Archive for email

Slaying the email monster

Posted in Web2.0 Productivity with tags , , on April 24, 2010 by Lance Strzok

If you get way too many emails, consider creating and sharing your own set of rules that you will generally enforce when it comes to email. Work with your friends and coworkers to reach a common understanding of some kind of architecture that will work for all of you.

Here is a possible example of some common rules that may help you and your group:

If you want me to do something with it now, put me in the To: line, add an importance (!) to it, and in a short paragraph, explain what you need from me with regard to the issue that follows in the email below, and when you need that decision made and back to you. You can include a desire for a phone call, or any other type of returned communication in order to meet your timeliness needs. (Remember, I may be checking my email from my phone while traveling). 

If you put my name in the CC: line, your email will go into a cc: folder by way of a “email rule” and I will not likely look at it. But if it makes you feel good, and the person on the other end of the email feels better knowing I am on the cc: line, then feel free. Do not put my name on the cc: line if you want me to read your email.

Draft your emails with purpose and brevity in mind. Tell me what you want from me, why I am involved, when you need it, how you want it, who else is involved, and what it is going to be used for.

Do not use the “reply all” feature and explain to those that do use it that those emails will likely be deleted by any of us involved.

Make sure your Subject line tells me something about the topic, and if applicable, time and importance, action or decision and dollar figure associated with that action or decision. Doing this correctly will get your email read by me, and incorrectly done will likely lead to a conversation on time management. If it is an announcement, put “Announcement” at the beginning of the Subject: and then the announcement topic.

Ask yourself if email is the appropriate tool for communicating the information at hand or the activity that is taking place. Often, there is a better tool available for the work that is being done. Examples: Is this a task? Do we have a tasking system that will handle this information more appropriately? Is this a discussion? Can anyone else benefit from the discussion? Then let’s move the discussion into a tool that handles discussions and captures that information in a place that is useful to the others involved. Allow others to subscribe to the conversation or unsubscribe based on their own desires. Some other tools to consider before email are: Chat, Blogs, Wiki entries, Document management systems, Microblogging, Social media, or Social bookmarking tools. Don’t forget the phone, it can be the right way to communicate in a lot of cases as well as the fastest way to resolve issues.

Do not attach files to your emails. Instead, put the file you want to attach in a document storage location with a URL that will allow those people you want to read it to have  access to it and be able to edit it with the permissions you have set on it. Again, no attachments, just links to the file in one location. In short, this will save money, time, and confusion since the document exists in one place and is edited by all there. See the “office rules for editing documents” write up for more on editing documents, check in, check out rules etc…

Check email three times a day. In the morning, lunch, and 30 minutes before you leave for the day. While you are checking the mail, consider using the three folders (follow up, archive,  and hold) mentioned in “The trusted Trio“. One that you will handle immediately, one that you will put emails that need greater time and attention, and then one that holds longer term issues.  When you open your inbox, put them into one of those folders and then handle the ones that need to be or can be handled immediately.

Turn off your email when you are not doing your email. This will stop the popups, and distractions. You can stay focused on doing your tasks rather than thinking about the one that just popped in.

Don’t use email for communications that involve a lot of money or people’s livelihood or lives. It is one thing to hold a meeting or have a phone call and follow up with information in an email, but the mixture of hands on, phone calls, and emails should be a good one. If it is important, make sure you have a conversation first, then follow up with an email reminder or summary if you think it is wise.

Please share your ideas and thoughts on additional ways to control the flow of email in your work by commenting below.

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Links to email related resources:

Email Overloaded http://email-overloaded.com/

The trusted trio http://lifehacker.com/software/email/geek-to-live%E2%80%94empty-your-inbox-with-the-trusted-trio-182318.php

The inbox makeover http://www.macworld.com/article/44327/2005/04/tipsinbox.html

Inbox Zero By Merlin Mann http://lifehacker.com/282544/merlin-mann-presents-inbox-zero

As always, thanks for reading and commenting.

How do we move away from email?

Posted in Web2.0 Productivity with tags , , , , , , , , on March 31, 2010 by Lance Strzok

I started this thread as a response to Andrew McAfee’s blog. http://andrewmcafee.org/2009/10/how-i-learned-to-stop-worrying-and-love-email/ .

There I shared the following thoughts on moving away from email:

I am living the truce with email, but I do think that email will act like a ball and chain on moving toward what could be, and what I think we agree will eventually be.

I think that the mindset for email should be as one to be used as a private communications path, with suggested replacement when possible with private chat and private messaging within chat for asynchronous discussion.

I think one thing we could do to move willing organizations toward limiting email and moving in the direction of other tools would be to disable attachments within email. Replacing them with links to documents in a document management system that is optimized for the media being linked too, (be it images, documents, video etc…). There are some added side benefits to this decision, reduction of the number of the same documents and the associated confusion over updates versions, and changes. There are other benefits, but I won’t go on about that.

