Using Templates for Greater Efficiency

For years, I have used the concept of “templating” to improve my productivity. The idea is that you create a template for any task that you find yourself doing repeatedly. So instead of “reinventing the wheel” every time, you do it once, save it as a template, and then reuse it.

Cookie Cutters

For example, I am chairing a new committee in my church. I just finished preparing an agenda for our first meeting. However, I will be doing this at least once a month, so I created a “dummy agenda” and saved it as a template. Now, whenever I get ready to plan future meetings, I will start with the template rather than creating the agenda from scratch.

But a template can include more than just the form of the document. It can include the content itself.

For example, several years ago, I found myself responding to the same email requests over and over again. People would request that I review a book proposal, consider them for a job position, or meet with them for some personal advice. These requests usually came from complete strangers or vague acquaintances. I really needed to say, “no,” in order to be faithful to my other commitments. But I found it difficult.

One strategy would be just to ignore these requests. Many people do just that. However, I didn’t think that would reflect very well on my company or me. Instead, I wanted to be responsive, even if I had to decline their request.

So rather than go through the angst of this every single time, I decided to take a step back and look at these requests objectively. In doing so, I created a series of email templates. (I personally use Apple Mail on the Mac, so I saved these as a series of “email signatures.”)

I thought through how I could respond in a way that addressed the sender’s request thoughtfully and with grace. Even though I would have to decline their request most of the time, I wanted to do it in a way that left people feeling considered and respected. And, to the extent I could help them, I wanted to do that, too.

So I created email templates for each of the following kinds of inquiries:

  • Personal meeting request
  • Book proposal review request
  • Business opportunity
  • Employment consideration
  • Blog reprint request
  • Customer complaint
  • Media inquiry
  • Donation solicitation
  • Speaking invitation

Note: I don’t respond to obvious email spam requests for calls or appointments. My spam filter catches most of these but usually a half a dozen or so sneak through every day.

For example, when I receive an email from someone looking for a job or asking me to review their resume, I respond with this:

Dear [Name]:

Thank you for considering Thomas Nelson as a potential employer. I am always honored when good people think of our company as a place to spend their work-life.

As CEO, I do not get directly involved in the hiring process except in very rare instances such as filling a key opening on our Executive Leadership Team or on my own staff.

Nevertheless, I can tell you how to get started. First, visit this page on our Web site:

https://business.thomasnelson.com/employment/

This page contains a list of all job openings currently available at Thomas Nelson. Click on the job that interests you and then read the full job description. If you are still interested in the job, click on the link that says, “Apply for Position.” This will take you to an online Job Application.

Once you have submitted the form, someone in our Human Resources Department will review your application and take the appropriate action. If you can’t find a position that interests you, you might want to check back in a week or so, as these job postings are updated regularly.

May God bless you on your job search, whether He leads you here or elsewhere. Again, thank you for honoring us with your interest in joining our company.

Kind regards,

Mike

I don’t mindlessly use these templates. Depending on the circumstances, I may personalize the response or even respond in a completely different way. Regardless, the template covers 90 percent of the requests and frees me up to focus on the other commitments I have made.

By the way, The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber explores this concept in great detail with lots of excellent examples.

Question: What about you? Are you making use of templates? What are some that you have found the most useful?
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  • http://mikalatos.blogspot.com matt mikalatos

    Mike, thanks for posting this, it's very helpful. I'm going to be the facilitator for my team this year and one of the things I dislike is putting together the agenda. I think this will come in handy… building a framework and plugging in the agenda items from week to week. Thanks!

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      That's kind of what motivated me, too. I hate doing routine things over and over again.

  • http://twitter.com/RichDailey @RichDailey

    A thoughtfully worded template response is a real time saver. Time spent on the wording will pay off for both sides. Provide useful information even when declining a request. Indicate appreciation.
    Rich

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Yep, those are definitely the elements.

  • http://twitter.com/delhokie @delhokie

    Great article- the power of creating a kind of template for projects is truly a time saver while also assuring some continuity between projects

    I use TextExpander for the OS X to do the kind of thing you do in entourage, but across the whole platform. TextExpander lets you create short abbreviations that, whenever you type those letters together in any application on your mac, the text (including images) is replaced by whatever you choose. I use this for email signatures, code in websites I'm working on, or to template parts of projects I'm working on. http://www.smileonmymac.com/TextExpander/

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      I use Typinator, too. It is very similar. However, for my email templates, I like the menu interface of Entourage, so that I don't have to remember too many keyboard shortcuts. Regardless, either approach will get you to the same place.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/jeffmnewman jeffmnewman

    This is a good one. I definitely do a lot of repeated sales activities. This encourages me to continue to develop more. This will definitely help my productivity. I appreciate it!

