Archive for inbox

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.


Links to email related resources:

Email Overloaded

The trusted trio

The inbox makeover

Inbox Zero By Merlin Mann

As always, thanks for reading and commenting.