How to write emails that get read (and responded to)

On January 15, 2020, I participated in the NetSquared “Trends” event in Vancouver, Canada. We each had 5 minutes to share our message. As a project communications geek, I spoke about writing email for mobile.
Here are the key takeaways:

  • Ensure the subject line is clear and memorable – this could be the only thing that gets read
  • Include a one-line summary or Call to Action (CTA) at the top
  • Address the salutation to the person with a CTA – leave those being looped in for informational purposes only on the CC list
  • Use bold formatting or bulleted lists for skimming so the key points jump out of the prose
  • Put the story, detail or other background at the bottom (after the CTA)
  • Avoid responding to an existing thread with a new topic

Edit: I was snowed in the day of the event, so I recorded my presentation to share instead. The event was later cancelled due to the blizzard, however here’s the content anyway!

User manual of me

This is inspired mainly by the Rands “how to” post about his work and management style. I’ve been enjoying his writing for over a decade, so his is one of my favourites. The purpose of a user manual is to take the opportunity to share our preferences and working style, and also provide a few spoilers about our quirks.

I’ve wanted to write my own User Manual of Me for years now, and now that I’m working with a client to design theirs, I filled mine out for fun.

Note that this is a living document and will be updated as I continue to evolve towards total perfection.

Why I’m in this job.

What motivates me to come into work each day is that I’m doing my own thing. I approve my own clients and work on projects that inspire me and challenge me to grow personally and professionally.

The conditions I like to work in are:
Quiet with little distraction. I find it tough to focus on one conversation when there are several that I can hear. This is why you’ll often see me working with noise cancelling headphones. I am social and like people, so that coupled with the difficulty focusing means that the open office format is the Anti-Jessica.

In times of stress I prefer support to look like a simple “how are you”. I’ve found that if stress is acknowledged, it can be moved through. I’ve gotten pretty good at delegating so I’ll let you know if there’s something that needs delegating, and if I think you can help.

My best working patterns look like …
(what hours you like to be at the office, do you check anything from home outside of these hours, do you need to leave at a specific time, do you have a remote work arrangement)

I like to start early and take breaks throughout the day. I work on personal things, like my creative writing, before I start work for the day and I always make a day’s to-do list. I work remote FT and prefer video meetings to voice only. I only have one Vancouver-based client at the moment so I am not often in Vancouver. 

I add value to teams by…
(what role do you fill historically with the most success?)

I’m an executor. I often won’t get hung up in the creative details, I have a deep desire to get sh*t done and celebrate that sense of accomplishment with you. Give me clear goals and a good team and I’m excited. A decent team and draft goals will do as well. Just give me something to lead, please!

People often say I’m brilliant at….
(think of compliments you’ve received either at or outside of the office)

 running meetings! I wish this were something with more brilliance to it. I do love a well formatted meeting with clear roles, defined agenda that finishes 5 minutes early

Things I struggle with are ….
(What really grinds your gears, or irritates/annoys you?)

People who complain. I am working to be more patient with this, however as someone who has been through many challenges and created the life I want to have, I forget sometimes how overwhelming it was for me before I was empowered to make the changes. I’m sorry if I’m hard on you, and I’m working to instead figure out how to empower you. Come to me with solutions to go with the problems. Chances are, you’re closer to the situation and already know the best path through! Perhaps we’ll come up with something together, but I bet you already know what changes are needed.

Handling feedback

My thoughts on feedback are….
Feedback is important. I feel that we can explain ourselves to each other and save each other from guessing what’s going on. The closer to the moment that feedback can be given, the better, but it should be delivered as privately as possible. 

My preferred way to give feedback is….
It’s the same way that I like to receive feedback, privately, as soon as we can and face to face. Feedback in writing tends to sound significantly more serious than it is. If something needs to be on the record, let’s talk first and then write down our shared understanding and agree on outcomes and next steps.

How I like to receive feedback
E.g. immediately, 1:1, casually, over coffee, in writing, later on, collected together
I like to receive feedback as soon as possible, 1:1 if we can. In person would be great, but see above with working FT remote so a video call. Feedback can be moved through via talking faster than writing emails back and forth.

Communicating with me

(What’s your preferred medium for work related communications? How do you handle email, phone, IM, in person?)

This may sound old school but I prefer email. My personal phone is the same as my work phone, so it’s often out of sight when I’m focused on work. That’s why you may get an email response faster than a text or phone call.

I rarely answer my phone, but if I see it’s ringing and I see that it’s you, I’ll pick up. Please don’t leave  voicemail though, please email.

I have skype and I’m on numerous slack boards, but I check them sporadically. Even text is better than slack or skype, unless we’ve worked out a specific arrangement for your specific project.

I check email at least once an hour during business hours – 8-4pm. You can expect a response within a business day, unless it’s clear that the email was for informational purposes only – i.e. there’s no action on my part needed.

