FollowUpThen 3.0 Preview

Summary: Skip ahead to the “Skills” section for screenshots and highlights, request an invitation to the private beta here or continue reading for the full backstory of the new FollowUpThen.

We can’t wait to show you the new FollowUpThen. It is the product of years of feedback, dozens of productivity insights and a long journey into the developer tools space.

We realize that you haven’t heard from us for a while. For the past 2 years, we were building a bot framework for email. A few months ago we did some soul-searching and realized that our hearts lie with FUT, as many of yours do, too.

We’re excited to be focused again on the productivity space, this time with an arsenal of cutting-edge tools and some refreshing new ideas.

Goal: Maintain Simplicity

When we thought about improving FollowUpThen we were faced with an immediate challenge: How do you add functionality to a product whose main value is its own simplicity?

FollowUpThen can solve so many productivity problems (todo lists, personal assistants, CRM, shopping lists, etc) yet people love it because of its simplicity.

After experimenting with visual design, layouts and feature ideas a breakthrough finally happened. But it wasn’t with the product itself – it was in the way we were thinking about the product.

A lot has been written about the use of mental models in design, and for good reason – this concept is powerful. (Side note: If you are involved in the design or creation of products I highly recommend reading Don Norman’s The Design of Everyday Things, which covers mental models in detail, among several other valuable design concepts).

But this is where the new FollowUpThen begins – with a new way of thinking about the product that makes it even simpler than before.

Reminder → Assistant

To “remind” is to “re” (again) “mind” (bring into the mind). A reminder implies some level of influence over our most valuable asset – our minds.

So what would the ideal reminder do?

It would make the most out of our minds!

Merely calling attention to something, however, is not making the most out our minds. The items on our todo lists and emails left in our inbox are great reminders. The problem is that we can’t do anything about them right now – so why are we thinking about them?! Yes, they “re-minded” us, but nothing productive happened as a result of this mental effort.

A reminder, in fact, is only half the productivity equation. To actually get something done, we not only have to think about it, we have to do it. Stated another way: The ideal reminder helps us take action.

But as we stretch the functionality of a reminder into the physical world of getting something done it becomes something more. The word “reminder” falls short because it only describes the mental part of the productivity equation, not the most important part – the action.

This train of thought led us to the new mental model for FollowUpThen – one that simplifies, clarifies our role, and ultimately makes it more far more productive:

The new FollowUpThen is not only a reminder it is a personal assistant.

FollowUpThen, in fact, allows you to be your own personal assistant. Just because that assistant is your “former self” does not change the fact that “someone” is assisting you to complete a task.

To use an example from the timeless Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, watch carefully as Bill’s past/future self (the lines blur with time travel) saves the day with more than just a reminder.

Note that Bill did not create a reminder for himself to find the keys (the “reminder” was actually the life situation itself). He took it beyond the mental act of reminding and he put the actual keys right where he needed them.

The new FollowUpThen lets you do exactly this – not only think about something, but place the actual information you need to get something done at the right moment to actually do it.

Your “past self” is the most influential person in your life. The new FollowUpThen optimizes this relationship and gives you the tools to make your future self brilliant.

Making “Productive Moments”

We created a name for a moment like the one in the above clip – we call it a “productive moment.” Creating them is the entire goal of FollowUpThen.

We define a productive moment as (1) the right time to do something with (2) exactly what is needed to do, resulting in (3) getting something done at that moment.

FollowUpThen has been creating these moments for years. But we had never isolated the “productive moment” as our primary goal and therefore we were not optimizing for it.

With this in mind, we started to think carefully about what went into such a moment and landed on another key insight: the separation of timing and a flexible new concept we are introducing to the platform.

Skills

“Skills” give special abilities to a followup. They are flexible units of functionality that help you accomplish tasks by adding information, performing actions in other systems or controlling timing (ex: continuing to remind you until something is done).

Skills are top-level items in the new FollowUpThen. There is a flexible system to install them, and soon, with a bit of code, create them yourself.

Skill Marketplace

Skills have been creeping into the platform for a while now, even though we were not calling them such. For example:

  • Cancel a reminder if someone replies 3days-r@fut.io (note the -r)
  • Send a text message with your reminder 3days-sms@fut.io (-sms)
  • Keep following up until a task is complete 3days-t@fut.io (-t)

Isolating skills allows us to keep the core system focused on timing and on being an effective, flexible container skills. As a result, the core FollowupThen codebase is simpler than before yet far more flexible.

The email elements in the new version have a refreshing new look, durable email-based action buttons and large mobile-friendly buttons. Clicking the logo takes you to your upcoming followups in the new web app.

Example: GitHub

Someone just left a comment on GitHub. This normally prompts a notification email which leads us to visit the GitHub site to get something done. Let’s look at this through the lens of our “productive moment”.

Now when a comment is posted, it arrives in our inbox, as before, but now it comes with previous comments, assignees and one-click buttons to add labels, close the issue or schedule reminders – everything needed (in most cases) to get something done without leaving that one email.

