11 Dec Control your email. Don’t let it control you

control-your-email-illustrationHow many times have you heard someone say “I get hundreds of emails a day”? How do we manage that and how do we control it?

I can easily feel overwhelmed by answering emails. I take care of emails, I fix little problems and I answer questions and the whole day goes by too quickly. My Qualifirst team members confirm that they too find email time-consuming. They made this point specifically when replying to the job description forms that we sent out this year.

If we can develop better practices around email, then we can all get more real work done in less time. We can work better, smarter and faster.

5 techniques to help control email:

I have embraced five techniques to help control email, both by limiting the number that are sent, and in finding the quickest and best way to respond to them.

The first procedure is to avoid trying to fill each other’s inbox unless it’s really necessary. This can be done by:

  • Placing only one name in the To: field. It should be made clear that this is the only person who is expected to follow up.
  • Ensuring that the CC (courtesy copy) is used solely to inform someone else of what is being said, but with no action or follow up expected.
  • Minimizing the number of CC’s used, being sent only to the person who needs to know. We need to trust the person we are sending the email to and minimize distraction of others. CC’s are not about pushing and expected follow-up onto someone else.
  • Avoid using BCC (blind courtesy copies). As a company we don’t want any BCC’s. It gives people information they can’t act on, because they don’t officially have a copy. BCC’s can also create a culture of mistrust.

The second procedure I have adopted is to make the purpose of the email clear and proactive, and not just being an FYI (for your information). If people want to forward an email, they should add their input or opinion, and also explain why they are forwarding the message. I consider it very inconsiderate to forward an email without giving a reason.

Third, I am encouraging my team not to fill their inbox with newsletters, and specifically, that they not subscribe to newsletters using their Qualifirst email. Newsletters are the biggest inbox distraction, and most of them rarely contribute actual knowledge. My suggestion: unsubscribe to each as the next issue arrives.

Fourth, it is important to get all the facts before spending time answering an email. If all the facts are not yet available then the reply should be a request for additional information, rather than a statement or “next step”. It is actually helpful to request clarification, since this helps ensure that your final response will be of most use.

Fifth, all emails, especially responses, should be kept short. A good rule of thumb is to not spend more time with an answer than the person did sending the email. A better rule of thumb is to try to spend less time than the person did sending the email.

Work better, smarter and faster:

These are five concrete ideas that can help all of us at Qualifirst better control our email. Being more mindful in terms of who we send emails to, and how long we take in replying to each one, can enable us all to work better, smarter and faster.

This email policy helps to open the discussion about how we can better deal with the tasks and obligations that surround us. It’s important that we as a team talk about this because by clarifying and having a discussion, we can create a better, more universally understood and accepted policy.

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