John Caudwell, an English businessman and philanthropist who has made his fortune in the mobile phone business Phones 4u, told his employees to no longer use e-mail. The net result is that the business has been dramatically liberated, leaving the typical Phones 4u person with an extra three hours a day to concentrate fully and without distraction on sales and customer service.” [Workforce Week, 23/Sep/2003]
It seemed like the simplest most efficient tool when you started using it – but before you knew it, you were intoxicated – a slave to your inbox and much of it was of little interest to you.
If you are a manager, you should explore all that the PEP Program has to offer – it has had amazing results in workplaces across the world. But in the meantime, here are some other suggestions to help you out.
- Keep your inbox as empty as possible with only the items that you need to action in the next week or so
- Unsubscribe from those regular inbox-filling newsletters and advertising that you never get around to reading
- If necessary, gently let your friends who are senders of unwanted emails know that you’d prefer not to receive them anymore
- Create folders for projects your are involved in, organisations you work with and/or people with whom you correspond
- Create a “Pending” or “Waiting” folder to keep track of your emails that request information or action from other people
- Create a “Reading” folder for anything that can be read at your leisure – scan this folder every few weeks and either read, store, pass on and/or delete
- Maybe create a “Jokes” folder for somewhere to go when you need a laugh
- Use the “Deleted Items” folder enthusiastically – periodically purge the emails that are no longer required
- If you are a little more adventurous:
- Use “Search Folders” to keep track of emails in multiple folders with a particular status – eg, flagged, drafts, unread, etc
- Use “Inbox Rules” to send emails with specific characteristics to particular folders.
- Ask yourself whether email is the best way to communicate your message to your readers
- Avoid email when the message could cause offence – you may make enemies unnecessarily
- Avoid email when the message brings bad news – your readers may need support
- Avoid email when the message is complicated – eg, when delegating tasks – there are always questions and/or misunderstandings
- Avoid email when the message is confidential – emails can easily be forwarded to another address or posted in the public domain
- Avoid email if you are angry or upset – count to 24 (hours), wait until you cool off, then deal with the issue accordingly
- If in doubt, pick up the phone or meet face-to-face – it is often quicker and more effective than emails.
Writing & Formatting
- Write your email as if your sixth grade teacher was reading it:
- Write for understanding, not to show off the size of your vocabulary
- Eliminate spelling errors and poor grammar
- Use the subject line to clearly summarise the subject of your email
- Write your email as if your readers were in a hurry (they probably are):
- Get to the point quickly – clearly tell them what you want from them
- Use simple sentences with words you are familiar with
- Use short sentences – one idea per sentence please
- Use active (not passive) sentences
- Don’t mark the email “urgent” if it isn’t
- Write your email as if your Nana was reading it:
- Eliminate any humour or language that she may find offensive, provocative or in poor taste
- Eliminate clichés, acronyms, and techno-speak that she may find incomprehensible
- Be open and honest if you can, otherwise just be honest
- Respect the readers of your email by keeping formatting simple – not everyone has the same email system
- Use easy-to-read fonts and colours – come on, you know which ones they are
- Use upper case sparingly – it is the written equivalent of shouting
- Enhance readability and navigation – use headings, dot points, and white space
- Use a signature block so that readers have your contact details
- Get into the habit of filling in the addresses last – how many times have you clicked “send” instead of “save”?
- Consider your readers’ inbox limit – only send attachments when necessary or else store them in common folders like DropBox
- Ensure there is value for every addressee in every email you send – circulate messages to as few people as possible
- Assume all your messages are received but communicate personally if and when follow-up is required
- Only respond to emails if you have something to contribute
- If you pass an email on to someone else for action, copy in the person who sent it to you so they know who the contact person is.
References & Acknowledgments
- The PEP Program
- Endless email; Kirsty Dunphey; smartcompany.com.au; Jan/2008
- Writing effective email – improving your electronic communication; Nancy Flynn & Tom Flynn; 2003
- The Management Bible; Flanagan & Finger
If you would like further information, contact the Hub. When you’re ready to talk, we’re ready to listen!