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1 great tip to maximize email efficiency with your tools

As many know, emails make people unproductive. So what happens? When people use online tools that have notifications functionalities, they either ignore all the mails they receive, or they deactivate everything.

Although it is great in the sense that they don’t want to be encumbered by mails, they cannot use the online tool to their full potential. So what to do?

Use “rules”

Your mail manager (GMail, Outlook, etc.) can organize those mails for you. Once your rules are set up, it’ll be a great help. So here’s what you need to do:

  • Identify what’s important to receive: It is important to know what you do want to receive. For example, you may want to receive team comments/messages, and any tasks set to “complete”;
  • Have your tool send you initial mails: You want to identify the keywords that you will use for your rules, so have your tool receive each mail you identified above;
  • Prepare mail folders: You want to separate those mails according to what they will require of you. For example, “task complete” mails may need to be verified, so having them put aside in a “To verify” folder will make going through them very easy.Also, if you are using a tool like Outlook, you will be able to set folder properties so that it displays the number of mails it contains rather than unread mails, that way you can quickly see how many mails are there and not forget some you may have read;
  • Set your rules: Set each appropriate rule so that each type of mails are put aside in appropriate folders;
  • Clean up the folder: Make sure once the mail is not useful anymore (you verified the task, you read the comment, etc.), delete the mail as any information may (or should) be easily found inside your tool, so no need to pile up mails.

In conclusion

Rules are underrated, and they become very valuable when they team up with your tools, so try different rules, and adjust them or your folders as you go forward.


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5 tips for those many many mails you send

Nuvola-like mail internet

Photo credit: Wikipedia

Emails have been a very popular and practical way to communicate with people from all over the world. We use it everyday to send information to people, but are we using it wisely? Like any kind of communication, the objective is to make sure information is received and understood, but most of the times, our emails are unread, or misinterpreted, and our objective is not achieved.

This being said, here are several tips that can help with that:

1. Shorter is better

If you want to make sure people read your mails, you have to make sure they are quick to read, otherwise people will scan half your mail or maybe even ignore it. It’s simple, people generally do not like to read so consider these constraints:

  • Maximum 2-3 questions
  • Few sentences, no long paragraphs
  • Use bullet points or other formatting

2. Use attachments

If you really do have a lot of information to send, create a well formatted document that you attach to your mail. That way, people will read your email quickly and will be able to store that document instead of forgetting your very long mail amongst 200 other mails. That same document can also be updated, shared or stored with much more efficiency.

Also, keep in mind that pictures can really help receivers understand what you are saying. Try attaching some images and mentioning in your mail which image to check for which statement you make; that will clear everything up. Those image could simply be screenshots where you added an arrow or a red circle, anything to give visual aid will raise the probability of your message being understood.

3. Avoid chatting

Sometimes it’s just hard to explain something in a mail, in can be interpreted differently, or raise many questions. What that causes is a back & forth of mails, and a complete lack of effectiveness. If you have more than 3 mail exchange concerning the same subject, pick up the phone or use a chat.

4. Do not resolve conflict

Mails are to transfer information, and must never replace a conversation. Resolving conflicts can be tricky as it is, and using mails that open so many doors to interpretation, will amplify your conflict and may cause frustration or serious damage to the relationship. Conflicts are best resolved face-to-face or at least on the phone.

5. If urgent, pick up the phone

Have you ever sent a mail to tell someone to do something “now!”? Just to find out 3 hours later that they still haven’t read your mail? Well that’s because people don’t (or shouldn’t) look at mails every 5 minutes (it’s counter productive!), so if something is urgent, call them or go see them in person.

To clarify, “urgent” is relative, but here I’m aiming at anything you want known within the next 15-30 minutes tops.

In conclusion

Emails are very useful but can easily become counter-productive if you fall into the trap of using them for everything and not paying attention to how you communicate.

If you have other great tips, please share!

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TMI when communicating is just as bad as not enough

I just read a great tip amongst others from Cupe Projects and just loved it, so I thought I’d share it with you here:

Pile of paper

Source: Orin Zebest

In times where technology permits fast accumulation of unfiltered information, the Project Manager must use caution to only push out information that is useful to the recipient, whether it is for the recipient’s benefit or to solicit a response.

Communication stops  when too much time is required to dig through data to attempt to determine what is required. This is true for project schedules, as well. Project managers that create 600 line timelines and then expect a team member to quickly understand all dependencies and personal deliverables is charting a course for failure. So, the right amount of information is critical.

Too much, and it’s overwhelming. Too little, and it’s a watered down executive summary that doesn’t contain enough information to provide context.

It’s so true, and well said. If you communicate in a way that others can’t find relevant information, or won’t even bother reading, than the result is the same as if you do not communicate at all.

Format your documents/emails clearly (lists, bold, underline), use as few words as possible, and always put yourself in others’ shoes while writing.

Share what you think about this tip!

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3 tips to manage your emails

Spam

Source: Yoel

Managing emails, especially when you receive 50-100 per day, can be hard and can slow down your productivity.

Here are some tips to help you with that:

1. Plan your email checkups

First thing’s first: you must avoid checking your mails ‘live’ as if you were chatting. Emails are meant to send information to someone and expect an answer in a reasonable amount of time. If you expect an answer right away, pick up the phone or use a chat.

If you are always looking at your mails, here is what it does to your productivity:

  • You interrupt what you are doing every 5 minutes, therefore, you will have a hard finishing your tasks on time or within the amount of time you initially planned to spend on them.
  • Since you should be doing something else while checking your mails, you will nut be focused and only quickly scan the mails. The result is you will tend to neglect to answer or store them appropriately.
  • At the end of the day, you will have accomplished nothing and yet have spent 8 hours at the office. So what happens? Overtime!
  • Some may go as far as looking at their emails during meetings, which is a complete lack of respect for everyone, it will of course make you miss all the important information that is being said, and it prevents you from contributing.

2. The inbox is for unread mails only

How I have seen so many inboxes with over 500 old mails and it’s funny to see people painfully look for specific mails amongst this accumulated mess! It’s also those people that I know will not answer half my mails so I make sure to plan follow ups 🙂

The inbox should only be for unread mails, nothing else. See the next tip to help you with that.

3. There are 3 types of emails

You may receive 100 mails today, but they can ALL be categorized into 3 types while you are going through all your inbox:

  • Actionable emails: A mail that requires you do to something or to reply. Those are the mails you want to store in a ‘TO DO’ folder so you can come back to review and complete those actions (or delegate). By doing so, you make sure you miss nothing. For GTD fans, you may want to use the 2 minute rule here, meaning any action/reply that require 2 minutes or less must be done right away.
  • Information emails: Emails that require nothing of you, but that contain important information about something (ex. About a project). Those mails must be stored inside folders separated by projects (or other folder hierarchy). They will be out of your way but easily found when you need the information.
  • Junk emails: Any mail that is not in the first two categories is useless, so delete it.

The end of emails?

I’m reading more and more articles on people trying to stop using mails, instead, they use project management interfaces for all communications, including with the client. I have not tried it myself, but I’m curious to hear feedback from others have you tried it!