Jacqueline Jensen

Community Evangelist | Piktochart

In January, we launched our newest community connection spot online – our monthly Blab series. Our team thinks it’s important to share valuable content with not only our user community, but with startups, designers, educators, and marketers all across the globe.

Did you catch our past guests tell us more about topics they are passionate about?

This month, we wanted to explore the subject of productivity. When a team faces productivity challenges, everything from Facebook to the office layout takes blame. Our team has been steadily growing since we launched in 2012, and we are now 46 people across 5 continents. Like many teams, we face our own productivity challenges and could always improve how we do things here at Piktochart.

When it comes to productivity, Boomerang is a well-known name. So, we called upon Chris Cichon to help dispel the myths, give us easy to implement tricks, and share tools and resources online for perfecting our productivity game!

Chris heads up marketing at Boomerang. Boomerang is the leader in thoughtful email productivity software that empowers people to focus on what matters. Chris is passionate about helping people be more productive with their email so that they can spend more time growing their businesses. He has educated thousands of people about how they can be more efficient in their inbox.

When he isn’t concocting marketing experiments, Chris enjoys triathlons, craft beer, community, exploring new restaurants, and being an extrovert.

Screen Shot 2016-04-29 at 12.05.18 PM.png This time around, we had 27 live viewers watch at some point during the 50 minutes we were live. The replay count since we went offline has been steadily climbing too!


What’s the biggest thing that most people do wrong when checking email?

“The biggest thing people do wrong is that they check their email continually throughout the day,” said Chris. “The biggest issue is that they leave their inbox open all of the time. They are constantly interrupted by notifications.”

According to one study, people get an average of 147 emails each day. If you think about an 8-hour work day, that’s an email every 4 minutes. On average, people spend 2.5 hours each day in their inbox. That’s almost a third of their workday!

Screen Shot 2016-05-02 at 1.42.00 PM.png

(Source: Boomerang)

Chris suggests setting aside a few times during the day to check your email. Times he suggested in the Blab were 9am, 1pm, and 4pm. This allows you to focus on other tasks on your to-do list the rest of the time.

Chris also explained why letting other people set your to-do list for you is a big no-no.

“That’s a tough thing to put into practice,” he said. “If someone on your team needs something urgently, it’s easy to think that’s your to-do list each day. You have to prioritize what’s actually most important to do each day. When a new task comes, reassess and figure out where you can prioritize the new task.”

“Don’t let the urgent take the place of the important.” – @Cichonship, Marketing at @Boomerang, on #productivity.Click To Tweet

Chris suggested viewers check out Eisenhower Box, a proven time management technique. “It’s all about working on those important things, rather than just on the urgent things.”

Eisenhower Matrix.jpg

(Source: http://jamesclear.com/eisenhower-box)

What are 3 tips to be more efficient with dealing with emails. What’s your email routine?

Chris started by saying that although he is passionate about productivity, he is by no means perfect. He suggested taking 2 or 3 tips from the Blab and trying them out to see if they help improve productivity. Sometimes, there are so many tips and tricks presented that people can feel overwhelmed.

He suggested that to be more efficient with emails, we could try these three tips:

  1. Turn off email notifications. Instead, set aside 2-3 times per day to focus on your inbox.
  2. Write simpler messages.
  3. Send emails at the best time of day for the recipient.

Turn off email notifications

Chris suggested that email notifications are productivity kryptonite. It takes an average of 64 seconds to fully recover from being interrupted by an email.  “You don’t even need to read the email,” explained Chris. “Simply getting the notification is enough to take you away from the work you were doing.”

Chris went on to explain that email is an asynchronous form of communication, unlike a synchronous form of communication like a telephone call. When someone calls on the telephone, a real-time, back-and-forth dialogue takes place. Email, on the other hand, is a form of communication where the recipient does not expect an immediate response.

“If something is urgent, they might mark the email as such, but chances are that if it’s an emergency, they will call you,” he said. Because of this, you don’t have to get back to your emails right away. Chris suggested that it’s ok to wait a few hours, and that’s actually better sometimes.

“Email begets more email,” Chris said. “The more emails you send out, the more replies you get back in. It feeds itself.”

To combat getting distracted, simply turn off email notifications. Replace those notifications throughout the day with three set times that you check email. Manage all of your email at those times, leaving the rest of your day for focused work time.

Write simpler messages

The Boomerang team recently looked at what types of email content get the highest response rate. The team detailed their findings in this recent blog post – 7 Tips for Getting More Responses to Your Emails (With Data!)

