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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

DOING MORE WITH LESS SERIES - Email Management 101


OK, admit it. Your email box is out of control.

Here it is December 30th and you are trying to decide whether to just delete the 4000+ emails that are still sitting there (or move them to a folder just in case you need something that is there) or to plow through them just to check to see if you missed something important.

Here are some tips for making your email more manageable in 2009.

1. EMAIL LISTS - Take the time to get off of the mailing lists that you don't care about. This one seems obvious, but most of us just delete the messages versus taking the time to click on the Unsubscribe link at the bottom of list generated emails. While some are easier than others to get off of, it is worth the time to ensure that you don't have to deal with the same emails day after day or week after week if you don't read them.

2. PERSONAL EMAIL - If you don't have a personal email address (such as GMail or Yahoo), get one. Your business email address is the domain of your company and they have complete freedom to review anything going back and forth to that email box and if you leave the company they can elect to forward it to someone else in the company to ensure continuity in the business. Plus if you get laid off or are job hunting, it is best to have an email address where people can contact you separate from your current employer. List that personal email on Facebook, LinkedIn, Plaxo, Twitter, etc.

Let your friends and relatives know that while you love hearing about their lives, that you would really like to be taken off their list for jokes and chain letters. Here is text that I recommend.

Dear xxxxx, I hope you have had a great holiday season. I'm working on streamlining my life for 2009 and that includes getting control of my email. I welcome personal notes from you that help me keep in touch with what is going on in your life, but would really appreciate it if you would take me off of your mass email list for jokes and such. Here's wishing you a prosperous 2009. Stay in touch.

3. CORPORATE EMAIL ETIQUETTE - If you manage a large team or are having to do more with fewer resources, 2009 is the time to enforce better email etiquette.

First of all, institute a new way to communicate via email and get your entire organization to agree on some basic tenets that will help everyone.
  • Practice word economy - remember that many of your colleagues are reading emails on their blackberry or iphones. Pretend you are on Twitter and only have 140 characters to work with. If an email causes you to scroll down more than once, you probably should just be sending a short note asking for a phone call to discuss the situation.
  • Ask yourself if a 5 minute conference call could be more effective than a set of serial emails going back and forth between multiple individuals
  • The TO: line is just for people that need to be actively involved in the decision or directly impacted by the information in the email.
  • Really think before you CC: people - Finish a discussion before copying in those affected by the outcome. If you want their input, they should be in the TO: line or on a conference call.
  • Resist the urge to send a "thank you" email or other banalities, particularly responding with REPLY ALL, filling up a mailbox unnecessarily
  • If you require ACTION from someone, highlight that item in the email with BRICK RED text and use the >> symbol: >> PLEASE REPLY BY TUESDAY AT NOON
The best suggestion I've ever heard on email management came from my friend Kathy who in her communication with her staff required that each email indicate whether the originator was looking for a "nickel" answer (simply yes or no), a "quarter" answer (no more than a paragraph providing clarification or direction) or a "dollar" answer (long enough that it can't be read on a blackberry or that requires consideration and thought in reply). You can ask your team to simply include 5c/25c or $1 in the subject line, or you can use Priorities (Low, Medium and High). In order for this to work, it has to become a cultural thing within your organization that is enforced by everyone and allows you to sort your email and work it appropriately.

4. EMAIL RULES - Take time to learn how to use your email rules function within Outlook or Entourage. It will help you to sort email into sub-inboxes that will give you better control.

5. EMPTY EMAIL BOX AT END OF THE DAY - Vow to end each day with an empty email box. An easy way to do this is to create sub-folders that help you manage your work for the next day:
  • CALLS TO MAKE
  • PENDING TRAVEL
  • UPCOMING MEETINGS
  • RESEARCH
  • REQUIRES AN ANSWER
I hope that this helps you in getting organized. Now I need to go and deal with my own email box........

Happy New Year!

Chicke Fitzgerald
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