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Send a Better Email – Tips From a Computer Tech

For those of you that achieve inbox zero on a daily basis and enjoy a stress-free work environment, consider yourself lucky. The rest of us have jobs with emails constantly bombarding us during the day, distracting us from our work. Thanks to a huge plate of tasks to attend to, email creates overwhelm at times and leads to the wrong kind of stress. Sometimes this stress spills over into making wrong decisions with our email. These wrong decisions can eventually create more work for us and sometimes get us in trouble. Here are three ways to approach email that your IT support person may not have shown you.

Assume you’re writing to everyone

You’re writing a cheeky response to a co-worker about the status of those weekly TPS reports. Within minutes after hitting send, you receive an email from your boss’s boss requesting to meet with you about the TPS reports… and the questionable tone in which you’re referring to them. Unbeknownst to you, your co-worker thought it was funny enough to forward to a couple other co-workers, who forwarded it to some more co-workers, who forwarded your message to the head honcho. Now you definitely have a case of the Mondays. As you are composing an email, write it as if your message would be read by the CEO of your company, your mother, your spouse, your children, and your entire town once the local newspaper links to it on their website.

Leverage the BCC: field

The term Megathread is not a villainous ball of yarn set to take over the knitting world, but a way to describe an excessive number of replies to an original post. By including all recipients of your email in the Blind Carbon Copy section, you can avoid megathreads.

The BCC: field is your silent partner. Use it wisely.


Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself

You just received an email that embarrasses you in front of other co-workers, adds more work to your overwhelmed task list, or is just plain rude. Naturally, you craft a snarky, sarcastic, angry email response to return volley. Hold up, tiger. Don’t push send yet.

Save that email in your Drafts folder and take a walk. Go get some fresh air. Get another cup of coffee. Wait an hour, four hours, or a day, depending on how angry you are. Sending that email may wreck get you in trouble with management. It may wreck an important working relationship. And your supervisor may have to do damage control to answer to their superiors for your immature response.

Want an Email Ninja tip? Put your personal non-work email account in the To: field and mail it to yourself. You get the endorphin rush of pushing that Send button. You get the wadding-up-paper satisfaction of deleting an email. Plus, you save a potential firestorm of awkward in the workplace.

Always keep in mind that your email may be viewed by many more than you’re expecting. By controlling how your email is sent, and how you phrase your email, you can set yourself up for success at work and outside of work.


Chris Powell is an Instructional Technologist from Bellingham, Washington. You can sign up for his personal newsletter, Quiet Conversations, here.


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Secure your Mac with a Technology Two-Step

Stephen Hackett at recently published a very helpful article about securing your Mac computer. A combination of passwords, encryption, and synchronization can provide a solid layer of protection for your data. It’s also important to secure your desktop when you step away. Whether it be a meeting, a trip to the restroom, or the end of the day, leaving your computer on can create an opportunity for unauthorized people to access your information.

For a Mac computer, there are two steps needed to set up a quick way of preventing access while away:

Step 1 – Screensaver Hot Corner

In System Preferences, go into Desktop & Screen Saver. Select the Screen Saver tab. Click the Hot Corners button in the lower right. Pick a corner to Start Screen Saver. I usually choose the lower left corner since there aren’t that many control buttons to click on down there.

Step 2 – Require Password after Screen Saver Begins

Back in System Preferences, go into Security & Privacy. In the General tab, click the box to Require password after sleep or screen saver begins. I usually choose 5 seconds, because there are times when I actually mouse down to the lower-left portion of my screen, and I don’t want to re-enter my password immediately after the screen saver initiates.

Now you can simply drag your mouse to the lower left portion of the screen and walk away knowing your desktop is secured from unauthorized use. Your local password to be needed to get back into your desktop. And hopefully you have a strong, secure password as well.

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A password even the President and First Lady can remember

Last night I took our family doggie for an evening walk along a road that provides a spectacular view of our city. I’m half-listening to a tech podcast about LastPass, an online password manager. They were giving tips for creating a strong password for online accounts. I’ve always recommended my tech clients to use letters, numbers, and special characters, at least 12 of ’em, when creating a strong password. Bonus points if they use words that aren’t in the dictionary, yet are easy to remember.

And then it hit me out of nowhere. Family initials and birthdates.

Let’s take President Obama*, for example. Take the initials and birthdates for him and his wife Michelle, throw in a special character for emphasis, and we get a solid password:

Barack Hussein Obama, born August 4, 1961. Michelle LaVaughn Obama, born January 17, 1964. BHO080461.MLO011764 Gibberish for the majority of us, but easy for the Obamas to remember!

