Captain’s log, stardate 20220205

My Daily Email Process

Longtime friend-of-the-list Danny R wrote in to ask about my process for sending these daily emails (shared with permission, edited lightly for clarity):

Hey J!

Loved your podcast interview with Paul Boag. Paul is awesome 😁

You mentioned your process for publishing your daily emails to kill the friction - upload to blog, auto send via rss or something...

Any chance you’d be willing to list out the steps you use to do that (unless you already have somewhere)?

Thanks! Danny

Sure, happy to share that!

It’s changed a bit over the years but this is my current process:

Idea Capture

Something about writing daily causes my brain to see ideas everywhere throughout the day. I guess my subconscious knows I always have an email due, so my brain runs this constant “idea detection” process in the background.

That said, if I don’t capture an idea the instant it occurs to me, I absolutely WILL NOT be able to remember it when I sit down to write. Therefore I need a frictionless place to capture ideas before they evaporate.

For me, that place is Gmail.

Why Gmail?

Gmail is located in a prominent location on all my devices, it runs on all the platforms I use (i.e., Mac, Win, Android, and iOS), it launches super fast, the compose button is big and obvious, I can type or speak or swipe my idea into a new message, and when I close the window it saves automatically to my Drafts folder and instantly syncs across all my devices. And oh yeah… it’s free.

I suppose it’s a little weird to be using my Gmail Drafts folder as a repository of article ideas, but I am not aware of another app that has this particular combination of characteristics.

If you have a different note taking system that works for you, then great! Use whatever works best for you. Just know that if you want to email daily, I can pretty much guarantee you’re going to want a frictionless and reliable process for capturing ideas.

Authoring Environment

Devices—Sometimes I type up my daily email on my main MacBook Pro, sometimes I speak it into my Pixel phone, sometimes I type or speak it into my iPad Pro, and I’m sure once or twice I have bashed it out on one of my kids gaming PCs. I have also written on Chromebooks, Android tablets, an old iPod Touch, or whatever other device is within arm’s reach.

Apps— When I’m on my main laptop, my favorite app for typing text of any kind is Sublime. Unfortunately, it’s only available on Mac OS, so…

When I’m not on a Mac (i.e., iOS/Android/Windows), I usually write in Gmail. I’ll scroll through the ideas in my Drafts folder, pick one that inspires me, and then start typing until I’m done.

Syntax—I write everything in Markdown because it is simple enough to type out on a phone, yet expressive enough to support basic text formatting, lists, and hyperlinks. I also like that it’s human readable without being converted to HTML or rich text.

Unless you’re already a Markdown fanatic like me, I am not so sure it’d be worth your time to look into it, especially if you don’t have two dozen heterogeneous devices that you could be switching between at any given time.

For example, if you’re an “all Apple” type of person, typing rich text in the Notes app is probably fine for authoring (and idea capture, too).

Writing Process

I write wherever, whenever. Standing, sitting, reclined, or lying down. Any room in the house, any time of day.

I’ve written daily emails on my phone with one thumb while sitting in the dark with my other arm pinned down by a sleeping baby.

I’ve written daily emails at 30,000 feet with a crap Boingo wireless connection.

I’ve written daily emails on an iPad from the parking lot of our karate school while my kids were inside swinging nunchucks.

I’ve written daily emails while sitting by a pond camping in the woods.

You name it, I’ve written there and then.

I don’t have a set time to write. I don’t write in batches and schedule for future publication. At some point, every day, I write. And when I feel like I’m done, I publish it.

There is no review process, so yeah… I’ve sent out some truly embarrassing typos. For the record, the ones that pain me the most are “your/you’re” errors. OMG do I hate those.

But therein lies the beauty of email:

There’s no going back. I sent it. It’s too late. If I sent something embarrassing yesterday, I can’t fix it.

My only recourse is to do better today.

(ASIDE: Daily email is kinda like a performance art. The only way to get better is practice, you’ll never be perfect, but you can always strive for excellence. And the more “at bats” you get, the more likely you are to hit the occasional home run.)

