Following on from last week’s post, here are a few more ideas for getting on top of email.
Expression is notoriously difficult to get right in emails – without verbal cues like someone’s tone of voice, or their body language, an email can be really easy to misinterpret. So – especially if it’s a “difficult” email, or a “difficult” person – read through before you send and take time to state clearly what you mean. Being more formal and less joky than you might normally in speech usually makes an email clearer (if more boring). Not everyone gets smilies ( 🙂 ) so if your email is full of them – or exclamation marks – it’s perhaps a sign you need to do some editing.
Make use of features in your email programme.
- Search is really useful – if you have lots of unread items, you could set up a search to help you prioritise them. Some useful searches are: sent by my boss/my boss’ boss; only sent to me; unread and over a week old.
- in outlook you can right-click then drag and drop to another folder – such as calendar or tasks. Choose “Move here as appointment/task with attachment” and outlook will make a new appointment/task for you, containing the email as a reminder. This saves switching between the email with meeting details and your new appointment, for example.
- some people like the reading pane or message preview, others don’t. You need to watch out for spam if you use preview, but otherwise both can be useful for quickly scanning and taking a decision about what to do with the mail.
Attachments take up loads of space – in your own mailbox and also in other people’s. They also take time & clicks to open. If your attachment only contains a couple of paragraphs, then it’s worth cutting & pasting and including in the body of the email – perhaps underneath your signature. Or try sending a link instead if your document is stored somewhere that all the message recipients can also reach eg. shared network drive.
Inform your message recipient clearly what you want them to do as a result of the message. I know I said this last week, but it’s worth saying again. If you start an email with a clear statement of the action you want someone to take, plus a timeframe, and end it in the same way, you will usually guide the recipient to a response that’s helpful to you eg. ideally “Yes fine, go ahead”.
Limit recipients – do you really need to copy everyone in, or reply to all?
Switch to the phone or pop round for a chat – if an email has generated an exchange of more than 3 or 4 further messages, consider giving the person a ring. Obviously something hasn’t been clear earlier in the trail – and it will take more email to sort it out. Often it’s quicker and easier in the long run just to have a chat.