the great work that was done and that others recognize the effort.

Sometimes, it’s good to smell the roses – or the ink on the certificate of achievement.

Note: For tips on how to enter a contest, check out this post.

Hello 2019!

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Photo by Cynthia Price

My office closes for the last week of the year so my team met a few days before to think about 2019 and to recap 2018.

We touted our successes, acknowledged our challenges and reassessed our 2019 goals, making a few tweaks. We left the office energized for our break and ready to ring in 2019.

A professional communications group to which I belong is doing something similar. We’re meeting for a few hours on a Saturday. We’ll connect with each other, share our intentions for the year, participate in small group discussions and have opportunities for professional headshots to be taken.

I do the same in my personal life. I reread my journal and look through my desk calendar. What made me happy in 2018? What do I want to do more of in 2019? What do I wish I had done differently?

I read a great post from Cy Wakeman that life is about the choices we make. In 2019 I am choosing to step up, live in joy and help others.

How will you spend 2019?

How to be the Perfect Speaker

Somehow this year I found myself wrangling speakers for three conferences. It was a good challenge, and I now know how to identify my perfect speaker.

The perfect speaker gets deadlines, is respectful and is engaging. Here how they do that —

Submit your bio, photo and workshop description on time. Conferences have many speakers and if everyone is late with their details, it throws off the entire schedule. The information is needed to post to the website, to send a “Save the Date” card and to develop the program. Speakers should also adhere to the required content lengths. If I have to edit someone’s bio, it may not be to their liking, and I’m inevitably stuck in a back and forth email volley until it’s the right length.

Confirm your presentation requirements at least two weeks in advance. Conference organizers want to ensure that they have everything speakers need for an effective presentation. Usually organizers will reach out and ask, but as a speaker, if you have a special request, let them know. Many years ago, we had a speaker who requested a bar stool for her presentation. Knowing that ahead of time prevented last-minute scrambling.

Remain on point. The session description provided to the conference is in many ways a contract. When attendees read it, they are expecting to hear that content. Don’t disappoint the audience. When creating your presentation, make sure it fits within the allotted time so the session does not run long. Ideally, the conference will provide a time keeper to keep everything moving, but if it’s a small conference, do your part to stay on time.

Repeat the question. It’s challenging to hear in rooms. When you take audience questions, repeat them so others will know what was asked. It also means that your answer will make more sense.

Decide on your equipment. Some speakers like to use their own equipment. If that’s the case, be sure you have all of the necessary adapters and power cords. Just in case, have your presentation on a thumb drive. If you don’t want to bring your own laptop and will be using the conference equipment, provide your presentation in advance so it can be loaded and tested on the equipment that will be used. And again, bring a backup copy on a thumb drive.

Connect. Audience members are looking forward to learning from you. They may have more questions following your presentation. If your schedule permits, take the time to connect with audience members who rush to the front with their business cards. Some who rush to the front may simply want a selfie with you because you inspired them. Talk about a great reward!

Promoting Your Experts

If your job is to get media placements, you may want to consider how you promote your experts.

It’s not enough to respond to media inquiries and connecting the reporter with an expert in your organization. Nor is it enough to pitch your expert directly to reporters.

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Image courtesy of Deanne Taenzer, ExpertFile

In today’s short and ever evolving news cycle, you have to be ready. And that means being able to raise the profile of your experts.

How do you raise their profile? It’s not as hard as you may think. In fact, you likely already have many of the pieces that would enable you to do so.

I picked up some great tips on this topic from Deanne Taenzer, ExpertFile’s vice president for business development. She is an authority on developing online thought leadership content programs that use an organization’s experts.

“There is so much scattered content,” Taenzer said. “We need to collect it in one place so others [reporters] can find it.”

It’s about making it easy for journalists to find the experts they need. Journalists seek experts who are relevant, credible, engaging, influential and responsive.

Content pieces that contribute to an expert’s authority include:

  • Biography Create a current biography of your expert, including a photograph.
  • Media Assets Include a list of all media outlets in which the person has been quoted or appeared.
  • Social Media Note the person’s social media if it’s relevant and if the person has a strong following. If your expert tweets about a relevant news story, it’s likely a reporter will see it and express interest in speaking with her.
  • Research Include a list of published research and links, if relevant. This demonstrates the expert’s scholarly work.
  • Speaking Engagements List what groups the expert has spoken to and what the topic was. Include the audience size if known.

