The 10 Email Commandments You’re Breaking Every Day

Do you live in fear of your email inbox? It is such an effective tool for information exchange that it can render us completely ineffective in our attempts to control it.

I fear that I’m going to miss the proverbial wheat because of all the darn chaff overstuffing my inbox. You, too?

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Well, apparently we’re in good company. As a student of behavioral economics and finance, my ears always perk up when behavioral economist Dan Ariely has something to say. He struggled so much with  managing the daily email harvest that he decided to create two apps, one that helps people send him better emails and another that helps him prioritize the emails he receives.

This inspired some colleagues and me to ask: “What are the ways that we might be contributing to the chaff in the inboxes of our business associates and friends?”

What are the often unspoken rules of good email etiquette? Here’s what we came up with…

The 10 Commandments of Business Email:

1. Thou shalt not gratuitously “cc.”

You’re on it–they know.  

2. Thou shalt not needlessly reply all.

In addition to cluttering the inboxes of the needlessly cc’d (see above), avoiding the “reply all” button will also reduce the probability that you’ll fire off one of those unintended, embarrassing emails in which you roast someone you forgot to exclude on the thread. Which leads to…

3. Thou shalt not write anything in an email you wouldn’t want to be on the front page of The New York Times.

Two words: paper trail. This will also help ensure your prospective run for public office won’t be derailed.

4. Thou shalt not reply solely with “Thanks.”

Let’s just collectively agree to assume everyone is thankful, thereby eliminating 3-5% of all emails.

5. Thou shalt not bury the main point of your correspondence deep within the body, instead accomplishing as much as possible with the subject line.

Heck, see if you can limit the email to subject line only. And instead of beginning with any smalltalk, get right to the point and save the pleasantries until the end.

6. Thou shalt not forward lengthy email exchanges to a new audience with the direction, “See below.”

Now they have to read your email–and five to six others! Start a new email that summarizes and then ask your question.

7. Thou shalt not follow up an email within two hours asking, “Didst thou receive my email?”

“Such a thing is an abomination unto productivity,” says time management author Laura Vanderkam.

8. Thou shalt minimize the number of topics, questions or themes to as few as possible (preferably one).

You’re more likely to get answers to all of your questions if you only ask one.

9. Thou shalt limit the body of one’s email to five sentences.

This will help ensure you don’t receive the dreaded “TLDR” (too long; didn’t read) response.

10. Thou shalt indicate whether a response is necessary and, if so, a desired response time.

And “if the desired response is less than four hours, thou shalt pick up the phone and call instead,” says Vanderkam.

There’s no judgement here. We’ve all sinned and fallen short on every one of these commandments–and likely will again!  

Of course, there are even some exceptions to some of these rules, but just imagine how much cleaner all of our inboxes would be if we’d follow these commandments.  

For more, take a look at the following resources:

Oh, and by the way–of course I want to read YOUR email. That’s the whole point! Check out my new Shortwhale page.

PARENTS: Don’t Sacrifice Yourselves On The Altar Of Your Children’s Education

Parents have sacrificed their financial futures on the altar of their children’s education. Fueled by easy federal money and self-interested colleges, the result is a student loan crisis that appears already to be eclipsing the catastrophic proportions of mortgage indebtedness leading up to the financial collapse of 2008.

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Please allow me to disclaim a few things:  

  • I’m not anti-education. In fact, I valued my college education so much that I went back to teach at my alma mater, Towson University, for seven years.
  • I believe that a college education is a) inherently valuable, b) an enhancer of career prospects and c) fertile ground for unforgettable life experiences beyond the classroom.  
  • I’m a parent. I’ve encouraged my two sons, 13 and 11, to strive for a college education, and I’ve also offered to share in the financial burden.
  • I’m not a prognosticator. Therefore, I’m not predicting an imminent crisis akin to the Great Recession, led by student loan defaults. Crystal balls don’t work, and anyone who claims to have one is selling something.

