Communication Hacking

Communication Hacking

Was it always difficult to stay in touch? Or is this a new thing?

Perhaps it’a byproduct of the Internet. Email, texting, chat, video messages. It’s moving ahead so rapidly, the protocols are evolving faster than we can memorize the terms.

If you value keeping your relationships fresh, as I do. Then it can be a bit troubling to feel like it has become harder to just write a note to a friend or colleague and trust they’ll respond.

Lots of testing and analysis on this subject has concluded that people are too distracted. You can’t send an email with more than 5 sentences and expect a response. Chances are it was too long to read, so the recipient set it aside for later, and then 80% of the time the recipient forgets to reply. Probably because they got another 30 emails since they first opened yours, and there are already new emails to read later which will mostly be forgotten as well.

What a wonderful world.

This being the case, the best way to get a response to an email if a response isn’t received within 48 hours of sending, is to send a follow up. And if the follow up doesn’t get a response, or perhaps it does, but the response is just a “yes I plan to get back to you today” kind of message, then after 48 hours another follow up message can do the trick. And so it goes. After the 4th or 5th follow up an “ok I’ll assume you’re not interested or are in some serious trouble, should I call for help?” is probably an acceptable bow out.

See, the way people process the messages they receive is fragmented. If they get a message that requires more than a basic response like “[Message] ‘do you like ice cream?’ [Response] yes I like ice cream”.  The recipient will need to take more time to think about it. They will look at the email many times, even up to 20 or more if question in the email contains conditional issues.  And the more time that is needed [the more that is asked in a message] the greater the chance the message will never be responded to.

An email like “Do you want to meet for drinks in a couple weeks?” Is simple. This can be responded to almost immediately, spare maybe a glance at the calendar. It might take the recipient 3-5 views of the email to reply. Once to see it, once more after checking the calendar, but not yet ready to respond. And then finally a third time (we’d hope) to say yes “I am free, what day works for you?”.  If the recipient has multiple calendars, and possibly pending engagements with other people, the amount of views before being able to response increases, as does the likelihood they will ever reply.

Add more layers on complications, and the number of views increases, to the point where, unless the recipient is highly motivated to make the plan, you may have just overwhelmed them, and you won’t hear back unless they are worried about offending you, which generally might just create a “sorry I’m way to busy right now, let me get back to you”. This cop out, is really just a way of saying “It is too difficult for me to analyze your request and provide a respectable response back”. Sadly many people are too busy these days too, but they’ve just defaulted to not replying if it isn’t super easy to do so. Apparently, not responding to emails just doesn’t count as a diss in the modern world. It’s not a diss to ignore someone if we like their photos on Facebook right? (sarcasm)

In work settings: when dealing with these situations, there may be motivation to respond and work through complicated requests via email, from colleagues and potential partners out of the sheer desire to keep their jobs/business positive. But this context doesn’t automatically generate immunity to failure, and if the recipient has nothing obvious to lose by ignoring your message–even if they have nothing agains’t you–then you may also be out of luck, simply because they will have more time for other pressing issues by ignoring you.

This last topic, communicating with people who don’t have a strong motivation to respond, in fact we can say, they are the recipients who stand to lose time by responding to a pitch email, is the most difficult and a really big focus for me. A fool proof solution does not exist, however repetition, simplicity, and a positive manner can go a long way.

How do we keep the 2 way messages flowing? If single sentence emails are the most response friendly, yet least able to carry the information needed to get the next step.  How do we pitch and not scare?

I’ve taken to experimenting with automatic reminders. The idea is basic, I track all emails I’ve sent in the last two days. If I haven’t gotten a response on day #2, I write a reminder, or continuation of the last email, but always maximum 1 sentence in length, and the reminder shouldn’t somehow add information, this would add complexity, adding additional time for the recipient to process or decide not to at all. Then I schedule the reminder email to be sent in 2 days or less depending on the urgency of the communication, only if the recipient doesn’t respond to the original message first. 

This works. It probably wont work forever, in an ever evolving world of communication, we adapt to stimuli by decreasing our tolerance for interruption. And if too many people use the same method, the results will have diminishing returns. So then what?

What ever it takes.

