One of the challenges we have encountered in a world where communication takes less effort than the snail mail time and it doesn’t require an investment of a stamp for each message we want to send, email has contributed to the state of overwhelming many business owners are grappling with.
Not unlike many other challenges, business owners can improve the situation with intentional email management, education and training. Taking a “do nothing” stance is a decision that is unlikely to improve the situation.
Given the impact on your mental health from the state of overwhelm and fear of missing out as well as the financial cost (hourly rate * time to manage email) to continue with your current system, the business case can easily make this one process more effective and efficient.
Let’s get proactive!
Reflect on your role in contributing to the problem. What are you tolerating? What are you reinforcing and rewarding? Categorize the challenges by source: clients, team members, subscriptions/lists, suppliers, others. We are part of the problem, so we need to be part of the solution.
Get to the root cause. Are you using email as a client management system rather than a more appropriate tool?
Plot the communication on Stephen Covey’s 4 Quadrants – which communication is:
- Urgent and important?
- Non-urgent and important?
- Urgent and not important?
- Non-urgent and not important?
Draft or sketch out the ideal state several months away. Create the plan with measurable improvements /targets.
Identify what you can do differently to positively achieve the result. What do you need to stop doing? Continue doing? Start doing?
What’s the plan to get there?
Measure your results. Get feedback. Are you on the right track to achieve the intended result?
What are you learning along the way? What actions do you need to take based on the experience? Reflect on results.
Draft your plan, execute the plan, reflect and check results and take action based on what you’ve learned/experienced. PDCA Explained
Tips to Integrate into your Email Management System
Email management is a system/process. Chance is that you have not dedicated time on a regular basis to improve your email system and it has gradually become a larger challenge/issue in your organization. As your organization grows, so too has the issue. Your current system has evolved by default. Now it’s time to get proactive and intentionally shape the system into a more effective and efficient one.
Train your team members to write better emails and demonstrate these tips and practices in your own emails to them. That’s right, YOU go first.
- Use accurate subject lines
- Learn how to search rather than spending time categorizing and filing
- Don’t use business for personal communication
- Use templates
- Brevity – email is communication / transmittal. Use a five sentences email and signature script
- Use more live calls for longer communication or when multiple subjects need to be discussed
- Do not send an email to multiple recipients without telling them what they are supposed to do with it
- Give full context at the beginning of the message
- When you send an email to multiple people, note why each person should care at the top
- Make action requests clear
- One subject per email in most cases. Combine separate points into one message – condense the number of open conversations you have with clear responses – instead of sending 50 tiny messages, combine them into one.
- Edit forwarded messages to make them relevant for the next recipient and not get anyone in trouble
- Include topic in the subject line when scheduling a call or meeting
- Make your email one page or less. Include the meat of the communication first as many people never fully open their email and read-only what appears in the reading pane.
- Understand how people prefer to be reached and how quickly they respond – pick up the phone more
- Restrain “reply all” unless essential that everyone on the email sees your reply
How to Receive Email
Good change management practices include communication about the reason for the change and the need to change. Ensure that you communicate with those who will be most impacted by your changed behaviour and improvements to your email management system. You may need to roll out training or educational programs if your plan is to improve email management throughout the organization. Incorporate your email best practices into your staff onboarding and team development programs.
For clients, part of your client onboarding program should include a section on email and other forms of communication so that you establish expectations from day 1.
- Check email at defined times each day. Let people know that if they need to reach you urgently, email isn’t the way. When it is email management time, do not allow distractions so you can power through them quickly. Turn off automatic notifications and close your email until “time to do email”. If you have assistants, they may be able to check your email and conduct the initial triage according to your instructions.
- Consider using an inbox filing system to quickly file emails into “Action”, “Waiting For”, “Read” folders. Use a paper response list to triage messages you receive – write down what you need to do or whom you have to call and attack the responses based on priority.
- Charge people for sending you messages. People will think about their behaviour more and not haphazardly send emails.
- Send all messages that come in during your vacation time to the delete folder with a vacation responder telling people they’ll need to reach out again when you return from vacation as their email has been deleted. If it is urgent, call __________ or message ______________.
- Train your team to be relevant. If you are being sent irrelevant emails, respond with “Relevant?”. This will help you train people on what you consider relevant. The goal is to calibrate relevance, not criticize the team.
- Answer briefly – when someone sends you a long email, reply with 3 words, “Yup, great idea”. They will learn not to expect a long response from you and you can then respond at your leisure.
- Send out delayed responses – for non-urgent communication, type response but have it sent in a couple of days – training people to not expect an immediate response.
- Ignore it – if it is something important, you’ll hear about it again. People will call you or stop by.
- Use rules and notifications to alert you to important messages, delete unread messages, archive old messages and unsubscribe you from email lists.
- Use your email signature and your auto-response as one way to communicate changes to your own behaviour to those sending you emails.
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