A meeting is required when there’s a group discussion and/or decision. If you’re on my team, you can see my calendar and please book what’s needed. If you’re a client, let me know a few times that work, or give me access to your calendar to book a time. I prefer meetings that have a specific agenda, and for any information related to the meeting to be circulated in advance. Not everyone will have a chance to review in advance, but I’ll certainly do my best. This saves time in the actual meeting so we can get to the point.

People might misunderstand me when I …
(Have you ever found yourself explaining a quirk or nuance of your personality that you wish someone knew before working with you?)

I’m funny by nature, though I recognize that some of my humour is poorly timed. I’m sorry if I do this to you and it’s something I’m working on. I’m learning that just because my brain points out a joke that’s Monty Python worthy, it doesn’t need to be made. I derail myself with this sometimes too and I’m really working on balancing this out without turning into a humourless robot.

I have learned how to compartmentalize at work and it’s served me well. That’s why if you talk about something that isn’t on topic for a meeting, you may get a puzzled look. I haven’t forgotten who you are, what you’re witnessing is me actively context switching. This varies based on my workload (how many clients and projects I have active, is this my third back to back meeting, etc)

I’m excited you’re here and by reading this I feel you’re giving me permission to be me. I really appreciate that.

That was a lot of reading! Here is a picture of a kitten gazing off into the distance at its bright future.

Oh the places you’ll go

Though most of my Project Management Consulting work is remote and we mainly see each other via video conference, I’ve also been enjoying a bit of travel lately to work with clients in person. Here are a few shots from my travels in July and August, 2019.

yukon

I showed up a couple days early to check out the gorgeous terrain around Whitehorse – this picture is from a trail run in Kluane National Park, home of Canada’s largest mountains.

Long days lead to poolside work – Menlo Park, CA
I was onsite at the facebook campus working with Antenna Consulting on a Research Program discovery.

scooter commute

Had fun commuting via scooter in Calgary, AB! Lime rentals has partnered with Calgary for a bike and scooter sharing pilot. This thing really ripped! I showed up at my client’s office still giggling from the ride in.

It was great to meet the GreenPath team in person in Calgary! We got so much done together I forgot to get a group pic, so here is the in-office banner.

I went to Banff National Park for the first time, the weekend before visiting GreenPath. This is the view after hiking up Sulphur Mountain – top of the Banff Gondola.

I’m excited to be working with such a variety of interesting clients already. Travelling to work with the team in person is a real treat, however I’m happy to be settled back at home in Squamish, BC and keeping the velocity up on each of my projects.

I love teaching

Jessica Evans PMP, project manager with thank you slide at end of training
there is a 100% chance of cat gifs in the presentation deck

I’ve always loved teaching, and project management changed the way I see and do business. Teaching project management combines two of my passions and I’m excited to do more of it. This isn’t a boiler plate regurgitated presentation that I could recite with my eyes closed. I work directly with your team to understand their current capabilities and identify opportunities where we can step up their skills without overwhelming them. The workshop / presentation will be interactive and customized to the team’s needs.

I call it “Project Management as an Attitude” (PMaaA). Ensuring a project’s success isn’t just the responsibility of the Project Manager, if that’s even a formal role on the team. Everyone on the project team can contribute towards the project’s success when they understand the methodologies and tools to do so.

I’d love to hear from you – please reach out to see what sort of training I could provide your team. Training can be a stand alone engagement, or we can package it with other services. Teaching helps me to keep my skills sharp and up to date and I find it’s truly rewarding.

The return to freelancing

It’s with mixed emotion that I announce my departure from OXD (formerly OpenRoad Communications), where I had the privilege to be on their leadership team as Director, Client Services for almost five years.

I’m very proud of our work together—formalizing the PM team structure and professional services team operational process, and being involved in all aspects of the business from sales opportunities and pitches, through staffing for execution, and measuring revenue and reporting results of closed projects.

This was a challenging decision that I didn’t take lightly and took months to finalize. However, I can state with 100% confidence that now is the right time. The team is in good shape and the structure is in place to continue to support them without needing me personally at the helm.

It’s a huge leap to leave a stable, familiar, full-time job to leap into the unknown. I’m confident that my existing network will lead me to opportunities so I can experience and realize the sense of accomplishment with many clients.

So here I am! Happy to work with you on Project Management coaching, project management for hire, and/or operational consulting. I’m excited for the opportunities that this change affords me.

Get in touch! 🙂

The unicorn of jobs

At some point when I was little, someone (a distant relative?  a friend of my parents?) decided that I collected cat figurines. Event after event I would be gifted cat figurines. It isn’t that I had anything against cats, I just wasn’t sure what all the cat figurines were about. Eventually I even had a little shelving unit in my bedroom where I displayed my collection – proud but confused – why so many cat figurines in my life?