 

Photos of the Names

Photos of the Names

Today, we discovered this little popup photo memorial for the residents of Choriner Straße 82 who are remember with Stolpersteine.

A Stolperstein is a cobblestone sized memorial to commemorate victims of Nazi oppression, including the Holocaust. They are installed outside the home where once lived the victim they name.

If you’ve visited Berlin, Hamburg, or any of the 1,000 cities in Europe where one of the 48,000 Stolperstein are installed in the sidewalks, you’ve probably seen them or took fascination in them. Thinking about those people, or just letting their name bounce around in your thoughts. What you don’t see everyday are photographs of the people named.

This was really nice. I hope to someday meet the person who put it together.

Chorinerstr_82_Door Chorinerstr_82_photos_4 Chorinerstr_82_photos_3 Chorinerstr_82_photos_2 Chorinerstr_82_photos_1 Stolperstein_Chorinerstr_82

New Best Friend Syndrome

Do best friends go to the same place as lost socks? Is there a planet somewhere far away where all of those people go. The ones I met on a random night out, who turned out to be “my new best friend”, but then never spoke to again? I’m calling this NBFS (new best friend syndrome).

I can think back over the years to many instances of NBFS. We met, became pals immediately, exchanged numbers, friended on facebook, took selfies – everything we said to each other was funny like some missing glove re-found of an all encompassing awesome bro-ship.

Jesse.

Konrad.

Deweyne.

Going through the lost connections reminds me of hilarious moments and commitments to teach each other about all those great artists, parties, and food I’d never experienced. I felt lucky to have met someone who would graciously offer to share valuable information, with a smile and words of comfort and laughter.

ren_stimpy_socks_planet

Yet, somehow, we never connected again. The buzz wore off, the smiles were replaced by moans and blood shot eyes. Streams of texts from just hours earlier read like transcripts between two hilarious but impossible characters in a cheap production comedy flick. Photos of being passed out in bathtubs, or apparently even other new best friends in the making whom I really couldn’t remember.

Where do they go? How many other temporary bonds did they make to be unfulfilled? Friends are an investment. It takes time, commitment, finances, communication, planning, and dedication of memory. It would be no fun to give up on said new best friends, even when all the symptoms are clear as day, a positive diagnosis for temporary NBFS. Perhaps that’s why they usually appear after the 3rd drink.

Comfort and Heroin – part I

Daniel got a nice job and worked his way up the ranks.

He bought a nice home, has a lifestyle and great circle of friends with whom he has a certain cache of routines; meals, vacations, hobbies. He shaped out that picture perfect life.

It had taken (what seemed like) a lifetime to get there. In some cases the victories came quickly. Either way, at a certain point, he realized he felt good about where he was.

Maybe the remaining goals were smaller than those already achieved. But the warm feeling had set in. The effort needed to get things done at work had become smaller. Greater rewards started coming more easily. All that stuff he did to get where he was continued to pay off, each one a meteor of success with a tail that stretched endlessly. His CV was a track record that attracted recruiters far and wide for amazing career changing opportunities – which he humbly turned away.

At parties he could list a couple of his past titles and the point was clear, he’d made it. And why list his own track record? Other people told stories about him that echoed respect and fondness better than he could.

Without seeing it happen, there was this great big positive energy to ride on, and now it was all without doing anything. He was intoxicated. But at the same time, somehow something had slipped away ever so slightly.

Looking back at the challenges he’d fought through, the feeling they gave him were almost more exciting than the life they brought to his door. Things really had gotten easier, and with them, these comforts which sort of transformed into medals of honor.

In some cases the medals were like possessions, the relationships, the future plans, they almost became anchors. Things that couldn’t be moved easily , if at all – not without the proverbial pain of ripping off a band-aid.

As comfort set in, the landscape of ambition transformed, from hopes and dreams to strive for, to tangible pieces of his life sitting on the shelf for all to gaze upon, and something had gotten lost.

One day Daniel realized it was those adventures which got him where he was that he missed the most, he wanted them again. The dopamine may have been all that was laying under those moments to give him a rose tinted glass to look back through, the primitive neurological programming of positive reinforcement for getting off his ass and forming a shelter with safe surroundings to pass along his genes. All the same the rewards that came at the moment of putting in that effort, and the stories they created were the greatest moments in his life. The achievements which now sat around, were not so much, and in fact they had weight and required maintenance. The routines, relationships, home, possessions; it almost scared him to think about letting go of them or dismantling the solid life he had in order to make new great moments.

