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Canned Responses: Which Emails Should You Standardize?

Canned Responses: Which Emails Should You Standardize?

    I’ve got a whole stack of standard responses that I cut and paste into emails. There are certain requests for information, for instance, that I get on a pretty regular basis. I don’t really have an interest in retyping the same message over and over again, so I have saved my commonly used emails and just cut and paste. Gmail made that whole process much easier this week with the new Canned Response feature available from Google Labs. I have it turned on and I’ve been converting all my saved messages into canned responses. It’s given me an opportunity to take a look at the messages I routinely use, and I figured I’d share them with you.

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    My Standard Emails

    1. Availability — Whenever someone wants to meet, whether in person, over the phone or online, I find it easiest to just paste in my normal availability and best times for meetings. I do tweak the email after I get my normal availability listed; after all, I might have a non-reoccuring appointment to take into consideration. But, for many of us, a general email about what time of day we are free isn’t going to vary much from week to week.
    2. Forms — I have a couple of reports that I have to send out once a week. I’ve created basic text forms, where I just add the current week’s information. I do something similar with my invoices, but I have to be very careful about making sure that my books and emails match up.
    3. Nagging Emails — There are a whole set of emails that I really hate having to send and I’ve lumped them all into my ‘nagging’ emails pile. I’ve got form emails for reminding clients that payments are late, that someone has violated my copyright and all the other letters that ten years ago I would have just Xeroxed and stuffed in an envelope.
    4. Cover Letters — As a freelancer, I’m pretty much always looking for work. I know a couple of full-time employees who are also on a perpetual hunt, too. We all make a habit of looking for work that will fit us and responding with a cover letter, a resume and some samples. It’s exceedingly rare that I’ll write a cover letter from scratch. I’m pretty confident in my cover letter; it’s already landed me plenty of work. There are some jobs that I don’t do more than change the name at the top before sending out my email.
    5. Websites — I belong to a couple of websites that I routinely receive email from that I have to respond to. One, for instance, is a site that allows me to trade books. I have to email other members to exchange shipping information on a regular basis. This category of emails is one reason I’m particularly excited about Canned Responses: I want to set up filters to handle responding to such emails automatically without my having to do anything except go to the post office. Craigslist is the sort of site that a canned response is especially ideal for.
    6. Projects — When I’m starting a new project, there’s a few general question I like to start with so that everyone involved has a similar idea of what we’re working on. While those questions don’t generally make up a complete email starting a project, I like being able to drop them in easily. I have a few other bits and pieces of text that are useful on emails for a lot of different projects, such as requests for certain types of information necessary to proceed.

    The Key is Customization

    I have plenty of other standard emails. But I don’t want you to get the idea that I only send out form emails — that I never put thought into the messages I send out. With only a few exceptions, it’s pretty rare that I send out one of my standard responses without adding, tweaking or generally changing it up. My standard responses are more templates than form letters, in most cases.

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    I started using templates as a way to cut down the amount of time I spent staring at my email inbox. If I have at least a starting point for the most common emails I receive, I can pound out the full email in short order. I can answer a full day’s worth of email in half the time that it would take if I started from scratch on each one. Lately, it seems like it takes more time for me to copy and paste a response than it does for me to tweak that message for its recipient.

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    If I think I’ve had to answer the same question twice, I generally save my response. I’ve got a pretty healthy file now — even though some of my responses aren’t actually useful on a very regular basis. But I’ve found that, as my stack of standard emails has grown, I’ve got some sort of template response for 90 percent of the email I get.

    Canned Response will make those template easier to manage, I think: I’ve used simple text files, TextExpander and even drafts in my Gmail account to try to manage my standard responses. While all of those options are okay, none of them are great — they weren’t really created with such a task in mind. But Canned Response really is made with this approach to email in mind. Those other methods will continue to work, however, if you aren’t interested in using Gmail.

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    Last Updated on August 6, 2020

    6 Reasons Why You Should Think Before You Speak

    6 Reasons Why You Should Think Before You Speak

    We’ve all done it. That moment when a series of words slithers from your mouth and the instant regret manifests through blushing and profuse apologies. If you could just think before you speak! It doesn’t have to be like this, and with a bit of practice, it’s actually quite easy to prevent.