They found emails written at the 3rd grade reading level performed the best. In fact, the team found that emails written at this level were responded to 36% more often than emails written at a college reading level, and a 17% higher response rate than emails written even at a high school reading level.

“Reading level means the number of words in a sentence and the number of syllables per word,” he said. “The data shows you can get more responses to your email if you write simpler emails.”

Screen Shot 2016-05-02 at 2.14.18 PM.png

(Source: Boomerang)

Chris said if you think back to people receiving an average of 147 emails each and every day, this makes sense. Many times, we are all guilty of skimming.

“You should make it as easy as possible for someone to understand your email and find out what questions you are asking so they can get back to you quickly,” he suggested.

The Boomerang team shared on their blog that the sweet spot for email length is between 50-125 words, which yields a response rate above 50%.

Send emails at the best time

Chris admitted that this last tip is his favorite.

“We are actually a productivity company and we made a plugin that allows you to schedule emails,” explains Chris. “Because of this, we analyzed the data to see when the best time is to send an email to get the most responses. And this is just personal emails, not marketing or sales emails.”

The team found the optimal time to send an email is between 6:00am and 7:00am in the recipient’s time zone.

Screen Shot 2016-05-02 at 2.33.53 PM.png

(Source: Boomerang)

Chris said this hour in the morning makes sense. When people first get into the office, they grab a cup of coffee and open their inbox.

The second best time is during lunchtime between noon and 1:00pm. Although you’d that people are likely out to lunch with colleagues, at the gym, or running errands on their lunch break, Chris said it makes sense that the first thing they would do when they come back is check their inbox.

“One of the biggest tips we give for how to manage your email more effectively is how to manage your recipients more effectively,” Chris said. “Thoughtfully scheduling your emails is one of the ways to do that.”

When is the best time to send an email to get the most responses?

Since Chris had already covered the next question on the Upvoter page, he wanted to add an extra dimension – which days of the week are best to send an email to get a good response rate?

Interestingly, Chris and the team at Boomerang found that weekdays are all pretty much the same. They didn’t find a huge difference between Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday. They notice a slight drop off on Fridays and then over the weekend.

He mentioned that the days of the week and times you send emails is something that certain industries should be especially aware of. Entrepreneurs, freelancers, and teachers are all examples Chris cited for roles that tend to work nontraditional hours and are vulnerable to having to be “always available” to investors, clients, and parents.

“It’s good to set expectations about when you are available. Even if you end up working late at night or on the weekends, think about scheduling your emails to go out the next business day morning,” suggested Chris. “That way, you avoid someone replying to your email thinking you can quickly reply back. Sending the next morning will help you come off more professional as well as set good work-life boundaries.”

Tell us about a company that moved from having so-so productivity to awesome productivity and communication. How did they do it?

Chris pointed to his own team at Boomerang as an example of a company that has improved their productivity. For many modern workplaces, instant messaging apps like HipChat or Slack are becoming more and more common.

“We use Slack at Boomerang, and we really like it,” shared Chris. “But we found being able to be interrupted internally at any moment hurt our productivity. The same thing we were seeing in our data happening with email notifications was happening with Slack alerts. We found Slack notifications to be really distracting.”

To combat this challenge, the team at Boomerang set a time every Wednesday afternoon from 2:00-5:00pm that they dubbed “Maker Time.” The team turns off Slack, no meetings are held, and each team member focuses on what they call “deep work.”

“Work that requires your full focus and takes time is ‘deep work.’ For engineers, this might be working on fixing a complex bug or building a new feature,” Chris explained. “For me, it could be brainstorming ideas for a partnership or writing a blog post. During these three hours, we each think about what we want to put our mind to without interruption. Maker Time has been a huge boost in our team’s productivity.”

Another benefit to “Maker Time” is that Chris notes feeling less stressed on Wednesdays. “I know that people can’t interrupt me and send over quick asks. I get time to focus,” he said.

Another company Chris points to is Wieden+Kennedy, a full-service, creatively driven advertising agency based in Portland, Oregon with offices around the world. Recently, Wieden+Kennedy London started implementing new work rules. The agency barred staff from organizing meetings before 10am and after 4:00pm in a bid to stop its employees coming into work too early and leaving too late. No team member was held to the expectation of working more than 40 hours a week. Staff has also been told not to send or read work emails after 7:00pm and are encouraged to leave work at 4:30pm on Fridays.

“They were having challenges with work-life balance, and it was harmful to their culture,” Chris said. “It was hurting employees because they felt like they always had to be ‘on.’ They started using Boomerang to schedule emails so if someone is working at night or on the weekends, they schedule the email for the next business day to avoid putting pressure on the recipient to respond outside work hours.”