He was bored.

The uneasiness frightened Daniel, it kept him up at night. Normally a heavy sleeper (something Micah was truly grateful for), he now laid in bed for hours sometimes wondering how to get back to the heyday of kicking ass. He was barely middle-aged but already feeling stale, the static-ness felt like excess weight, like stickiness. Pulling him back towards his bed, or dining table. A spare tire forming around his midsection, getting heavier by the day. He no longer felt hungry, ever. Always eating as it was that time, or there was another dinner party to go to. Cocktails weren’t treasures to enjoy, they were an assortment of tastes he’d once discovered and delighted, which also came with symbol of status. The alcohol and calories had heavier implications than the joy of the experience and was starting to despise them.

Unsure of where to go, or what to do with all his belongings, how to explain to all of his friends what was happening, he started to consolidate.

At first it was slow, he would go through the garage late at night, pulling out boxes of old things, keepsakes and memories which were once hard to throw away, but now the thought of getting rid of them made him feel lighter. With relationships, he didn’t want to cut off anyone, and his head was so clouded he didn’t trust his judgement to hone in on those most important, so instead he started to distance, instead of actively connecting and staying in touch with the circle of friends and colleagues around him, now he waited. When his phone would ring, or an email came in, he would respond, welcoming social life, but not pushing it forward anymore.

He took a new job, one that wouldn’t require a car, and so he sold his car. The job wasn’t very good so he saved up and put in his notice. From now on, like his friends, he would only take work he wanted to do, instead of always being the proactive team member confident a crappy project could be made great.

He moved twice in one year, each time selling more of his furniture, finding smaller and smaller apartments, until his living space was so tiny he could barely even have a table and sofa in the living spaces. All the fancy home decor that he’d bought from show rooms and antique markets were gone now.

As his property footprint became smaller, something started to change. His connection to some people started to diminish. The way he looked at their things and clothing had less of an affect. Feeling more like an observer than a participant; when conversations nearby included raves about new restaurants or a the latest night spots to grab a drink, he felt his interest was more from an anthropological perspective than a community perspective. Trying yet another cocktail with a slight variation at an inflated price didn’t have the same gravity it once had.

He was becoming free.

Months went by, Daniel put all his things into storage and moved to Europe. He focused on connecting with the locals, seeing how they lived, and what brought them joy. There were still bars and parties and eager cliques of socialites queuing up at the club on the corners after dinner, but

 

***

To be continued

Wandering Between Lines

People like definitions. They like things that they can relate to, it helps to create a world that can be understood. A world without mystery is a world without risk; by removing risk we remove fear. In some stretch, this has a lot to do with common getting-to-know-you questions, like “what do you do?”. When someone poses a question like that, issues arise when you can’t say in straight terms what you do. Maybe you do a few things, maybe you do one thing that people are familiar with, but you really do something else too and it’s just hard to explain. In that case do you explain the second less familiar occupation? Do you avoid it to keep the conversation smooth, to avoid being seen as a strange one? Not having one home, not having one occupation, this is were it gets crazy. Try telling someone about the way you don’t live in one box, see how they react. It may just open doors of discomfort.

Most Common Regrets of People on Their Deathbed – Reinterpreted

This post documents the findings of a nurse in palliative care; who takes care of patients in the last 3-12 weeks of their life before they pass away. When the patients were asked about their regrets, the 5 things she heard repeatedly were:

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

2. I wish I didn’t work so hard.

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

Going over them one by one, I think you can easily draw some conclusions about how to live your life better, at least by the advice of those who offered their feedback from the days before theirs would end. Deducting the take away, you can make pro-active rules for yourself. I’ve recapped those here:

1. Have courage to know what you want and live the way you want, not how others expect you to.

This is a challenge for a lot of people, be it from our family, friends, society, or spouse, we feel pressure to live according to others expectations, even when they go agains’t our own personal aspirations. Do what you believe is right for you, it is not always so simple as just heading in the direction your heart tells you, but be clear with the people around you what that direction is, and if you ever feel held back, take note and free yourself from that obstacle.

