After writing yesterday’s post on email detox, I decided to look though my digital files for articles on email and see what else I could glean from them. Here are some of the results:
Processes emails in two windows each day. 60 mins each morning and then 30 minutes at the end of each work day.
The 60 minutes is used to process less important and less urgent messages. The 30 minute window deals with top priority items that require more thought.
Does not use multiple folders for different subjects but has three basic folders:
- His Inbox: Marks most important messages as unread so that they stay in front of him
- A “To-Do” folder: Items that I need to take action on or get responses on (just not necessarily right away)
- A “To-Read” folder: He also has filters that automatically direct newsletters into the “To Read” folder.
Everything else is archived. He rarely deletes anything
Does keep his email open through the day to see subject lines but is not usually replying until his two windows.
He marks important emails in his Inbox as unread so that they stay in his view (and processes these in his 30 minute session).
“By adopting military email etiquette, you will introduce a kernel of clarity to your correspondence and that of your colleagues and clients.”
1. Subjects with keywords. The first thing that your email recipient sees is your name and subject line, so it’s critical that the subject clearly states the purpose of the email, and specifically, what you want them to do with your note. Military personnel use keywords that characterize the nature of the email in the subject. Some of these keywords include:
- ACTION – Compulsory for the recipient to take some action
- SIGN – Requires the signature of the recipient
- INFO – For informational purposes only, and there is no response or action required
- DECISION – Requires a decision by the recipient
- REQUEST – Seeks permission or approval by the recipient
- COORD – Coordination by or with the recipient is needed
These demarcations might seem obvious or needlessly exclamatory because they are capitalized. But your emails will undoubtedly stand out in your recipient’s inbox, and they won’t have to work out the purpose of your emails. (It also forces you to think about what you really want from someone before you contribute to their inbox clutter.)
2. Bottom Line Up Front (BLUF).
Military professionals lead their emails with a short, staccato statement known as the BLUF. (Yes, being the military, there is an acronym for everything.) It declares the purpose of the email and action required. The BLUF should quickly answer the five W’s: who, what, where, when, and why.
3. Be economical.
Military personnel know that short emails are more effective than long ones, so they try to fit all content in one pane, so the recipient doesn’t have to scroll.
Time Management Ninja describes what he did to avoid checking email on vacation.
- Set Expectations – Simply setting expectations in your absence is a powerful method of preventing many communication issues. Make sure people know you are out of the loop. When I am on vacation, I ensure that my out-of-office notification clearly states that I will be away and who to contact in my absence.
- Trust Your Team – Too many leaders want to “be in on every decision.” You need to trust your team to make decisions and act in your absence. No one person should be indispensable to operations. And if they are, you aren’t empowering your people.
- Reachable for Emergencies – Maybe not for the general population, but my boss and my direct reporting manager could reach me via text or Slack.
I love this idea
Employees no longer have personalized email addresses. Instead, each individual posts a schedule of two or three stretches of time during the day when he or she will be available for communication. During these office hours, the individual guarantees to be reachable in person, by phone, and by instant messenger technologies like Slack. Outside of someone’s stated office hours, however, you cannot command their attention. If you need them, you have to keep track of what you need until they’re next available.
On the flipside, when you’re between your own scheduled office hours, you have no inboxes to check or messages demanding response. You’re left, in other words, to simply work. And of course, when you’re home in the evening or on vacation, the fact that there’s no inbox slowly filling up with urgent obligations allows a degree of rest and recharge that’s all but lost from the lives of most knowledge workers today.
Unsubscribe from newsletters, promotional email messages, and other non-essential email messages using something like SpamDrain. Other services like Unroll.me round up your promotional email messages and newsletters and let you unsubscribe in a single click. Those you want to keep are organized into a single email delivery each day.
To cut down on future junk email messages, establish an email address to use for subscriptions and online purchases.
2. Scan and sort
Scan your emails and sort them into folders that will allow you to process the same kinds of emails together which is far more efficient than jumping from one subject to another or one level of intensity to another.
#4 Write your Emails Backwards – To improve responses to your emails, lead with the question or call-to-action as the first line in your email.
#7 Don’t Play Email Ping-Pong – Avoid the back-and-forth email conversation. If you have to reply more than twice, you should probably pick up the phone and call the individual. Email is not a good medium for conversations.
Open your inbox and begin with the very first email. Open it up and immediately decide what you will do with it. You have a few options:
- Trash it. If it is junk or something that is irrelevant to you, erase it.
- Archive it. If it is something you may need in the future, but that requires no action on your part, archive it.
- Reply to it. If you can reply to it in no more than ten or fifteen seconds and with little mental exertion, do that right away.
- Move it to your Reply folder. If you cannot reply to it in just a few seconds or if it will require some thought, move it to your reply folder.
Now move to the next email in your inbox, and then the one after that, and the one after that. Do not skip emails and do not allow yourself to do nothing with your emails. By the time you are finished, you should have 0 emails in your inbox.
My plan is check in at the beginning and end of the work day and spend that time to read and respond to emails for a concentrated 30 minutes. The rest of the day, my inbox will be closed and I’ll set an auto response to let people know that they’ll have to wait a little while longer for a response.
TURN OFF NOTIFICATIONS! “If you’re interrupted, even if you handle it in one minute, it takes another four minutes to get back to what you were doing before,” she explains. “It’s death by a thousand paper cuts. If you can reduce 15 interruptions a day, you’ll find yourself with at least an hour more of productivity. If you do this for a week, that’s five more hours of uninterrupted working time.”
LIMIT CHECK-INS! For maximum productivity, she suggests, limit your checks to just three times a day: first thing in the morning, after lunch, and near the end of the day. If that seems completely unreasonable, add in a mid-morning and mid-afternoon email fix. “Anything but the direst emergency—which shouldn’t be conveyed in email anyway—can wait 90 minutes or more,”
DON’T CHECK IF YOU WON’T REPLY: If you can’t give your email the appropriate attention, don’t bother checking it. “Check your email only when you have time to respond, not just react,” Egan advises. “Why would you check your email five minutes before you go to sleep? If someone sends a scathing note, you’ll stew about it all night, and there’s nothing you’ll be able to do about it.