    If were to add anything it would be to consistently refine your templates and have a good organization system for them. It is also a good idea to delete ones that you are not using anymore. Old, unused templates can clutter up your template area.

    There are programs that allow you to merge information into a template that can really help speed up processes.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Yes, I have seen some good ones for the PC and also for Apple Mail.

  • http://jodyfransch.com Jody Fransch

    I really appreciated this post Michael because I too have started using templates recently. They are very useful and save a lot of time.

    I get invited to speak to the youth at churches often and sometimes my schedule is full or really hectic around the time of the appointment. I have been using a template response I designed to reply via email. I just edit a few things to make it more personal to the person or organization I’m replying.

    I also like they fact that you design your template in such a way that leaves people feeling considered and respected. Definitely something I can improve on.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      I think the "considered and respected" thing is huge. I don't like getting a cold and impersonal "brush off," so I dreaded communicating that.

  • Colleen Coble

    I love templates! I used to have tons of them when I was a receptionist. WordPerfect was an ideal word processor for that. How I wish we had a Mac version of that stellar program! Though I'm liking Pages. But I still use templates today. I have a ms template all set up for when I start a new book. It has the font and margins set, etc. I also have one I start with when answering reader mail. I'm sure there are more things I could use them for if I think about it. Good suggestion!

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      WordPerfect? Now THAT's a blast from the past. I loved it, too!

  • http://twitter.com/sarahlanier @sarahlanier

    Using templates really helps my efficiency! I appreciate the tips you share. One of my favorite "shortcut" is using the email signature to reply to common messages. When I've shared the email signature tip with friends they are visibly relieved! I work for a large church and between new volunteer requests & speaking opportunities my email fills up so quickly! Using templates makes me feel like I am valuing others, and efficient at the same time! Thank you for sharing!

  • http://twitter.com/RichTatum @RichTatum

    The new Outlook also has a function on the "Insert" Ribbon called "Quick Parts" you can use to great effect for this same purpose. It's also available in Word. (Select your boilerplate and save it as a quick part for future use, then you can re-insert it with either a shortcut key or by browsing the menu).

    I also use AutoHotkey to capture short phrases I use frequently as well as to record macros for occasional repetitive tasks.

    Finally, I use an outliner to capture processes so that I don't have to reinvent the process the next time I need to do it. Of course, the more familiar you are with a process, the less you need it, but if you capture the process early, when it's still new, it can be useful, and it can help you train somebody else to take over the process themselves. Thus, documentation leads to delegation, which is even more efficient than doing it yourself!

    Regards,

    Rich
    BlogRodent

    • http://www.jenniferrothschild.com Philip Rothschild

      Helpful Rich. Thanks

    • Shari

      Rich – which version of Outlook has "insert" ribbon called "quick parts"? I am using Outlook 2007 and do not find that option.

      Thanks!
      @sharirisoff

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      I'd like to know which version of Outlook this is, too. I haven't see that feature.

      • http://twitter.com/fosteronomo @fosteronomo

        I just created this brief video to show people on my team where to find Quick Parts in Outlook 2007:
        http://screencast.com/t/MDkyMzhhZW

        I've started using Quick Parts to respond to emails that come in to a public address I monitor. They're saving me a boatload of time!

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/JimMartin JimMartin

    Mike,
    I found this post to be very helpful. Yes, I have used various templates for different tasks/requests. What I have not done was to use these as a part of my e-mail system. Like you, I use Microsoft Entourage and can see how using these as a part of possible "signatures" would be a great time saver.

    Thanks!

  • http://www.jenniferrothschild.com Philip Rothschild

    Mike, you and I have the same brain, only you use yours much better than I do because you actually write it in helpful article form. Thanks again for a great post…again.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      I don't know about that, but I definitely think certain type of personalities gravitate more easily to this approach.

  • http://www.jenniferrothschild.com Philip Rothschild

    I should add that I have used this Outlook Add-In called Quick Templates (about $24) for several years. Currently looking for a free solution and may be found in creating different signatures in Outlook instead. http://bit.ly/1NzWj3

  • http://twitter.com/RickYuzzi @RickYuzzi

    I use templates a lot for marketing proposals, emails etc. Definitely a time saver. You just need to be careful to change all the placeholder info before sending it out. You'll appreciate this, being a publisher. I was reading my NIV study bible the other night, and there was a note that referenced another passage, and it said something like "Refer to Ephesians 2:6, on page XXX."

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Yea, those placeholders will get you into trouble. I always try to proof-read carefully before I hit the send button. Even then, I have screwed up!

  • Joe S

    Templating is something that software engineers have been using for the last decade or so to greatly improve the way they create code. Its certainly debatable as to how good it can be, when to use it, etc – but i'm glad to see others embracing templating as a way to speed up their work.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      I may have gotten the original idea from coding. The key I think is to ask whether or not you are going to re-use it and then spend a little more time on the prototype or first iteration.