2. Don’t work so hard. Focus on making time for your self outside of work.

Obvious but illusive; many people love what they do for work, and many people pour themselves into their work, but is it for the expectation of their peers, or for their own satisfaction. I think a lot of the time it’s for the former. I’ve found that the goals of my job, aimed for something I wanted to achieve, but eventually kept me from other things I wanted in life that I couldn’t get through work. Know when your work life balance is out of balance. Make the free time gaps in your work life that can be filled with your hobbies, passions, relationships, and life that you would never achieve through work.

3. Have the courage to express your feelings. Avoid people who don’t accept your true self.

If you can’t tell people how you feel. You will never feel understood. Because no one can understand you when you thoughts are unheard. It’s easy to slip into a life where you feel different from others and don’t see the need or place to share your feelings with them. But this is a habit that grows and grows until it’s normal to not share your feelings. Ultimately no one wins when you do this. People you interact with are being mislead, believing you want something else, and therefore wasting their time on you and supporting interests that aren’t yours. And you are wasting your own time, being with people who don’t understand you, or don’t want to understand you. Just imagine how fulfilling it can be to know the people around you support you and love you for who you are, not some carefully crafted image of the person you think you need to be.

4. Stay in touch with friends.

Perhaps work has something to blame here, perhaps not expressing your feelings does too. It’s easy to lose touch with friends, especially when you start investing your friendships in people from work, or the friends of your spouse rather than your own. In the end we all only have a select group of true friends. They are as important as family and it’s your job to keep them close, even if they aren’t good at it.

5. Let yourself be happier.

Since all of the above issues lead to a life of happiness and fulfillment I think it’s easiest said that if you don’t share your feelings, if you don’t keep your friends close, if you don’t make time for your personal life outside of work, if you don’t have courage to do what you truly want… you won’t be happy. And you aren’t letting yourself be happy. So start doing what you truly want to be doing, make it know how you feel to others around you. Keep your friends close and work, but don’t let it take away from the rest of your life, and have the courage to not work in the name of being happier and more productive when you are working.

The biggest decision (yet) of my life

That’s quite a view right? That’s how I feel too. This was taken in Norway after hiking 11km to the “Troll Tunga”. How I got there, and where I was in my life tells a story of a lot of unexpected situations, dedication, and careful planning. That’s a lot how life is though, isn’t it? You do some planning, and there are a lot of unexpected things that come along.

Up there on top of the Hardangerfjord in Norway, looking off the ledge of that rock, I was thinking two things, 1) “this is one of the most spectacular moments of my life”, and 2) “I better go soon, there are a lot of people waiting to stand here after me!”. But something changed inside me that day from that moment. I just wanted to stay. I wanted to spend as much of my time as possible in places as beautiful as Norway, looking out over endless beautiful landscapes. I felt rewarded, and I felt lost. I had touched bliss for a moment, and soon I had to walk down the mountain, to get back to the car, so I could drive to the airport the next day, and eventually head home to Berlin where I live and had a job to return to.

The juxtaposition of responsibility and desire to enjoy the moment were playing a tug of war in my head. I knew it was possible to stay, the consequences were not so big that I couldn’t recover from them. Everything that went into getting there emphasized the importance of time, to make the most of the time I had in Norway: looking at tons of maps, finding driving directions, comparing car rental fees with paying for tour busses, camping vs cottages, this city or another, phone calls and emails to tourism offices. So many decisions had been made before even getting to the airport in Oslo – so more time could be spent enjoying my time in this beautiful country. And yet here I was with less than an hour at the summit only to have to prepare to leave.

It’s a huge metaphor for life.

You spent so much time fighting, waiting, working, planning, just so you can get somewhere that you expect to be grand. And then the hike back down begins as quickly as the final approach had ended. How can we extend that time at the summit? How can we have more of it? How can the inevitable return to “real life” be less urgent? What if being at these places was “real life”, and the time back at base camp getting ready to ascend the mountain was the brief moment? That’s what I wanted!

Life is beautiful. It’s short. If you don’t think so, you’re probably in your early twenties and haven’t looked back at your last year of college like it was eons ago. But age is no matter, if you can open your eyes to behold a breath taking sunset, the world is still your oyster. The most important thing is the world is changing, constantly. It’s easier than ever to climb to the top of that mountain and have a lifestyle that allows you to stay at the top of that mountain, or go on to climb many more.

