May 05, 2017
How to Go Beyond the Email Blues

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In 1999, I wrote a tongue-in-cheek blues song about email.

My purpose was to poke fun at some of the email madness going on at that time. (If you want to give a listen, click the link above).

It's 18 years later now and the email scene has become even weirder.

If I was going to write a sequel, it wouldn't be the blues, it would be the black and blues -- because that's how bruised most of us are feeling these days about email. Bruised, abused, and beat up.

And so, in service to all of the loyal readers of The Heart of Innovation and all of Idea Champion's awesome clients, it is my privilege to share with you our own email survival strategies -- perhaps the most practical posting you will ever read on this blog.

1. Decide. Phone or email: Before sending off yet another email, ask yourself if email is the appropriate platform to communicate your message.

Maybe a phone call would be better. Or a face-to-face meeting. Or skywriting.

Laptop anxieny.jpg

If your email is more than 2-3 paragraphs, you probably need to talk.

Emotionally charged issues are better done on the phone or in
person.

If you require consensus or a quick decision, screw email. Try Skype or the phone or -- this just in -- walk down the hall and actually talk to somebody.

2. Create a simple way to organize your email: I'm not suggesting you sign up for one more poorly facilitated webinar to figure this out -- but you will need to devise a simple and sustainable way to process all the messages flooding your inbox daily.

If you don't have some kind of organizing system in place, you will be a victim of email overload, resulting in the regrettable phenomenon of the people waiting for your response to assume that you've either moved to Mongolia or don't like them (both of which may be true).

When a new email comes in, you have five choices:

1. Read it immediately and respond
2. Read it and delete
3. Keep it in your inbox (which becomes your handy dandy TO DO list
4. File it in a folder called "BIG VINNY" and respond later
5. File it, by subject, in various folders in your sidebar

3. Read the entire email: When you are pressed for time, it is more than likely you will only glance at your emails, instead of actually reading them.

The result? You miss key pieces of information and, without realizing it, subsequently confuse other people down the line or waste their time because you are only partially informed about the topic of the email, but you (madly scrolling through your emails like Robin Williams on crack), think you know.

4. Write clear subject lines: Many emails get lost or neglected because their subject lines seem to have been written by Esperanto fanatics or dyslexic owners of Rod McKuen books.

Cease and desist! Snap out of it! Use laser-like. descriptive headlines. You can do this! You can! Do not write "An Idea" in your subject heading. Write "An Idea for Tripling Our Sales: FEEDBACK NEEDED" or SOMETHING that alerts to the reader to what your email is really about.

5. Include "Requests for Action", when appropriate:
If you want readers of your emails to actually respond (not just read your email as if it was the back of a cereal box), be sure to include the response you are requesting in the subject line.

FEEDBACK NEEDED
ACTION REQUESTED
CALL TO ACTION
CALL ME TODAY

NOTE: If you begin an email thread and have received all the input you need, remember to delete the REQUEST FOR ACTION phrase in your subject line. Otherwise, you will get besieged by input you neither need or want.

6. Begin your subject line with "FYI" if all you are doing is sharing information,
i.e.

FYI: Going on vacation
FYI: I just won the Congressional Medal of Honor
FYI: Cool article about Lithuanian muffins

7. Maintain single subject threads: If multiple subjects are embedded in emails, readers lose track and become, functionally (or pathologically), out of the loop.

Do not add new subjects to email threads. If a given email "reminds" you of a new topic you feeling a burning need to communicate, start a new email thread. Or move to Canada.

8. Use ALL CAPS sparingly: Caps, when used selectively, can be very effective, calling attention to key words.

Used indiscriminately, they create the impression of SHOUTING. LOTS OF SHOUTING. IT GETS OLD FAST. VERY FAST. LIKE THESE FEW LINES OF THIS BLOG POSTING WHICH ARE NOW STARTING TO SEEM LIKE AN INFOMERCIAL FOR A HOME EXERCISE MACHINE YOU CAN BUY IN SIX EASY PAYMENTS OF $99.99, BUT YOU WILL NEVER USE.

9. Use "cc: selectively: Before ccing everyone in the known universe, PAUSE and ask yourself WHO really needs to read your email?

If you have any doubt, check in with your cc minions and ask them to tell you WHAT email topics of yours they really need to be cc'd on.

10. Be Wise About "To" and "Copy" Fields: Remember this, oh multi-tracking and time-crunched sender of emails: Names in the "To" field are for people you are directly speaking to. Names in the "copy/cc" field are for people who will benefit from reading your email email, but your email is not essential to them and you do not need them to respond.

11. Acknowledge the sender: If an email falls in a forest, does anyone hear it?

Please understand that it is a courtesy to acknowledge that you have received and understood SOME of the emails sent you way. If the email you receive cites a deadline two weeks away, don't wait two weeks to respond. Instead, send a quick "thanks" or"'will do" or "can't do" to acknowledge receipt.

If you have an objection to what the email writer is saying, speak up! Say something! Silence, in the email zone, creates nothing but ambiguity and confusion.

12. Follow the 2-minute rule: If it will take you less than 2 minutes to respond to an email and remove it from your inbox, do it. Do not pass GO. Do not collect $200. Do not clear cut the rainforest.

13. Create some sacred email time: Email can be incredibly distracting. If you continue to check your email throughout the day, your chances of concentrating on any one topic drop lower than the chances of health care, in the US, being affordable before 2050.

Pick a few slow times of the day when you actually have the time to check email, instead of knee jerkily checking your inbox every 30 seconds.

14. Use the phone more: If you need a quick answer, try calling. If you have something long to explain, try calling. If you don't understand an email, try calling.

The goal, by the way, is communication, not transmission.

Just because you sent an email to ten people and crossed their names off your TO DO list, does not mean you have communicated.

Big thanks to Sarah Jacob for her fine work on this article

MitchDitkoff.com
Idea Champions

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at May 5, 2017 12:06 AM

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