    “Think twice before you speak, because your words and influence will plant the seed of either success or failure in the mind of another.” – Napolean Hill

    Are we speaking the same language?

    My mum recently left me a note thanking me for looking after her dog. She’d signed it with “LOL.” In my world, this means “laugh out loud,” and in her world it means “lots of love.” My kids tell me things are “sick” when they’re good, and ”manck” when they’re bad (when I say “bad,” I don’t mean good!). It’s amazing that we manage to communicate at all.

    When speaking, we tend to color our language with words and phrases that have become personal to us, things we’ve picked up from our friends, families and even memes from the internet. These colloquialisms become normal, and we expect the listener (or reader) to understand “what we mean.” If you really want the listener to understand your meaning, try to use words and phrases that they might use.

    Am I being lazy?

    When you’ve been in a relationship for a while, a strange metamorphosis takes place. People tend to become lazier in the way that they communicate with each other, with less thought for the feelings of their partner. There’s no malice intended; we just reach a “comfort zone” and know that our partners “know what we mean.”

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    Here’s an exchange from Psychology Today to demonstrate what I mean:

    Early in the relationship:

    “Honey, I don’t want you to take this wrong, but I’m noticing that your hair is getting a little thin on top. I know guys are sensitive about losing their hair, but I don’t want someone else to embarrass you without your expecting it.”

    When the relationship is established:

    “Did you know that you’re losing a lot of hair on the back of your head? You’re combing it funny and it doesn’t help. Wear a baseball cap or something if you feel weird about it. Lots of guys get thin on top. It’s no big deal.”

    It’s pretty clear which of these statements is more empathetic and more likely to be received well. Recognizing when we do this can be tricky, but with a little practice it becomes easy.

    Have I actually got anything to say?

    When I was a kid, my gran used to say to me that if I didn’t have anything good to say, I shouldn’t say anything at all. My gran couldn’t stand gossip, so this makes total sense, but you can take this statement a little further and modify it: “If you don’t have anything to say, then don’t say anything at all.”

    A lot of the time, people speak to fill “uncomfortable silences,” or because they believe that saying something, anything, is better than staying quiet. It can even be a cause of anxiety for some people.

    When somebody else is speaking, listen. Don’t wait to speak. Listen. Actually hear what that person is saying, think about it, and respond if necessary.

    Am I painting an accurate picture?

    One of the most common forms of miscommunication is the lack of a “referential index,” a type of generalization that fails to refer to specific nouns. As an example, look at these two simple phrases: “Can you pass me that?” and “Pass me that thing over there!”. How often have you said something similar?

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    How is the listener supposed to know what you mean? The person that you’re talking to will start to fill in the gaps with something that may very well be completely different to what you mean. You’re thinking “pass me the salt,” but you get passed the pepper. This can be infuriating for the listener, and more importantly, can create a lack of understanding and ultimately produce conflict.

    Before you speak, try to label people, places and objects in a way that it is easy for any listeners to understand.

    What words am I using?

    It’s well known that our use of nouns and verbs (or lack of them) gives an insight into where we grew up, our education, our thoughts and our feelings.

    Less well known is that the use of pronouns offers a critical insight into how we emotionally code our sentences. James Pennebaker’s research in the 1990’s concluded that function words are important keys to someone’s psychological state and reveal much more than content words do.

    Starting a sentence with “I think…” demonstrates self-focus rather than empathy with the speaker, whereas asking the speaker to elaborate or quantify what they’re saying clearly shows that you’re listening and have respect even if you disagree.

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    Is the map really the territory?

    Before speaking, we sometimes construct a scenario that makes us act in a way that isn’t necessarily reflective of the actual situation.

    A while ago, John promised to help me out in a big way with a project that I was working on. After an initial meeting and some big promises, we put together a plan and set off on its execution. A week or so went by, and I tried to get a hold of John to see how things were going. After voice mails and emails with no reply and general silence, I tried again a week later and still got no response.

    I was frustrated and started to get more than a bit vexed. The project obviously meant more to me than it did to him, and I started to construct all manner of crazy scenarios. I finally got through to John and immediately started a mild rant about making promises you can’t keep. He stopped me in my tracks with the news that his brother had died. If I’d have just thought before I spoke…

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