  • http://www.laurindaonleadership.com Laurinda

    It's been years since I read E-Myth Revisited. I'll have to dust it off and get some of the detail! I do use templates at work- agendas for all re-occuring meetings, all my project work. I never thought about using them in email. Wonderful idea! Thanks!

  • http://passionsforthesoul.typepad.com/vicki Vicki Small

    I'm impressed by the thought and care that you put into creating that template (employment request). If I had made such a request of you and received that response, I would not feel put off, rejected, or (certainly) ignored. It actually sounds personal!

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Wow. Then mission accomplished. I never want these to sound "canned." I often will write a more personal first sentence, just to make sure people know I read their request.

  • Shari

    Great post, Mike! We use Lotus Notes at work and have "stationery" set for a dozen or so repeatedly sent emails. It is also valuable for including the required 'legalese' that must accompany nearly everything I send out as well.

  • http://www.RickyKhamis.com Ricky Khamis

    I use that same system in my Mortgage business. I have over a dozen different categories for Email Signatures and saves me hundreds of hours. Great Post.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Peter_P Peter_P

    OK, so now I just want to send you random inquiries every day to see how many different 'form' emails I can get from you :-)

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Ha! I did this with someone years ago. It was VERY instructive.

  • http://twitter.com/alvalyn @alvalyn

    I really like the idea of setting up e-mail signatures to function as templates. I always saved a copy of an old e-mail body in an archive fold and modified that as needed. But the signature idea is soooooo much more efficient. Thanks!

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/WKevinG WKevinG

    More excellent time-saving tips, Mr. Hyatt! This is one of those that was more of a reminder for me and one I used to be really good at. For some reason, though, I seem to have gotten away from this concept as I've gotten busier. Thanks for the reminder not to reinvent the wheel every time.

  • http://twitter.com/DaveAnthold @DaveAnthold

    These were fantastic ideas – I have been looking for the best way to do this with my items, so thank you for your ideas – which I have already added.

  • http://www.john-gallagher.blogspot.com John Gallagher

    Michael, Thanks for posting this. Triggered a question about Outlook. Watched a 2-minute video and set up a template for an email I send out almost daily.

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  • http://intensedebate.com/people/success2you John Richardson

    Wow Mike, the solution I have been looking for has been right under my nose and I never saw it. We use Outlook at the School district where I work and as the data manager I have to send out many data clean-up requests to my users. I have looked at ways of saving these cookie cutter e-mails, but there really isn't an easy way to save an e-mail "template" in Outlook.

    With your technique, the signature function will now let me create numerous request letters, available at a click of the button.

    You just saved me hours of time!

    Thanks!
    My recent post The Top 5 Blogs of 2009

  • Gerry

    Michael, I enjoyed your post. As you responded to one of the comments, the strong desire for template, shortcuts, and hacks is definitely a personality trait. Few things are more frustrating to me than watching a professional repeat the same menial task when a simple trick will save time. I use VBA for Word or Excel to automate tasks that are repeated often.

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  • Thecounselorconnection

    Helllo, It’s really very use-full information. You provide such good information and also easily understand. thanks for sharing with us.

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  • Tampa Real Estate

    Hey this is nice one. I absolutely do a lot of frequent sale activities. This encourages me to carry on expanding more. This will absolutely help my efficiency. I be grateful for it! Thank you for share this information keep Posting.

  • http://twitter.com/jrep Jack Repenning

    I also have a template for meeting minutes. In the meeting, I open my laptop, begin composing an email with the template, and type. End of meeting: quick review and push send, all done!

  • David Adeola

    Very effective way of working smart..! Good and useful posting.

  • http://twitter.com/AnderKampMusic Jeff Anderson

    Mike,
    Thank you for this post! I hadn’t thought of saving them as signatures. That’s perfect. I clicked on this link through Facebook because I wanted to see how you figured it out.

    Thank you as always for the posts.

    Jeff Anderson (theCRICKETtoy® guy)
    AnderKamp Music

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Awesome. I am glad you found it helpful.

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  • http://www.danerickson.net/ Dan Erickson

    Great idea to use the signature function.

  • Mitzi Smith

    As a former school teacher, I’m wired for routine. When I first began this new phase of my life as a writer, however, my need for organized perfection bound my creativity.
    I’ve discovered templates break those barriers! Templates provide the safety-zone structure I need that frees me to create.

  • James Fruits

    Such a great idea!!!! Thanks Michael!!!

  • James Fruits

    Michael, when do you use Apple Mail vs Entourage or do the two work together?

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      I don’t use Entourage. In fact, I haven’t used it in probably four years. I use Mail exclusively.

  • http://www.makingitrealministries.org/ Laura Naiser

    Thank you so much for taking the time to make and share that screencast!