Email has become the lifeblood of business communications and is an essential tool for gathering and sharing information.
Most of us would agree that it’s impossible to do our daily, even hourly, work without email.
On the other hand, nearly 150,000 emails are sent every minute, and the average office worker receives 121 emails every day.
While we need email and rely on it, many of us are also overwhelmed by it.
It’s all too common that, due to poor email practices, people miss important meetings or deliveries, work is delayed due to miscommunication about intent and deadlines, questions go unanswered, and productivity suffers.
So how can a manager apply email management best practices at work, in order to stay on top of everything?
Adopt Other Tools to Reroute Traffic and Decongest Your Inbox
Often, we find ourselves using email when there are more appropriate communication tools for the moment at hand.
Use Messaging Apps
Team chat apps like Slack, Mattermost, or ChatWork are essential for short, specific questions and answers that can be quickly exchanged.
These kinds of apps are useful for rapid responses and keeping information from being lost or bogged down in email.
Adopt Company Forums and Discussion Boards
For company-wide announcements, information, and discussion use forums or discussion boards rather than emails that cc: all.
Using an internal forum or even a wiki keeps company-wide information easily accessible, searchable, and public, rather than relying on individual users to create and use their own individual reference system.
Use In-person Meetings
Keep in mind that email and written communication sometimes confuses tone and emotion.
It may seem old-fashioned, but if an email thread gets derailed with repeated clarification and follow-up questions, then get on the phone, Skype, or call an in-person meeting.
Sometimes verbal communication is the best way to quickly create clarity and consensus, and establish next steps and action items.
Adopt Email Management Best Practices at Work
Using a range of communication tools keeps the right messages in the right channels, and reduces email traffic and inbox clutter.
However, there are also best practices within emails themselves that help to make communication shorter, more efficient, and more effective.
When composing an email, make sure you do the following:
1) Use clear, specific subject lines. Remember that many people will assess the relevance of an email by the subject line alone. Keep subject lines direct and to the point, and update the subject line of long, derailed threads
2) Include the right people and state why they are on the email. Be cautious with the cc. If a person doesn’t know why they are included on an email, they won’t act upon it. And if you include a lot of people just to keep them informed or updated, they may feel you are unnecessarily clogging up their email. Send emails to only the people who require the information, and who need to take action, and use other communication methods for general information and status updates (or a single daily/weekly/periodic summary email)
3) Lead with your action items. Use the first two to three sentences of your email to define who needs to take what action by when. If necessary, add explanation and detail below. Keeping action items at the top makes your intentions very clear, helps those who rely on email previews and notification windows, hastens action, and eases follow-up.
When replying to an email, keep these tips in mind:
1) Remember that you do not need to respond to everything. While it’s tempting to add your own opinion just for the sake of it, if it isn’t meaningful and actionable, you can skip hitting the reply button. Make sure that your replies are actionable and relevant, and know that a reply isn’t always necessary.
2) Keep your responses short. In many cases, brief responses are best, and you don’t always need to give a lengthy response to a lengthy email.
Furthermore, keeping your own emails brief is an example to the rest of the team, and helps them be concise as well. Due to the lack of emotional context in emails, short responses may be interpreted as curt or unfriendly, so it’s worth establishing upfront that brief replies are intentional and intended to save time and create clarity.
3) Remove extraneous people. Don’t “reply all” on reflex: if people are no longer relevant to the thread, remove them and save them from getting another email they don’t need. When in doubt, remove them. If they require a follow-up, they will let you know.
Email as a Productivity Tool
Your email inbox is not the best place to track tasks and to-dos, dates and reminders, project goals and priorities.
Your email inbox is simply an inbox, and you will have better productivity, work at higher quality, and be more efficient if you adopt a different method of tracking tasks to completion, managing your schedule, and monitoring projects and goals.
Flow-e is an email visualization tool that supports Lean methodologies.
Flow-e manages an email inbox by quickly converting emails into visually organized tasks, calendar items, delegated items, and more.
The kanban-like boards track tasks to completion, transform your calendar into a visual timeline, and remind you of important to-dos, deadlines, and follow-ups with a simple drag-and-drop.
Using a tool like Flow-e gets your mind out of email and into the tasks at hand.
Using these tips and best practices, you’ll be able to:
- Route communications through the right channel, communicating more quickly and effectively, and reducing email traffic
- Send and receive emails that are faster to read, with clearer objectives, increasing the likelihood that recipients will respond in the desired manner
- Manage your own email, calendar, and tasks more efficiently, making sure that you’re working on the right tasks at the right time, boosting your productivity and making sure that nothing slips through the cracks in your crowded inbox.