These pieces address the needs of journalists. When they are located in one place, it makes it that much easier for the journalist to find the appropriate expert.

The idea is to create a directory for your experts. You can partner with a firm like ExpertFile or do it yourself.

Peeling Back the Curtain of Podcasting

Podcasts can play a key role in your mix of communications platforms.

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Kayla Dwyer shares tips on effective podcasting. (Photo by Cynthia Price)

I recently heard Kayla Dwyer provide a primer on the world of podcasting. She is the host and producer of the Allentown Morning Call’s weekly news podcast, Valley View.

Dwyer’s podcast dissects the area’s top stories from the reporters’ lenses, peeling back the newsroom curtain. Podcasting was an ideal way to do this since it “allows you to share your thought processes,” she said. “Podcasting can reach the limits of intimacy without breaching authenticity.”

A benefit of podcasting is that it allows you to multitask and be mobile. “You dedicate a fraction of your brain to a voice on your phone,” she said. Listening to a podcast is easier than watching a video, which requires you to focus on the video, the audio and the mannerisms. “It’s a lot to digest,” she said.

Podcasts also are popular with millennials, and Dwyer said that benefits her newspaper. “It’s an investment,” she said. “If you get them listening to your podcast, maybe they will read the news, too.”

If you decide to develop a podcast, Dwyer said it is important to establish goals for the podcast early. Other things to consider include the tone of the podcast, the length, the format and how much production will be required. Valley View airs weekly and is less than 30 minutes long.

Dwyer spends two full days creating her weekly podcast. When she is not working on it, she also is a general assignment reporter and online editor.

“I spend the most time editing the first 30 seconds. That’s where people decide if they want to invest 20 minutes in you,” Dwyer said.

The biggest lesson she’s learned with the podcast is how to be a marketer. “I need to be constantly looking for avenues to share my podcast,” she said. She suggested asking every member of your organization to subscribe to the podcast since the more subscribers a podcast has, the higher it will appear in searches.

Valuing a Content Calendar

A recent conversation I had revolved around how to grow a subscriber base for a non-fiction literary publication. I asked my friend if he was blogging about the publication’s content or its authors. Was he posting to Facebook or Twitter?

He said he was not because he was concerned about having enough content. I encouraged him to look at the publication for content and repurpose it. The key, though, was to create a content calendar.

How to create a content calendar

How does one do that and what should it include? You could do it the traditional way and post all the months to a wall and then put pushpins on the days to identify when content needs to be shared. Pushpin colors would differentiate the platforms. The same process works online, although there are no pushpins. All you need to do is search for a template that will suit your needs.

For this blog, I list in a Word document all the dates I plan to post for an entire year. I then note if there are events or conferences I plan to attend that could generate content. I also note any significant celebrations or anniversaries such as World Reading Day.

Driving traffic

Driving traffic to the posts is important. I’ve linked all of my social media accounts to the blog, which ensures promotion across platforms. I also have a separate content calendar for Twitter. For each blog post I write 3-5 tweets with a link to the post and sprinkle those throughout the month in which the post appeared. I note on my Twitter content calendar what the day’s tweet will be. I’m also tweeting organically on any given day. Maintaining a content calendar specific to my posts ensures that I will tweet regularly.

My friend said, “That’s a lot of work. I don’t know if I can do this every day.”

Time blocks

The good news is that you don’t have to do it every day. I work on my blog in time blocks, meaning I devote three to four hours to the blog on a specific day. During that time, I identify potential topics, research topics, write draft copy, and finalize draft posts. I then schedule the ones that are ready. Next I review my posts and write the appropriate tweets. I do this two or three times a month, and I’m good for a month or two.

The blog posts and tweets are added to the respective calendars. I can identify any holes where content is missing. If I have managed to schedule further out, I know I have given myself some breathing room. When that happens, I find I develop more ideas because I’m feeling less pressured – and less stressed.

Ultimately, that’s the beauty of a content calendar.