A couple years later, the cat figurines were replaced by turtles. I vaguely recall commenting that I thought turtles were cool and slowly my collection of dustables converted to turtles. I still have a few kicking around that have made it through the many purges between life chapters. Why people chose to gift me turtles, I may never know.

Lately it’s been unicorns.  I swear it started as a joke, because, you know, UNICORNS. They’re a bit ridiculous and more than a bit adorably mythical. They became my signature and I enjoyed working them into presentation decks like little prancing easter eggs – just to see who was paying attention. They’d flash between slides Fight Club style, just because I believe in having fun at work. Unicorns were fun! However, I didn’t understand what happened when one plays with unicorn power – they start showing up in life and now they’re tightly woven into my identity.  At the time, unicorns celebrated a renaissance and they were taken on in common language to identify that which is tough to find or believe it exists.

This summer I took a short term contract with a Gastown agency. I found that http://www.openroad.ca was really special – the people and their approach to business. When my contract was up, I didn’t want to leave, and I recently accepted a position there as Director, Project Services.

I’m excited because the role is the right balance of challenge with familiarity.  I couldn’t get this involved in a company without being an employee so here I go!

A big thanks to the clients I worked with while freelancing.  Thanks to my accountant and my lawyer for teaching me how to start and maintain a corporation. The business is now dormant because, you see, unicorns do exist.

Jessica Evans, PMP

Know when to fold ’em

No no, project management isn’t a gamble in terms of either winning or losing, but at any point after the initial planning phase, you’re continually measuring, gauging and thinking through options.  Most projects are longer than a poker game, so the cycle of evaluation repeats itself.  Do the goals we set at the outset still make sense?  Are we still going in the right direction or have we course corrected so many times that we’re in a trajectory perpendicular to the one we set out on?

… and know when to walk away.

I announced earlier on this blog that I was super stoked to be leading this year’s TEDxSquamish.  Now I’ve put this project to bed.  Within the two months that I was building the project, I met some really cool people in Squamish.  One of them was Craig, who is basically the godfather to TEDxSquamish – it was his blood, sweat and tears that brought TEDx to this town in the first place.  But then a series of Super Awesome things happened in his life and he had to leave the project.  I moved forward for another month but during this month things stopped flowing.

I had set a go/no-go regarding the team that needed to be in place in order for me to well, have a team to lead.  Especially in these volunteer roles, it’s easy to take on so much “cause I can”.  Yes, these are positions that I’m capable of doing but I can’t do them all.  A few people from the first year were available but most weren’t able to take on the commitment.

It was a tough decision.  I had spoken of that Go/No-go point so many times but I really didn’t believe that I’d be faced with a No-go.  Wow, I’ve announced this on my blog, I’ve affiliated myself with it on Facebook… but I know better than to continue with something just because I said I would.

Things stopped flowing.  My gut feel kicked in.  I knew that if I carried on, the work would pile up and I’d begin to resent the cause.  Nothing good can be born from a place of resentment… I’m not sure I have proof of that, it just doesn’t seem like something worth dabbling in!

However!  The Project Lead position for TEDxSquamish is now available.  If you believe you can build a team and see this thing through, I would love to attend.

Careful what you wish for

There are valuable lessons in project and client management everywhere in life.  Here’s the Tale of the Soggy Sandwich:

Every morning on the way to my client’s office, I would stop at the cafe across the street and order the same thing:  a cappuccino and a breakfast sandwich.

Included with the sandwich was a plastic bag, plastic cutlery, and a little container of salsa.  Since these things just went straight to the landfill, all I needed was the sandwich.  I started changing my order:  No bag, no salsa or that stuff, please.

This normally led to a conversation to confirm that I, in fact, did not want any of these accoutrements.  I saw the extended conversation as a time waster and tried to be more straightforward:  Just the sandwich, please.

This still seemed to lead to a verbal confirmation about not requiring the other things.

More efficiency was needed!  One morning I tried:  Just grill it, nothing else.

Right?  The sandwich comes from the cooler, then was grilled for my pleasure.  By giving them instruction on what TO do, I could achieve my desired outcome, right?

It was pretty gross.  Turns out there’s a brief cycle in the microwave to remove the chill, then it’s grilled.  I had instructed them to skip that step

As I sat at my desk choking down my soggy-on-the-inside, toasty-on-the-outside sandwich, I reflected on how I brought this on myself.  By telling the sandwich preparation expert how to do their job, I displayed my lack of understanding of what their process was and demanded they skip steps that would ultimately lead to my cozy sandwich of satisfaction.

Take the time to communicate.  Ask for what you need and allow the expert to determine how to go about delivering this to you.

Often, clients come up with interesting, sometimes bizarre requests.  It’s our job as the expert to draw them out, to understand the base need behind the ask, rather than to blindly deliver exactly what they’ve asked for.

Conversely, if you’ve hired someone for their expertise, trust that you’ve chosen the right person and give them the freedom to do their job well.