Head over to and you’ll learn that it would take two quadrillion years for a bad guy to crack this. Not only does the President have a strong password, he won’t forget his wife’s birthday. Plus, if Mrs. Obama flips things around, where her information is first and her hubby’s afterwards, they now have complicated, strong passwords that both would be able to easily remember.

Apply this for your own family, and you’ll be taking big steps toward securing your online life.


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The Aunch

I refer to it as the “aunch.”

It isn’t a friend of mine. In fact, it’s my worst enemy.

The aunch purposely sits in front of me, blocking my view of life. A wonderful life. A blessed life. Quite frankly, a better life than I deserve. It looks directly at me, smirking like an arrogant bully on a playground. It knows when I’m trying to look past it, and mirrors my movements to block my sight. I want to punch it right in the smirk, but it absorbs all impact. And it actually smiles more when I get angry or violent towards it. I have a tough time getting rid of it.

There are three places I usually get the aunch:

  • When I’m all alone in my bathroom, drying off after a shower. It’s just me and my reflection in the mirror. There’s the aunch, auditing my life and taking a big yellow highlighter and marking all the things I did wrong during the day.
  • When I’m all alone in my car, usually in traffic, often at a red light, which always takes forever. My car stereo can’t block out the aunch. Even when my favorite rock song is blasting, I’m singing loudly and off-key, the aunch still sits there in the passenger seat, fogging up my windshield so I can’t enjoy the ride.
  • When I’m finishing up the workday. So much accomplished, so many people helped, and there’s the aunch waiting for me. Arms folded like a disappointed parent, finger tapping on its elbow, inflating itself to block my path so I have to acknowledge it as I head home.

I’ve had to deal with the aunch since I was a teenager. And I’m wagering a lot of us have an aunch lurking around. If that’s the case for you, I support you. I know how tough it is to eliminate that nagging, dragging, slagging force of unhappiness in your life. It’s been a horrible weight for me to carry for the past 25 years or so, and if you are also saddled with this burdensome weight, keep in mind that you’re not alone. We are in it together.

Pause for a moment and re-read that last sentence. No, really. I mean it because what’s coming up is important.

Those five words, we are in it together, is like a kidney punch for the aunch. It doesn’t like having to pester groups of people; it likes to isolate one person at a time and block their path to happiness. When you can picture in your mind standing up straight, with me right alongside you, facing the aunch, it’s not as big a force as it was when it was just you one on one. I don’t know about you, but it gives me hope. Knowing that I’m not alone gives me the same feeling as when I flip on the defroster in my car. The anxiety I get from having to drive with a foggy, opaque windshield suddenly dissolves when everything becomes crystal clear. I believe we need to fight the aunch with trusted friends. Now I can’t be there in person with all of you, so what I would like you to do is to write down (with pen and paper, mind you, no technology screens) a few trusted friends that you can battle the aunch with. It knows who your friends are, and is deliberately whispering in your ear to disregard them, to not allow them to be your friend, because it wants to isolate you.

But sometimes we have to battle the aunch without our friends around. That’s a tough task. Those three situations I listed above? My battleground with unhappiness. I haven’t conquered this fight, but I’m working on some ways to turn the aunch’s yell down to an inaudible whisper. For what it’s worth, here’s something that’s been helpful to me so far:

When I’m faced with the aunch by myself, I picture in my mind big soap bubbles. It always brings a smile to my face as I watch a little child blowing them from their little soap bubble wand on a warm sunny afternoon in a park. Those floating bubbles are my thoughts; happy ones, sad ones, remorseful ones, future ones, dream ones, angry ones. You get the picture. I take a close look at those bubble thoughts. I know what kind of impact they have on my mood. So I poke those negative bubble thoughts with my finger and watch them pop. The happy, dream, future thoughts are the keepers. I like watching them float around. And the funny thing is, the aunch doesn’t seem to have the ability to pop those bubbles. They’re mine to pop. So I choose to keep those remaining thought bubbles floating around me.

The sooner we can figure out how to quiet the aunch, the better our experiences in life will be. My hope for you is that you will be able to believe, especially when you’re all alone in your car, or drying off from a shower, or hip-deep in busy with your family or with your work, that you are not alone in your sadness, you have friends who want to walk with you from unhappiness to a place of joy, and that we are in it together.

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