Email as a Productivity Tool

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.

  1. 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.)
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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?
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.

 

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Is paper what you need?

I’m quite biased when it comes to this topic of using paper and pen because I can’t imagine my life without my 6×8 notebook and my V5 (black) Precise rolling ball pen.  This is my primary productivity tool and I know something similar is how many of you guys organize your days, weeks, months, years as well.  Am I right?

There’s another category of people out there (you know who you are).  This is the group of people that in reality really do love the paper/pen method for lists and tasking, yet they THINK they should be using something more advanced/digital/technically advanced.  I would go so far as to say that these folks often feel GUILTY for using paper.

Here’s the deal folks… Use what works.  Just because there’s a gazillion to-do list apps and promises that your productivity will go through the roof if you use them, I’m here to tell you that most of them don’t work for most people.  Yes, some work and yes some are effective.  However, if you use paper and you like it, it works for you and most importantly your BRAIN likes it (ie: it’s effective and helps keep you efficient in your day-to-day operations), then just get out there, find a great notebook (best size for to-do’s is 6×8 or something a bit smaller than the average sized notebook and NO legal pads allowed), and empty your brain!

Need further validation?  Here’s some for you from Lifehacker.  (And, another article that I wrote last year on this very topic from my blog.)

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Three Ways I’ve Simplified My Life Using Pen and Paper Instead of Technology

Technology is awesome. With a smartphone in your pocket and a laptop on your desk, you only need to remember which programs you’re using as your external brain. While the bulk of those processes work great for me—I’m still a die-hard pen and paper addict. Here’s why.

It’s possible to over-hack your life, but this is less about finding where you’re over-engineering a solution to a simple problem, and instead more about sticking with something that works for you. For me, this is writing things down.

Writing Out Lists Embeds Them in Your Memory

We’ve talked before about how with grocery lists. Essentially, I write out the week, write down the meals and ingredients, and then add any extra stuff I need from the grocery store. I do all this on the back of the ludicrously long receipt from last week’s grocery store visit so I have quick access to what I ate over the week (and I’m not wasting paper). Then I put the list in my pocket and go grocery shopping. I never take the list back out. Once I’ve written them down, it solidifies in my memory and I’m done. I’ve tried a few different grocery shopping apps, and I inevitably have to keep my phone in my hand while shopping because I can’t remember anything.

I do the same for my to-do lists. Although, instead of pen and paper, I use a giant whiteboard in my office area. The list is then forced in front of my face all the time. I can’t get away from it. My main problem with latching onto any to-do list app is that I have to open it to see it. That’s a step I’d rather not take. I still use some apps, like Checkmark for location based reminders, but for the most part my to-dos stare me down every single day until I wipe them off the whiteboard.

Paper Gives You More “Room” to Explore

One of the main reasons I like pen and paper is that I can break a lot of rules when I’m writing stuff down. If I’m brainstorming an idea with a mind map or by just writing stuff down, I can fill in between the lines. I can link things together with circles and take up as much space as I want in whatever mish-mash of methods I choose.

This, obviously, isn’t something everyone needs to do. To be clear, I’ll do this same thing on an iPad in an app like Paper every once and a while, and I adore using the iPhone app Drafts when I’m on the go. But for me, coming up with ideas is a messy process, and computers get in the way. Computers want formatting, or at the very least, they want order. Sometimes it’s simpler for me to just barf out my brains space onto a hard copy to get it in order first.

Writing Slows You Down

I can type a lot faster than I can legibly write, and because of that, I’m forced to slow down and actually pay attention to what I’m doing when I’m handwriting. Conversely, writing with pen and paper is faster for brain dumping ideas as sketches/maps/etc, but for actual words, it’s a lot slower.

As we’ve talked about before, slowing down is necessary sometimes. When you’re writing out something, the natural inclination is to do it as quickly as possible so you can get it over with. Paper slows me down and forces me to think a little bit longer about what I’m doing. It’s partially the semi-permanence of it, but it’s also the fact that when I’m distracted, I can’t just look on the internet—I have to sit there with the paper in front of me and force myself through the problem.

Quote of the week.

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