Chris notes that high performers will often think of new ideas or want to work on something during their off-hours, but it’s important that asks aren’t coming their way from within the company as well during that period of time because it’ll quickly result in burnout.

“A big part of being more productive is taking time for your body and mind to rest,” advised Chris. “That way, you can come back refreshed the next day.”

What are 3 common shortfalls you see in communication?

  1. Not setting clear work-life boundaries.
  2. Missing tone, facial gestures, and expression in the written word.
  3. We often forget to believe the best in someone else.

Chris suggested using a few more words in your emails to express more emotion. Thank the sender for taking the time to do the work they just did or tell them that you appreciate them getting back to you.

“Start emails by saying that you are on the same side, and establish that you’re on the same team,” suggested Chris. “Make sure that’s really clear.”

Taking advice from his dad, Chris shared something he references often when communicating with others.

“My dad taught me to ask, ‘What is the most generous reason I can give for another person’s behavior?’” recalled Chris. “I think that’s a beautiful way of looking at communication. The other person might have a real reason for behaving the way they do. And what is the most generous excuse for their behavior that you can give them? Choose to believe that until they prove you otherwise.”

Chris challenged us to think about why people might not be at their best when communicating. Perhaps they are on a mobile phone and didn’t have time to fully write out their thoughts, or maybe they have a personal emergency or something challenging in their life.

“How can you respond positively to break that negative cycle?” said Chris. “I firmly believe people do their best work when they feel appreciated and recognized.”

How have you seen visuals used in email? What’s the effectiveness? How can I make my emails more visually appealing?

Chris said that taking a basic look at how you are formatting messages might dramatically increase how they are read and received by others. If you have multiple questions in an email, Chris and his team suggest utilizing bullets to define each question. Another idea is to bold action items.

“When I send an email to new users inviting them to our weekly webinar, I use a large graphic at the top,” said Chris. “It displays a chart of when to schedule messages to get the most responses and links to more information about how to get more tips at the webinar. We have a text link in the email. We also use a ‘register now’ button at the bottom of the email. By far, the most clicked link is the large graphic at the top.”

Using compelling graphics to tell a story is a great way for people to quickly understand the value they can get out of what you are providing.” – @Cichonship, Marketing at @Boomerang.Click To Tweet

Can emails replace meetings to increase productivity in overall? If so, how?

Chris cited recent research he has read recently about meetings:

  • There are over 11 million meetings in the United States each day.
  • In 2010, the average office worker spent almost 5 hours each week scheduling (and rescheduling) meetings.

“That’s a ton of meetings,” said Chris. “Meetings take up a huge amount of time and have a big effect on your productivity.”

Screen Shot 2016-05-02 at 4.01.50 PM.png

(Source: Boomerang)

Chris said a lot of the meetings that currently take place are not necessary and could be shorter. At Boomerang, Chris and his team aim to only have meetings 1 or 2 days each week.

“It depends on the size of your business, but for us as a startup, we try to avoid meetings. We have most of our weekly meetings on Monday and we have some meetings on Fridays,” he said. “Then, we have our daily 10 minute stand up to make sure everyone is on the same page and no one is stuck on anything.”

On the other hand, Chris argued that face-to-face communication and being able to draw something out on a whiteboard as a group has value. He said the key is to make sure the meetings you decide to have are productive for the team.

Do you have a favorite blog post about productivity you can share?

Chris recommended reading the following posts:

What should I do when people stop replying to my work emails?

Chris reminded us that many people simply get busy. He recommended sending a follow-up email to check in with the person and ask if they have had time to review your email. Most of the time, the person simply forgot, the reply got stuck in their drafts, or they thought they responded but didn’t.

Screen Shot 2016-05-02 at 4.17.16 PM.png

(Source: Boomerang)

“We have found that 90% of emails are responded to within two days,” said Chris. “If you haven’t received a response within two days, you should probably follow up with the person. We made Boomerang to do just that. It’s a feature of Boomerang to bring the email back to your inbox, marked as unread, in two days if they haven’t responded.”

If you are still having problems getting responses to your emails, Chris said to consider the following:

  • Is there a better time I can send emails to reach this person?
  • Is there a different way I can express the value for this person in working with me?
  • Is there someone else in the organization that I should talk to about this issue?

We learned so much about productivity during our Blab with Chris Cichon! If you are interested in attending our next Blab, come follow us. We’ll be talking about a different subject each month, and we’d love to have you join us!