Ready to rock that email? Here’s my last months NewsPress article… and here’s to a lean and clean email inbox!
Making email a productivity tool for your business
Email – the biggest boondoggle in business today. I’m sure many small business owners, entrepreneurs, managers, and supervisors agree with me. Not only are they overloaded with messages screaming for attention, employees face the same challenge, with the bonus of personal emails thrown in the mix.
Here’s the thing, it doesn’t have to be that way. When tamed, email is one of the best tools for increasing productivity. Try and name a more effective tool at the same price point as email. Yep, I can’t think of one either.
How does one go about wrestling email into submission? For starters, follow the Golden Rule: Email unto others, as you would have them email unto you. Also, I offer the following 10 tips, but not before giving thanks to David Finkel of witi.com for the inspiration.
- Disable the auto alert on your desktop. Do you really need to know the second an email comes in? Even if you think the little blip on your screen doesn’t interfere with your work, that constant niggling at the brain adds up, and not in a good way. Try checking email at certain times of the day, rather than all day long. (Not easy, I know, but so worth it.)
- Use the subject line to its full advantage. It has the highest profile of the entire email. It’s what gets read and determines if there will be a subsequent click to get to the body of the email. Be specific. “Follow-up to my voicemail regarding Briggs contract” is far more helpful to the recipient than “Quick question.” No more blank subject lines or “Hi there.” If forwarding an email, make sure the subject line makes sense to the recipient. If not, reword it.
- Cut to the chase with a phone call, if necessary. Sometimes, the only thing a long back-and-forth thread of emails does is further confuse the issue. A 10-second clarifying phone call can clear things up. Email is one form of communication, not the only one.
- Choose your recipients wisely. Who really needs to be on CC and BCC lines? Remember, it’s not just the one email, but all the follow-ups. All the possible back and forth is sure to jam your inbox tout suite.
- Got a loooong conversation thread that needs a reply? Put the important stuff up top. That way, your recipient(s) won’t need to weed through the conversation thread. Additionally, if you are composing a long email, using numbers or bullets makes it easier on the reader.
- Think about sending less email. That way, you’ll receive less. Can you walk over to someone’s desk and ask a quick question or give a short answer instead of emailing?
- If wondering whether you should send an email or not, don’t. (You know, “When in doubt, don’t.”) Email lacks the humanness of voice, gesture, or expression, resulting in a miscommunications minefield. Handle sensitive topics face-to-face or voice-to-voice. A follow-up email can serve as documentation. And, of course, never put something in an email you wouldn’t say to a person’s face.
- Email is not intended as a project manager application. Don’t treat it as such. There are plenty of free and low-cost task manager tools available. Find one.
- Chances are there is a core group of colleagues you email. Know their preferences and work style. Do they prefer having multiple subjects in one email or an email per item? Do they check email before lunch but not after? What types of emails do they want to be included? Let them know your preferences, too.
- Adapt a subject line system with your core group. For example, the number 1, written as the first character in the subject line, could indicate time sensitive. Number 2 means action required, and number 3 could signify FYI purposes only.
Adapt the above tips to your unique needs. Maybe your business depends on immediate email responses and you don’t have the luxury of time to compose a response. Well, then how about having some standard replies ready to copy and paste?
Today, businesses are at a point where the newness of email has worn off. Company protocols along with rules about personal use on work time are in place. If email truly is a boondoggle at your office, chances are it’s not an email thing.
Maybe it’s a management thing. Lay-abouts and nonperformers always have liabilities in the cost of doing business. So, before blaming email for sluggish productivity, take an honest inventory of your strengths and weaknesses. Maybe some improvements in communication, of the non-digital kind, are needed, such as more feedback, goal setting, and follow through.