The Email Problem
When I ask people in business what stops them being productive they mostly say, “Dealing with all my EMAIL!” It’s reassuring to know that Email is a shared problem but how can businesses get on top of it?
In a previous article we looked at ways to “Take Control of Your Inbox” by: 1) choosing when to check Email and 2) using a process to sort messages quickly.
But why stop there? Let’s look at some of smart Email tools available in Microsoft Outlook that can help businesses work smarter. This article takes a look at Rules, Colour Coding and Quick Parts.
We also look at smarter Email structure and practices that can reduce the time employees spend processing Email. There is no magic solution but with some effort and imagination teams can use these ideas to collectively come up with ways to use their time more productively.
Smart Email Tools
1. Use Rules for Decision Making and Filing
Use the Rules functionality to automatically process Emails. If you set the conditions that an Email meets, a certain action is taken. That may sound complex but with a little practice and testing, you can master rules. Most rules either: 1) organise messages or 2) notify you of their arrival. An sample rule is “to move messages from a Newsletter subscription into a Newsletter folder”.
These Emails don’t require immediate action but their arrival can often interrupt our focus on priority tasks. By using a rule you ignore them until you chose to read them. The rule helps you take control and use your time productively. Schedule this low priority task into a short gap in your calendar or when your energy levels are low.
Create rules to suit how you work. Here are some ideas:
- Identify Emails from your most important clients and send them to the top of your Inbox.
- Move all meeting invitations to a “Meeting Invites” folder for easy retrieval
- Email from certain people stays in your Inbox while all other mail is moved to specified folders (this rule is not for the faint hearted, but a version of it could work for you)
Top Tip: Don’t forget about Emails that have been filed automatically. Check regularly.
2. Use Colour Coding to Prioritise
Categorise Emails using colour coding to help visually sort and prioritise them. This ensures that important Emails stand out and don’t get overlooked. Assign a colour based on The Sender or text in the Subject line. Also colour code based on the location of your name i.e. in the To, Cc or Bcc field.
Top Tip: Don’t overuse this tool or your Inbox can look like a rainbow!
3. Use Quick Parts to Save Time
Quick Parts in Microsoft Outlook is a simple tool that allows you reuse a standard block of text, This could text that is used repeatedly such as a project scope statement, a product description or a Company Mission statement.
Save the text from within an existing Email. To retrieve the saved text in a new Email simply type the first few words of the block and press enter to accept the suggested text.
Smart Email tools
A lot of time is lost reading through Emails to decide how to respond. If you make changes that effect a team of people it is important to get together and brainstorm the best approach. By using these smart Email tools to work smarter together your outcomes and results are more beneficial to the business.
1. Email Structure – Clarify Actions
Rounds of clarification Emails can be avoided by clarifying what you want your readers to do. By using the simple checklist of what, why, who and when you can structure longer complex messages in a way that removes any uncertainty.
Top Tip: Avoid offending colleagues by using language that is too instructional. Involve them in agreeing the new Email structure.
2. Email Structure – Use Purposeful Subjects
If a message is very short you can actually type it in the Subject line itself! This saves a couple of extra clicks to open and close the message. As above, I recommend discussing this in advance with your colleagues so they don’t find your new approach annoying!
Here are some examples where the Subject line can be used for a short message:
- Action: Review attached report by Friday
- Project Y: Meeting 1pm tomorrow, Board Room
- FYI on Project X: No Response Req.
Some people also use acronyms like NRR “no reply required” to make expectations really clear. Try to come up with acronyms related to your own business to save Email processing time.
Other things to consider
Generally the more Emails we send the more we receive. To reduce your Email volumes consider other options. While Email is invaluable for sharing facts, reports or group updates, sometimes a phone call or a desk visit is a better option, particularly if you need to exchange opinions, feelings or thoughts.
Some companies have gone as far as introducing Email free times to give their employees uninterrupted time slots for deep concentrated work. Can you and your team come up with some ideas to collectively reduce Email processing time.
I hope you find a way of applying these ideas within your business. It is never easy to adopt new ways but try to persist until the changes stick. Let us know what work and what doesn’t. And of course please share any of your own tips in the comments below.
For more information or details about our Email Management workshops please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org