Developers reading this might complain this is not everything needed to act on an issue. This observation holds true for any task. In fact, there are so many different types of tasks that we realized we could not possibly build them into the product.

So we decided to make skills an open platform. We are using this skill framework ourselves to build the core features of FollowUpThen, but early next year we plan on opening skill development for everyone – allowing companies to create custom workflow tools and for independent developers to create productive moments in ways we have not yet imagined.

Email-Only Experience

The new FollowUpThen buttons work purely based on email (a much more durable version than our earlier versions). When clicking one of these buttons, an email is composed that accomplishes an action, for example, postponing a followup.

This same “interactive email” idea is carried through even in the web app.

This design pattern not only provides for a consistent user experience, it also makes skills easy to build, since there is only one UI to think about, no matter where the message is being rendered. This new design can accommodate a huge variety of skills without our having to modify any aspect of the web app.

Time Travel⏳

The new FUT web app shows your upcoming “productive moments” with complete, up-to-date information from your skill (for example, getting GitHub API or CRM data). This allows you to complete that productive moment right within the FollowUpThen web app and get your future things done before they actually “happen.” This is perfect for for planning ahead, clearing your schedule, vacations, over-achieving and maintaining general sanity.

..And More

This is just a preview of some of the features of the new FollowUpThen. There are a number of other improvements and many more on the horizon.

Try It Out

Expedite your invitation to the new system by filling out a short survey. We’d love to hear what you think!

Thanks to all of our long-time FUT users for making this journey such a pleasure. We cannot wait to see the heights you will attain using the new FollowupThen.

Use-Case: Dating and Relationships

If you talk to someone over some period of time, you’ll find yourself with this thing called a “relationship”.

Relationships take many forms and range widely in complexity, intimacy and depth. Regardless, all of them boil down to a few essential elements which include communication over some period of time.

The other day I found myself in an interesting conversation with Hayley Matthews, Editor in Chief at datingnews.com. She wanted to know how FollowUpThen could help dating professionals (relationship coaches, owners of dating websites, etc) with their businesses. Our conversation resulted in this article on productivity tips for dating professionals.

During the conversation, I could not help but relay a few stories about users profusely thanking us for saving their relationships and, in multiple cases, their marriage.

One of our introductory videos was actually inspired by one of these relationship near-misses. It shows a Valentines day followup arriving just in time for the forgetful boyfriend/hacker to buy flowers. (The actual user story was a nearly missing an important anniversary).

As one of the creators of the FollowUpThen, I do not often think of it as a personal relationship tool. But – just as a hammer can be used to build a commercial building or a chapel, so can FollowUpThen be used to build a business, or a lasting, loving relationship.

As with many things in life the difference between “good” and “great” can come down the simple things, like remembering to say the right thing at the right time.

Thanks, Hayley for helping to keep things in perspective.

Native Email Integration

FollowUpThen is and will always be an an ordinary email address just like any you would add to the ‘to’, ‘cc’ or ‘bcc’ fields. This simplicity is part of what makes FollowUpThen so appealing.

However, as one graduates from a casual FollowUpThen user into an email-crushing productivity machine, this simple email address begins to show subtle facets, utility and usage techniques that suit even the most demanding email users. You also may find yourself in need certain features only when you reach a certain volume of followups, some of which require a direct connection to your inbox.

Response Detection

One of these features is response detection, which cancels a followup if a reply is received before the reminder due date. This keeps your inbox clutter free when you are sending large numbers of emails to people who may not respond. To enable response detection, make sure you are on a premium plan and append “-r” to your date format. (Ex: 3weekdays-r@fut.io) – this tells FollowUpThen to cancel the reminder if a reply has been received.

Response detection requires a connection to your inbox so we can monitor your email headers for replies (Note: We only look for message-ids – subjects and bodies are not needed). Before now, we used a 3rd party, Context.io (their paid plan) to help broker this connection. This came with some advantages – simplicity of development and maintenance – and some disadvantages – lack of control, limited features and one more layer of complexity.

A New Inbox Connection System 🎉

Today, I am happy to announce our new direct inbox connection system. It is faster, more robust, more flexible and, most importantly, opens door for some additional features that have been on our roadmap for a long time.

If you are using response detection currently, you will see a notice on message on your followups asking you to connect to the new system.

We migrated your earlier response listeners to this new system, making the transition to this new system seamless. The only thing you have to do to enable this new system is head over to the new new Inbox Connections page in your settings and connect your emails.

If you run into trouble or need help connecting please see this FAQ or contact us for help.

Feel free to contact us with any questions, comments of feedback!

How We Handle Your Data

New legislation regarding handling the digital information of European Union citizens goes into effect today. The regulation is called the General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR for short.

This legislation provided a great opportunity to talk more about how we treat your data. In short…

As stated in our privacy policies, we are solely in the business of making people more productive. We do not broker data or otherwise monetize your personal information. Because of this fact, the GDPR has not created significant changes in how we handle personal data, in our security protocols or how we store information. We have, however, made some positive improvements.

