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” 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.
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
firstname.lastname@example.org(note the -r)
- Send a text message with your reminder
- Keep following up until a task is complete
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.