A follow on move may be to declare that email will begin to be indexed and made searchable/discoverable unless it is flagged as personal and private. Encouraging employees to use private chat and chat messages for most of the personal exchanges that take place. This would enable us to start to use the email text strings (now without actual documents embedded). Maybe then email might not be “where knowledge goes to die” as you so appropriately put it. These emails (now text files) can indexed along with chat room logs (non private) and other text based tools as well. One additional thing would be that it may basically force a lot of people to review what they have, and delete those that are no longer worthwhile, thereby reducing total storage allocated to email from 20 years ago. (Can you believe some people are proud of that fact?)

The other uses of email would eventually need to be replaced with arguably better tools as well. Take for example the task list function, or the integrated calendar, meeting makers and the rest of the functionality we have come to love. Until we can point to a better solution in those areas as well, this is going to continue to be an uphill battle.

Then there are the customers and clients, we can change our internal methods and processes, but what about how we interact with our customers?

All good questions, but I just realized I started this long ago, and forgot to publish and finish it (busy).

Lastly, I will say that if you or your customers like Firefox as your browser, then linking your documents to Sharepoint is not the direction to go. They are only open for editing in Internet Explorer.

Blog vs email – Which one is work?

Posted in Web2.0 Productivity with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 17, 2009 by Lance Strzok

So the other day I realized that I need to keep track of the blogs that I respond to.

I realized that my responses to many blogs are very thoughtful and include quite a bit of cognitive effort to respond to in a meaningful way. This time, and effort, is not being captured and considered a part of my “work”.

How then are blogs and blog responses any different than emails and email responses? And why is one clearly considered work and the other considered a toy? Are my blog entries and blog responses any less valuable than an email? In fact how is it that my blog entries are not more valuable and more authoritative than an email since they are drafted to a greater audience and require more thought than a simple response to an email from a single person? I would argue that the transparency that my blog responses embody have just as much if not more value than something in an email. In addition to that, I contend that my blog entries are persistent, discoverable, and can be referenced by others (ping backs) when and where appropriate.

When I draft a response to a work-related issue in a blog, it is potentially being viewed by many and will persist. I am compelled to ensure that my reply is meaningful and accurately represents what I think about a given topic. That it is written with the intent of sharing or collaborating on the subject at hand.

When I draft an email response to a colleague, I do the same thing, but to a lesser extent because I know it is to a smaller audience.

So who really benefits from my insight and cognitive effort between the two mediums?

The greater good comes from my sharing my thoughts on a subject via a blog, where many can discover the conversation, and use my cognitive work. This is far more useful than an email that is sent and sits in a single individual’s saved email for future use by only that person.

Now to consider how to move ahead.

If I receive a work-related email involving an issue that is potentially pertinent to multiple people and will require considerable effort and thought when drafting a response, why wouldn’t I consider posting the question and response in a blog? This invites my network of peers and colleagues to enhance the response and send a link back to the originator. Who really benefits here? Everyone.

This is not to say that email should never be used. But, perhaps, its clear-cut use has and should be primarily the realm of personal and private conversations. If it is work, why would you share it with so few when so many could benefit from your cognitive effort? Not only could they and learn from you, but they could also help you learn if they feel compelled to add to the response as well.

So, tell me what you think? Are my blog responses work – or not? Are yours? Why are email messages considered work and blogs not?

Who likes maintaining email distribution lists?

Posted in Web2.0 Productivity with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on September 22, 2009 by Lance Strzok

So I had a Eureka moment last Friday.

I had been (back burner) crunching on how to avoid maintaining a distribution list for a publication that I am involved with (Innovation Office “Threads”).

I simply did not want to be the guy getting all those emails and maintaining the distribution list (call me lazy – fine). Also of importance here is that I still get emails from DL’s that I no longer want too, but getting my name off of them is not always straight forward since people come and go and you can loose track of who is maintaining a given DL. I simply wanted a way to allow people to get the “signal” that there is a new article, and stop it if they decided they did not want it anymore.

I also wanted to socialize the existence of the publication since it really just takes a topic (typically software) of interest to analysts and tries to boil it down to a fairly understandable description of what it is and how it can be used.

I wanted to embed a link in the articles, (typically .pdf files), that are created to take readers to this page where they could control the signal, (be it email or RSS), they are getting.

So I created a page in our Enterprise wiki that is about “Threads”, and on it, there are several sections;

– Purpose of the publication (described earlier)

– A link to the folder in Inteldocs so that users can subscribe to the folder in which I put the articles (subscriptions generate an email to the user each time there is a new article placed in the folder)

– A section for adding or removing your email address from a distribution list that I will use each time I send out an email of the article (for those without access to Inteldocs)

– A section for requesting future articles (always want to know what people want to learn about)

– A section for others to put links to similar articles or publications

I embed the link and a word “subscribe” in the articles to link to this page where people can control what signals they get and can also send to other people.

The fact that it is an Enterprise wiki matters because I want the “username” of people that make changes to it to be transparent to those using the wiki. That way people can be held accountable for making changes to the list.

My question to you – What do you think of this as a best practice with regard to DL’s and publications? What would you do to make it better?

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