Publishing Process

Once I’ve got my message written, I publish it to my website. My website is custom PHP/Markdown site that I coded myself, so the specifics probably won’t be useful to you, but… for the morbidly curious:

I paste the Markdown into a simple page on my website that’s just a giant text area with a password field and two buttons: PUBLISH, and BACKDATE.

The Markdown goes into the text area, my password autofills into the password field, and I either 1) click the PUBLISH button, or 2) click the BACKDATE button if it’s after midnight.

Clicking PUBLISH stamps the article with the current time, saves the text as a file on my web server in the /daily directory, adds the post to my archive page, and updates a private RSS feed of my daily posts.

Clicking BACKDATE does the exact same thing, EXCEPT FOR the timestamp, which is backdated to 11:59pm yesterday.

Why do I need a BACKDATE button, you ask? Good question.

Here’s why…

I’m a night owl and often finish writing “todays” message after midnight. Without the BACKDATE button it can get surprisingly hard to know whether I wrote an email yet for a given date because it looks like I sent one already when really it was yesterdays published after midnight. See what I mean? Confusing. It’s like I always tell my kids, “It’s still today until I fall asleep!” LOL

Anyways…

If you’re a normal human who runs a Wordpress website and goes to sleep at a reasonable hour, you can ignore all of the above and simply paste your daily message into the admin interface of your blog and click publish :-)

How ever you publish to your site, the desired result is for your website software to automatically add your new daily post to an RSS feed of all your articles.

Syndication

RSS stands for “really simple syndication” which is a fabulous name because it’s actually true. Since RSS is simple, most web publishing platforms produce RSS feeds out-of-the-box, and pretty much anything can ingest an RSS feed one way or another.

For example:

Email—The email service provider I use to send my daily email (i.e., Drip) has a feature called RSS-to-Email that periodically checks my RSS feed for new posts. If it finds one, it turns it into an email.

(NOTE: I’m going to be migrating my daily emails off of Drip soon, so stay tuned for more on that in the future.)

Social Media—I use a no-code automation tool called Zapier to watch my daily RSS feed and publish new posts automatically to Twitter and LinkedIn.

(NOTE: I used to pronounce Zapier with a long A, but according to their website it rhymes with “happier”)

As Zapier adds support for other platforms, I can easily add them as outputs for my daily broadcast, so… maybe someday you’ll be able to read my daily email on TikTok or Insta ;-)

Slack—Zapier also can send links to a Slack channel. I have been experimenting with sending my daily message to a dedicated #daily-email channel in my private Slack community and it works great.

Presumably the same is possible with Teams, Discord, Twist, Discourse, etc. If you have folks in a private community, this might be a nice feature for them.

SMS—I haven’t done this personally, but I know it’s possible to use RSS to trigger an SMS to be sent to subscribers who have provided their phone number. Could be cool for the right type of audience. Or it could be a disaster. YMMV!

Audio—This is a bit of a stretch, but it’s not inconceivable with current technology to have your daily emails automatically converted to speech and published as a podcast feed that people could subscribe to in Apple Podcast or Spotify or whatever. Don’t be surprised if you see something like this from yours truly at some point :-)

Here’s the thing…

Looking back over this message, I fear I have made the process appear much more complicated than it is.

The reality is that all the stuff above is “set it and forget it”, and doesn’t required a stitch of coding expertise.

Once you have it wired up, then all you have to do is:

  1. Capture ideas when inspiration strikes
  2. Sit down and write once a day
  3. Publish your writing on your website

It really can be quite easy if you remove all the friction.

With the exception of the occasional long post (like this one), I probably spend an average of 15 minutes per day writing my daily email.

I know it sounds like a paradox, but daily is much easier than weekly. Give it a try. I’ll betcha it’ll end up being the best thing you ever did for your business.

Yours,

—J

P.S. Any questions? Just hit reply! I imagine I’ll want to do a few follow-ups on this one. Cheers!

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