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If you ask me what is that I spend most of my waking time on? And what is that I hate the most? The answer to these two questions would be the same – mail. Or if you prefer to be precise – email. Hate them or love them emails are a necessity. We cannot eliminate emails but can manage them better.
So here are some tips that I have learnt over years to manage emails.
Never read an email second time. I am grateful to one of my supervisors who taught me this principle. He would read an email only once, respond to it and be done. Before I met him, I would read one email a couple of times. Round one was to whet my curiousity Round two to read the emails and round three to respond!
Are you repeating my mistake? Please don’t.
Use one email for one topic. Don’t clutter the email with multiple topics. One email should have only one topic. If you have multiple topics in the same email, that is likely to confuse the reader. Don’t talk about the weekly meeting agenda, your recent conversation with the customer and the upcoming industry exhibition in the same email. Create three separate emails.
I used to end my emails with some irrelevant information to make it look personal. (“BTW, visited Lal Bagh (a historical garden in Bangalore, India) yesterday”). Now I have learnt that BTW sucks.
Stick to the subject, avoid unnecessary conversation. “It’s Friday today. The weekend is just around the corner. However, we have the weekly meeting, before you head out. That’s at 4:00 pm. The usual place.” This can be replaced with “Please come for the weekly meeting at 4:00 pm sharp in Meeting Room 2 on Friday (today)”. Or better still send a calendar appointment.
None has time to read long conversation emails. Keep the conversation for a call or a meeting.
Sometime, meet or call. Emails have limitations whatsoever you do. If an email is going around around recipients over days and eluding resolution, it is best to get up and make a phone call or get out and talk.
Make effective use of the subject field. Remember your email is going to compete with other emails for attention. Frame the subject in such a way that it summarises the email and catches attention.
Imagine that you are the IT head and want to inform everyone about system shutdown. It is better to say “No email access between 2:00 pm to 6:00 am” in the subject line instead of “System Shutdown”. The recipients would be more concerned about their emails than your server.
Summarise attachments in the email body. Sometimes you may have to send attachments with the email. There is high probability that an attachment gets ignored. It will help if the attachment is summarised in the body of the email. “The attachment contains requirements for phase 1 which require your review and approval” instead of just saying “Please see the attachment”.
Appreciate good emails. Since emails consume so much of our time, appreciate good emails, so that the word spreads and the quality of emails improves.
Mukund Toro is an independent Project Management Consultant who has worked with more than 1000 project managers. His 20+ years’ industry experience in software and telecommunication includes working in various capacities from project manager to director across multinationals, product and service companies and government research organisations.