I’m also not a conspiracy theorist, but the facts, according to a new Wall Street Journal article, are indisputable:

  • Overall student debt—with over 42 million loans outstanding—is north of $1.3 trillion.
  • Roughly 40% of borrowers had credit scores below the subprime threshold of 620. Subprime mortgages peaked at nearly 20% of mortgage originations in 2006.
  • The vast majority of the loans were originated by the federal government and cannot be eliminated, even in bankruptcy.
  • As of September 2015, 11% of borrowers had gone at least a year without making a payment on a Parent Plus loan. That exceeds the default rate on U.S. mortgages at the peak of the housing crisis.
  • A new generation of retirees is now having to reduce their tax refunds and Social Security benefits in order to pay delinquent loans.

Parent Plus loans, by the way, are those that parents take out to cover tuition and living expenses typically after kids have maxed out their student debt allowance, ensuring that both the apple and the tree are sufficiently indebted.  

Interestingly enough, all the way back in 2011, the Obama administration placed tighter restrictions on Parent Plus loans due to concern that unqualified borrowers were loading up on unsecured debt. But schools put up a fight (successfully), suggesting that such limits impaired students’ ability to get an education.

And this is where we get a glimpse of the fundamental problem: Education has been deemed invaluable—at any price.

Yes, college can be very expensive. The cost of college education has risen well above inflation for decades, resulting in apparent absurdity. (Really, you’re telling me that the collective benefits of any college experience are worth $65,000—per year? Really?)

BUT, college doesn’t have to be outrageously expensive.

A student who commutes to a community college for two years and then transfers to State U for the final two years can get an undergraduate degree from a reputable university for the same cost as a single semester on campus at an elite private school.

With $1.3 trillion in school loan debt, a lot of water has already flowed under the collegiate bridge, but I’ll speak to those parents and students who’ve yet to burden themselves:

To parents:  

Sacrificing yourself financially for the sake of writing your children a blank check for education isn’t generous—it’s actually selfish. It would be much less expensive for a young adult to pay off a reasonable college loan than to bail out his or her parents who’ve run out of money in retirement and have health care bills piling up.  

As they instruct on the airplane, you have to take care of yourself before you can take care of those who depend on you. Your long-term financial security (including your retirement) is a priority over your children’s education—for both of your sakes. And there are few opportunities more ripe for teaching our children financial and life wisdom than the discussions regarding college.  

(If you’re looking for some guidance, here’s my “Non-Conformist’s 4-Step Education Savings Plan.”)

To students:

Please don’t take advantage of your parents. They love you, and they desperately want to see you succeed in life. But if you let them take on loans so you can party your way to a diploma, it could literally ruin them financially.

And if you’re like many who are navigating this decision on your own, please realize that the mystique of the college experience loses its luster very quickly if you’re buried in student loan debt. College truly is a value proposition, so try to restrict your total student loan debt to no more than you expect to make in your first year’s salary.  

Then you’ll be able to enjoy employing your education without being stalked by its cost.

The Antidote for Stock Market Hysteria

Just for fun, Google the words “market pullback.” There are over 2.2 million results–most of them market predictions–and the first page of results is dominated by calls for an imminent market reversal that the simple desk calendar has already proven false. 

However, despite their worthlessness, market predictions remain as predictable as market opens and closes. (And I predict no end in sight.)

But why?

First, there’s a clear profit motive. Apparent urgency leads to activity, and activity is still how most of the financial services industry makes its money.  

“Bullish predictions encourage investors to pour fresh money into the markets, helping asset management companies to enjoy rising profits,” the New York Times reported, noting that the Wall Street forecaster’s consensus since 2000 has averaged a 9.5% increase each year. They accidentally got it (almost) right in 2016, but in 2008, the consensus prognostication missed the mark by 49 percentage points (an outcome that makes your local weatherman seem like a harbinger of accuracy)!  

But not everyone’s positive either. My colleague and the co-author of the new book “Your Complete Guide To Factor-Based Investing,” Larry Swedroe, analyzed Marc Faber’s perpetually cataclysmic proclamations and rendered the good doctor “without a clue.”  

Why Busyness Isn’t Good Business

12 Experts Share Their Thoughts

It’s old news that we’re busy and that we wear our busyness as a badge of honor. But a new study found that Americans, in particular, are actually buying it. Specifically, the study concluded that Americans who always say they’re “busy” are actually seen as more important. Unfortunately, it’s all a charade.