Read the full article and contact us if you have any questions. If FollowUpThen has made your day more productive day, perhaps you can consider upgrading. Simply asking our customers to pay for a good product is the only way we make money, and, in our opinion, the most fair.

Introducing Recurring Tasks ✔

Tasks (ex: 3days-t@fut.io) are email reminders that continue follow up until they are explicitly marked as completed. 

We’re happy announce that recurring tasks are now supported.

For example: 

  • every1st-t@fut.io “Pay phone bill”
  • everyApril1st-t@fut.io “Prepare taxes”
  • everyJanuary1st-t@fut.io “Make New Year’s Resolutions”
  • Free accounts can schedule up to 3 tasks per month. Premium accounts get unlimited tasks, and a lot more.

Have a look at the newly created video on tasks, or head over to the full documentation on recurring tasks.

User Story: Charlie – Construction Project Manager

It’s now second nature to include a FUT in the BCC line of emails, and fully move on to my next task without having to remember to follow up…It gives me back mental energy for the task at hand. – Charlie Fehrman

This week we are happy to post an interview we did with Charlie Fehrman, a project manager with Midwest Remediation. Charlie uses FollowUpThen to coordinate the actions of insurance companies, repair technicians and property owners to restore homes and buildings that have been impacted by water or fire damage. Read on to see how he uses FollowUpThen to coordinate all of the moving parts necessary to fixing homes and making happy customers.

Charlie Fehrman: Construction Project Manager
Charlie Fehrman with his wife, Debi –  also a FollowUpThen user!

How do you (or your employees) use FollowUpThen in your business?
As a Project Manager for a remediation/restoration company I get a full plate every day. There are customer calls, insurance submissions, and vendor quotes to send/manage. FollowUpThen makes this manageable and takes the stress of “remembering” off my plate. I can just send an email and BCC FUT to “remember” for me in 2 or 3 days, or use a recurring followup to keep reminding myself of an important action. It’s now second nature to include a FUT in the BCC line of emails, and fully move on to my next task without having to remember to follow up.

Continue reading “User Story: Charlie – Construction Project Manager”

User Story: Julie – Author, Speaker, Executive Coach

FollowUpThen helps me clear our my mental space to focus on important projects while capturing other important and creative ideas. – Julie Cohen

This post marks the beginning of a new theme for our followup.expert blog: user stories. FollowUpThen is such a flexible system, and there are so many ways to use it. Rather than hearing tips from us (software nerds), we thought it would be more productive to ask our users to share tips with each other. (If you’d like to share your story, get in touch! We’d love to hear from you.)

Julie Cohen Photo
Julie Cohen
Author. Speaker. Executive Coach.

For our first interview, I had the pleasure of connecting up with Julie Cohen, a successful business owner, author, speaker and executive coach to ask her about how she uses FollowUpThen.

As with many of our users, Julie finds FollowUpThen to be a better tool that to-do lists in many circumstances. For those of us that spend much of our day in our email inboxes, this makes a lot of sense – with autocomplete, a quick reminder is, after all, only a few seconds away.

Read on to see how Julie uses FollowUpThen to make sure ideas don’t slip through the cracks, manage an expanding business and stay on top of her email.

How do you use FollowUpThen?
I recently launched a new part of my business – a year-long leadership development program that has a million moving parts. FollowUpThen allows me to make sure I don’t miss a detail, and keep on top of everything else that goes through my head. Continue reading “User Story: Julie – Author, Speaker, Executive Coach”

Introducing the New FollowUpThen Referral Program

Affiliate Program For the Best Email Reminder

 

Help your friends and co-workers start 2016 on the right foot by introducing them to FollowUpThen. Anyone who signs up from your link gets a $5 credit toward a premium subscription. And, when they become a paying customer, you get a $5 on your account as well!

Visit your settings page to find a brand new affiliate section, complete with your very own affiliate link.

We’re issuing a limited number of referral credits for now, which will probably increase depending on how things go and feedback. Read on for the full details. Continue reading “Introducing the New FollowUpThen Referral Program”

Improving Forwarded Emails

Have you ever hit ‘send’ on an email and realized you forgot to include a FollowUpThen address?

We’re working on an experimental feature that would allow you to forward a message out of your inbox and receive a much more useful followup.

If you want to help create this feature, click this checkbox on your settings page. We’ll handle the rest from there. You won’t see much change in your followups yet, but you will be helping us build it by enabling it on your account.

Experimental Forwarding Features
Experimental Forwarding Features

Continue reading “Improving Forwarded Emails”

The Right Way to Follow-Up on Customer Complaints

We’ve all heard that old saying ‘The customer is always right’ and we all know that the customer is NOT always right! Customers often make completely unjustified complaints; so the question is – ‘what is the best way to deal with customer complaints: both real and unjustified’?
Continue reading “The Right Way to Follow-Up on Customer Complaints”