Email your way to stardom

Posted on January 20, 2010

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Have you ever seen an email in the middle of your inbox, and something about that email made you want to go straight there, forsaking all others?  Would you like it if your emails inspired that reaction?  This post is a little detour from my usual themes.  However, email effectiveness is a mini-soapbox issue for me.  How can emails – those inbox clutterers, groan inducers, procrastination starters – make you a star?  Well here’s the benefit and the tie-in to your calling:

If you’re an email star, then:

  • People want to read your emails – first
  • Your emails make people like you and think positively of you
  • Your emails get the answers or response you need
  • Your emails save time (which you can put into pursuit of your calling)
  • Your emails develop your skills – like the habit of making good decisions (which you can use in developing your calling)

Here’s how:

  1. Treat your recipient’s time as sacred.  Are you sure you should send this e-mail?  Does your boss of the overflowing email box really want a joke email from you?  If most of the emails you send are the type that people want to delete or archive – how likely is it that they will attend to your important emails quickly?  Will your email improve your reputation? If yes – send it.   If no – reconsider.
  2. Make sure e-mail is the BEST way to connect. If you anticipate a round of replies from the receiver, or if you are e-mailing a bunch of people for input, your e-mail may generate a bunch of replies, questions and . . . extra e-mail.  If your boss comes in from an hour meeting to find 20 new emails and a virtual conversation going on in her e-mail box, she will not look kindly on the person who started the chain.  Consider whether a 10 minute phone call (or face to face chat or IM) would address the need better.
  3. Make sure every person on the “To” line MUST be included in the conversation.  Are you reaching out to the right person/people?  What’s your objective in sending it?  (and if it’s FYI – make sure the recipient WANTS FYI emails!)
  4. Use the subject line to say exactly what you need.  Don’t send an e-mail w/ a subject that just says “FYI” and nothing else.  Be specific, e.g.: FYI – current status of project X is green, no need to reply.  If you need a decision, say it in the subject line: Need Decision re: budget by 4pm – I will call you at 4.  If you can say it all in the subject, fantastic, e.g., 3pm budget meeting cancelled due to snow <end>.  Notice the little <end> there?  That – or whatever convention works for you – tells the recipient that they don’t even need to open the email, thus saving more time.  If you must send a joke or other nonessential email (this assumes the person you’re sending it to LOVES your joke emails), at least give a consistent clue in the subject so they can easily archive or save for later, e.g., “FUNNY – What did the project manager say to the bartender?
  5. Make the body easy to read/scan.  Try to keep it short enough that no scrolling is required.  If significant scrolling is required to read the whole thing, see items #1 and 2, above.  Use bullets, paragraph breaks, white space, bold and italics to make it easy to read quickly.
  6. The first line of the body should repeat/reinforce what you want/need from the recipient.  If you don’t want/need anything from the recipient, see items #1 and 2, above.  If you want an approval, say “I need you to approve (yes/no) project X by Monday morning” or something like that.  Be specific and direct.  You can be more gracious or soft in your language, if that’s your style, but I don’t know if that will get you more points with a very busy recipient.  Ask them their preference if you’re not sure.
  7. After your opening line request, provide a quick summary and your analysis to make the decision or request easy for the recipient.  E.g., I need a decision on X by tomorrow.  Here are the reasons X makes sense.  Here are the reasons against X.  My thoughts are that we can mitigate the downsides and the upsides will result in significant cost savings.  Or whatever your analysis suggests.
  8. Close by repeating your request.  Consider proposing a follow-up.  I need your decision/help/input by Friday afternoon.  I’ll call you to follow up.  Or –  I’ll be sending out the widgets on Saturday, so I need your decision before the mail goes out on Friday.  Or something like that.
  9. On the receiving end, try using rules to manage your email.  You can use rules to automatically junk emails from certain senders.  you can use rules to send emails from your boss to a special folder or highlight them so you notice them.  You can use rules to automatically respond to emails to let people know when to expect a response.

How would your life change if people viewed EVERY email from you as valuable? How can you make this happen?  Try these tips out – if they work, see if you can convince your email senders to adopt the most useful tips.  And use the time you save – and the reputation you  make for yourself – to do some good.

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