I’ve found many ways to live like this, and I think anyone else can do it. It’s not as easy as asking to work from home until your manager trusts you so much you can get away with flying around the country without anyone noticing.  You can’t just find someone in another country to cover your ass while you go surfing. But it is as easy as giving yourself some runway, removing unnecessary lifestyle habits that prevent you from getting out into the world, making a plan, and booking a one way ticket.

This blog is dedicated to teaching people how to obtain those spectacular moments. No matter what your dreams are, chances are, some of the steps for getting there scare the living daylights out of you. On a deep chemical molecular level that is just your hippocampus warning you there is some risk. But just like riding a rollercoaster, or jumping off a diving board. As soon as you take the plunge, that same gland will reward you with dopamine, and nothing will feel as good as waking up every day challenging yourself to once again take a proverbial dive into the world that awaits you. Challenging yourself, and taking the sometimes unimaginable steps to get the things you want in life, not only helps you enjoy how you live completely. It’s an amazing ride and I plan to show you how to take it.

Stick around, read on. And if you didn’t already please sign my mailing list. I promise not to spam you, or sell your email address to anyone. This is a very personal thing and I would never betray that trust between us. I would love for you to sign the newsletter because I want to keep sharing inspiration, life hacks, beautiful photography, travel inspiration, career building insights, and tools to make you rich and happier than ever. And the moment you get an email from me that you don’t like, you can unsubscribe faster than it takes to think of the most amazing un-ending vacation possible. That’s my promise!

 

– Thomas

Sound of a rainy day

I love a rainy day. Perhaps the appreciation is normal to others. Maybe for me it stands out and so I feel like I have to say something about that.

I grew up in Palo Alto, CA. But I was born in Seattle. Seattle is known for being a very wet city. I don’t feel like looking up statistics right now, but something like 300+ days per year have a rain shower in Seattle. I was only 1 year old when my family moved from Seattle, but I think rainy days are one of the things that I remember feeling, hearing, smelling as a new born there. And it gives me comfort to this day for that reason.

In Palo Alto it was different. The seasons were very uniform, never too cold, never too hot, rain started in October, usually the day of Halloween, and carried on periodically until February or March. After the last rain in those early spring days it wouldn’t rain again until the first rain of the fall in October. Sometimes there would be a freak storm, but it was rare. California days were reliable.

That’s probably a thing of the past now, with the climate changes, things will just get weirder and weirder. Moving to Boston for College brought an ironically nice change of weather into my life. Most people complain about the humidity in the summer and extreme cold and wind in the winter. Not me. I loved the humidity, it was so funky, being warm and wet all at once. And then during the spring and summer we’d get thunderstorms to pass through and break things up with big dramatic booms and lighting flashes, that will break up the monotony of any day!

A rainy afternoon is special, just like a beautiful warm summer day, is special. On a nice warm sunny day, everyone is in a great mood, relaxed, smiling, catching rays. Rainy days might not have everyone smiling but we’re still all sharing an experience, the experience of  water falling out of the sky on our heads. Some of us are prepared, some of us not. In crowds walking down the sidewalk our umbrellas bob up and down in a dance. As the ferocity of the rain comes and goes, we find sudden opportunities to creep out from the awnings and make a dash for the shop across the street, daring the skies to get us wet on our mission impossible.

It rains fairly regularly in Berlin. This year in early March, for nearly 3 weeks it was irregularly warm and sunny, people were in t-shirts and sun glasses, it was like summer had come, 4 months early. We were all joking that normal Berlin weather would have required at least 6 days of grey skies, 4 days of rain, and nearly constant unbearable temperatures. In reality Berlin isn’t that bad in the March, but it was an oddly warm spring. I worry climate change is really going to permanently take the special memories of the seasons, and swap in a world of randomness and dangerously unpredictable weather extremes.

With the regular rain in Berlin, for a short time I feel like all the people out at the clubs die out, all the Kneipen empty, and we all stay home, have something comforting, and enjoy each others company. We “kipp” our windows and let in the fresh rain scented air, and listen to the sounds of the city outside our homes blanketed in water.