A couple of weeks ago, Cody Bunch had a great post called Unbreak Email in 2015: 3 folders, 2 times a day, 1 rule. I’ve done a pretty horrible job and managing email of late and working out just how to adopt Cody’s workflow into my daily emails. As I have though about how to use this, I realized the problem isn’t just managing incoming email, its that we don’t do a very good job of sending emails (and I am just as much at vault there).
Let’s take a look at an example and see where it falls over.
This is what I currently have for documentation. Can you take a look and edit as needed.
Pretty typical email for me (you as well?). What is wrong with it? To me there are a few problems
- Not specific – For example what documentation. Yes I can look at the attachment but what is the documentation related to? What is the project? What specifically should I review in it? All of this things give me focus and prevent me (or you if I sent it) from spending time “editing as needed” something that may not have needed editing.
- No due date – When you ask someone to do something via email, it becomes another task or project that the person you are emailing has to take on. In all likely hood they are not sitting around playing legos in their cube. Give the person a due date so they know how to prioritize or respond.
Here is a better example of how that email would look.
It’s been a while since we discussed the requirements for the VPLEX implementation project. This is what I currently have for documentation on system requirements and installation. Can you take a look at the systems requirements section and validate all versions are correct before the meeting on Tuesday.
What do you think? For me this is a much better email. It is still short to the point, and gives me everything I need to know in order to prioritize and/or respond to the request.
- Specific – I know exactly which project this is referring to; the VPLEX implementation project – this allows me to recall details specific to this project and not have to figure out what project it is related to. I know that I need to look at the documentation to validate software versions; rather than reviewing the entire document (which someone else may be responsible for) I can go directly to the area that needs focus.
- Due date – I also know exactly when the person sending me the email needs it back by. This allows me to prioritize the work, and because it was specific, the level of effort needed to complete it. Can I complete this task by the requested date? If yes then great, if not I need to determine if I have other tasks/projects that can be shifted or let the person (or my manager know) that this new request interferes with others and either assign it to someone else or determine if other project status have changed.
Another problem with emails, they are to long. Don’t worry I won’t post an example of one of those here! Email is not documentation. If your email is more than a few sentences, step back and determine a better medium to share the information. Maybe a blog post, or Word document in your document management system. Remember images are powerful – worth a 1000 words… correct? If you have to spend 5+ sentences explaining something see if you can use a picture to show the person what you are trying to explain. As humans we remember images more easily than we do lines of text. Generally speaking we also don’t actually read all of the words/letters.
What I am going to try and do with email in 2015:
- Be short
- Be specific
- Provide a due date
- Email the person I am asking. Only CC those who may need this in the future.
Am I missing anything? What tips do you have for email? Oh and for the love of the computer gods, please stop replying all to tell us you are going to Disney World (yes I am talking about you – you know who you are!)