Busy, busy, busy

Busy, busy, busy

Numerous studies have shown that busyness isn’t actually good business, and here’s the big reason why: It makes us less productive. We’re all susceptible to it, but If I’m saying to myself (and I have), “Woo, I’m busy; really busy,” I’m likely being distracted from the most important, most productive work that I could be doing. I may feel like I’m doing more, but the net result is actually less. And it often feels like it.

But not everyone wears busyness as a status symbol. In response to the research and their own well-informed gut feelings, many are finding enjoyment in more productive work at a less busy pace. I wanted to know how these people recognize when they’re devolving into busyness and what they do to stop the downward spiral, so I asked 12 thought leaders who’ve inspired me two simple questions:

  • How do you know when you’ve gotten too busy?
  • What is a technique that you use to “unbusy” yourself?

Here’s what they had to say:

When I’m Sixty-Four: Long-Term Healthcare In Retirement

The Most Complex Insurance Explained, Part 2

In 1967, the Beatles released the song, “When I’m Sixty-Four.”  The lyrics are a preemptive plea to secure a relationship even when the realities of old age set in.  Now, as the nation’s largest generation whistles this tune into retirement, the question seems less rhetorical:

Who is going to take care of us in retirement?

Not everyone will need long-term care insurance (LTC), but everyone needs a long-term healthcare plan.  Your long-term care plan should incorporate the following: facts about you (and your spouse, if applicable), your age, your personal health, longevity of lineage, your retirement income and assets, your tolerance for risk, the costs and demographics of long-term care in your geographic area and information about any long-term care insurance that you own or have considered owning.

This post is the second in a two-part series.  You can read the first on Long-Term Disability (LTD) by clicking HERE.

Long-Term Care Insurance

One very important thing to remember is that Medicare does not cover the costs of most long-term care needs. Allen Hamm, in his book, Long-Term Care Planning, shares the following statistics:

  • 71 percent of Medicare recipients mistakenly believe Medicare is a primary source for covering long-term care.
  • 87 percent of people under the age of 65 mistakenly believe their private health insurance will cover the cost of long-term care.

The Three-Step Investor’s Guide To Navigating The Financial Advisory Fiduciary Issue

Originally in ForbesAs an educator in the arena of personal finance, I generally avoid matters of public policy or politics because they tend to devolve into dogma and division, all too often leaving wisdom and understanding behind. But occasionally, an issue arises of such importance that I feel an obligation to advocate on behalf of those who don’t have a voice. The issue of the day revolves around a single word: “fiduciary.”

At stake is a Department of Labor ruling set to take effect this coming April that would require any financial advisor, stock broker or insurance agent directing a client’s retirement account to act in the best interest of that client. In other words, the rule would require such advisors to act as a fiduciary. The incoming Trump administration has hit the pause button on that rule, a move that many feel is merely a precursor to the rule’s demise.

Why? Because a vocal constituency of the new administration has lobbied for it—hard. They stand to lose billions—with a “b”—so they’re protecting their profitable turf with every means necessary, even twisted logic.

The good news is that informed investors need not rely on any legislation to ensure they are receiving a fiduciary level of service. Follow these three steps to receive the level of service you deserve:

The Ironic Conflict Of Interest Of The Fiduciary Financial Advisor

Originally in ForbesThe Trump administration’s move to delay implementation of the Department of Labor’s fiduciary rule has inspired me to delay implementation of my commitment to remain silent on matters of public policy and politics. It’s that important.

financial-aadvisorIt seems pretty obvious that those in the financial establishment who oppose the rule do so primarily out of self-interest. After all, it’s estimated that they will lose billions in profits if the final rule goes into effect. I get it.

But I was fascinated recently when a member of the media wondered aloud if my advocacy for a wider fiduciary standard was also simply an outgrowth of my own bias.

Indeed, who’s to say I’m not just grinding my own axe on this issue? Maybe I’m in favor of all financial advisors being held to a fiduciary standard because I’m a fiduciary financial advisor and part of a national community of financial advisors that supports the fiduciary standard.

