recommended reading


The Perfect Email

By James Hamblin, MD // The Atlantic // September 30, 2016


I recently cut the amount of time I spent on email by almost half, and I think a lot of people could do the same.

I’m sure my approach has made some people hate me, because I come off curt. But if everyone thought about email in the same way, what I’m suggesting wouldn’t be rude. Here are the basic guidelines that are working for me and, so, I propose for all of the world to adopt immediately:

No signoff.

Best? Cheers? Thanks?

None of the above. You can write your name if it feels too naked or abrupt not to have something down there. But it shouldn’t, and it wouldn’t if it were the norm.

No greeting.

Don’t waste time considering if “Dear,” or “Hey” or “[name]!” is appropriate. Just get right into it. Write the recipient’s name if you must. But most people already know their names. Like they already know your name.

Greetings and closings are relics of the handwritten missive that persist only as matters of, ostensibly, formality. Foregoing them can seem curt or impolite. But it’s the opposite. Long, formal emails are impolite.

Text messages and chat...

The Algorithms That Tell Bosses How Employees Are Feeling

By Kaveh Waddell // The Atlantic // September 29, 2016

Every day, humans type out more than 200 billion emails, hundreds of millions of tweets, and innumerable texts, chats, and private messages. No one person could pick through even a tiny sliver of this information and stitch together themes and trends—but computers are starting to be able to. For more than a decade, researchers have been developing computer programs that can ingest enormous amounts of writing to try and understand the emotions stirred up by an idea or a product.

The field—known as sentiment analysis—got its start in market research. As online reviews started to gather steam in the mid-2000s, companies who wanted to understand how their products—or their competitors’ offerings—were being received  began to use algorithms to aggregate reviews, says Bing Liu, a professor of computer science at the University of Illinois, Chicago, who has written extensively about the history of sentiment analysis. The algorithmic approach could reveal broader insights than a focus groups or surveys, the thinking went.

Sentiment analysis has bloomed into a large and lucrative industry. Dozens of startups now focus exclusively on providing these services to other companies, Liu says, and many bigger tech corporations have developed their own software...

Nod More, and Other Absurd Yet Useful Meeting Tips From a Former Google Manager

By Sarah Todd // Quartz // September 28, 2016

Meetings! There are so many in this world, and far too few people who bring fancy doughnuts to them. But in the absence of a tasty snack, writer and comedian Sarah Cooper may be able to help you survive your next confusing PowerPoint presentation.

Cooper, who sat through her fair share of meetings as a user experience designer at Yahoo and a design manager at Google, is an astute observer of the absurdities of everyday office life. On her blog, The Cooper Review, she both delights and confuses readers with cartoons that blur the line between satire and reality. “Draw a Venn diagram,” she advises in a post about how to appear smart in in front of your colleagues. “It doesn’t matter if your Venn diagram is wildly inaccurate; in fact, the more inaccurate, the better.” (Full disclosure: this post, and others by Cooper, have also appeared on Quartz.)

A similar spirit of keen-eyed mischief informs Cooper’s new book, 100 Tricks to Appear Smart in Meetings (out Oct. 4). But despite the arch tone of her cartoons, Cooper told me that she—like most people—has a love-hate relationship with brainstorming sessions and check-ins.

“On the one hand...

Quiz: Are You The One Letting Hackers into Your Agency?

By Nextgov Staff // September 26, 2016


Agencies face different kinds of insider threats: malicious actors, coerced colleagues, and well-meaning but unwitting employees who don’t realize their bad habits make agency networks vulnerable.

Are you in that last category?

It’s far easier to be a cyber liability than a cyber protector. After all, a simple flash drive reportedly used at an Internet cafe and later in laptop connected to U.S. Central Command caused one of the worst breaches of U.S. military networks. The Defense Department’s response in 2008—when the breach came to light—was to ban removable media.

Does your weak password put your agency's network at risk? Was it OK that you accepted a Facebook friend request from that guy you met at a security conference? Use Nextgov's Cyber Assessment Tool to find out whether you're the weak link in your agency’s cyber defenses.

Click here to take the quiz

Everyone Seems to Want Federal Employees to Use Uber

By Eric Katz // Government Executive // September 26, 2016


In Congress and the White House, and from both sides of the political aisle, the same idea is gaining momentum to ensure federal employees spend less of taxpayers’ money: use Uber.

On Thursday, the House unanimously passed a measure with bipartisan sponsorship to require the General Services Administration to issue regulations allowing federal employees to use rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft, as well as bikeshares, for official travel. The passage came after the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee last week approved a separate bill to allow federal workers in the Washington, D.C.-metropolitan region to use ridesharing options to get to work through 2018. That bill is intended to give feds an alternative commuting option while the Washington Metrorail completes extensive system repairs and upgrades known as SafeTrack.

Both of those measures have gained momentum despite July guidance from GSA clarifying federal agencies should reimburse employees who use companies like Uber and Lyft for any travel on official business. Issued through a bulletin on the Federal Travel Regulation, the update was meant to clarify a policy many agencies had already implemented. While each agency manages the final authorization of travel expenses based on internal policy, GSA said...