That would be a convenient rebuttal from the anti-fiduciary community, but here’s the (huge) problem with that rationale:

Top 3 Reasons For Millennials To Choose A Roth IRA

Originally in ForbesMuch—too much—has been said and written about the relative superiority of Roth IRAs versus Traditional IRAs. The debate over which is better too often involves the technical numerical merits. In truth, the Roth wins in almost every situation because of its massive behavioral advantage: a dollar in a Roth IRA is (almost) always worth more than a dollar in a Traditional IRA. This is true regardless of one’s age, but the Roth IRA is even more advantageous for Millennials.

I must first disclaim that you can disregard any discussion of Roth or Traditional IRA if you’re not taking full advantage of a corporate match in your employer’s 401(k)—free money is still better than tax-free money. But after you’ve “maxed out” the match in your corporate retirement account, here are the top three reasons Millennials should consider putting their next dollar of savings in a Roth IRA:

1) Life is liquid, but most retirement savings isn’t.

Yes, of course, in a perfect, linear world, every dollar we put in a retirement account would forevermore remain earmarked for our financial futures. But hyperbolic discounting—and the penalties and tax punishments associated with early withdrawal from most retirement savings vehicles—can scare us away from saving today for the distant future. The further the future, the more we fear.

The Roth IRA, however, allows you to remove whatever contributions you’ve made—your principal—without any taxes or penalties at any time for any reason. Therefore, even though I’d prefer you to generally employ a set-it-and-forget-it rule with your Roth and not touch it, if the privilege of liquidity in a Roth helps you save for retirement, I’m all for it.

5 Reasons Why Non-Digital Time Management Is More Productive

As technological innovation marches forward in so many aspects of life, there is a movement gaining momentum to return to the past in search of something important that progress may have left behind.

No, you can’t beat the convenience of streaming and digitized music, but the listening experience still falls short of dropping the needle on a vinyl record. Similarly, while the ubiquity of tech-driven tools may make the process of managing our time easier than ever, we may actually end up increasing our productivity by decreasing efficiency through an analog, manual, pen-and-paper system.

Personally, I’d been successfully employing a time-management system for years—a simplified, customized amalgamation of David Allen and Steven Covey’s wisdom—designed using the online tool Trello. As someone who believes our most valuable investment is time, however, I was still curious when a friend I respect told me about a new system that he’d been using effectively. But when I invited him to show me, he didn’t pull out his phone or tablet, but a simple journal—a Bullet Journal.

The Bullet Journal is a product, but it’s also more than that. It’s really a modifiable productivity method that has grown into a community. The system, interestingly, was created by a digital product designer, Ryder Carroll, as a way to bring the discipline of task management under the practice of mindfulness. After testing out the system for a few months—and becoming an adherent in the process—I discussed the inspiration for the Bullet Journal with Mr. Carroll.

While how, exactly, I’ve adapted the Bullet system in my work as a financial advisor, writer and speaker—including the specific journal and writing tools I use—does make for an interesting story, today I’d like to address the bigger question:

WHY?

Filling That Career-Shaped Hole

Originally in ForbesMichael Brundage had everything working for him: a great marriage, healthy children and a successful career in commercial real estate. But something—something big, but invisible—was missing, and the result was a depressive streak that led my friend and colleague to pursue therapy.

Then, in the middle of an early session, his therapist discerned the problem, which she immediately shared with Michael: “You hate your job. That’s the problem.”

do-over-cover-2Initially, Michael protested, somewhat confused. He was good at his job—very good—and it paid well, ensuring a more than comfortable lifestyle for his family. Wasn’t that what a job was supposed to be about? Indeed, several generations of Americans have bought into the notion that our work is primarily—if not solely—a means, not an end in itself.

“As a culture, we’ve collectively bought into the lie that work has to be miserable,” writes career expert Jon Acuff in his newest book, Do Over.

Michael had learned, in his words, “what a long shadow not liking your job can cast over the rest of your life.” So he decided to do something about it.

He read voraciously, including Do Over, in which Acuff offers a method to career management regardless of where you stand on the love/hate job continuum.

Acuff’s counsel applies to four different types of career transitions that everyone faces: