E-Mail (a rant) - 12/13/2016

Managing E-Mail

One of my favorite Microsoft employees is Scott Hanselman, who blogs prolifically on many topics, recently he gave a talk in New Zealand on time management that really resonated with me. I pass the link to the video along here.

E-mail is the original social media, and like all social media is either a boon or horrible time-suck. Here are some helpful habits that people have taught me over the years:

  • I disagree with Scott H about e-mail rules I love them, here are my favorites:
    • Yammer (and other social feeds) goes right to its own folder, so I can scan and drill down once a day quickly, the same with the other feeds.
    • Project folders for each of my projects, so I can keep all of the customers and projects neatly organized, helps me find relevant stuff more easily
    • I put "I should read this it looks interesting" in its own folder and set aside one day a week for a "Thinking on Thursday" early morning reading fest
    • I try to keep my INBOX empty except for hotly topical must do e-mails
  • I start every morning with my task list. During the day I add tasks, and flag e-mails (which show up the task list) and then at least once a day I run through my list to make sure I am doing the right stuff
  • \I block my calendar to make room time to work on projects
  • I avoid reading e-mails as they come in, instead I set side time to read e-mails every couple of hours, except I set up alerts to tell me if my boss (or anyone in my management chain), my PM (if I am on a project), or one of my customers sends me an e-mail

The difference between the amateur chef and the professional is mise-en-place nicely paraphrased as “a place for everything and everything in its place”.

Writing effective e-mails

I would like to draw your attention to some ways in which e-mail conversations can be more effective:
  1. Use a good subject line and do not re-use an old subject line, ideally the subject line should be in the form of {Customer Name}, {Project Name}, {Issue} - {Action Requested}
    • "Tim’s Tuna, Project Support, Resource Availability - Please Help!"
    • "JohnCo, Project Boo, IIS Issue - Need Technical Support"
    • "Qix, Project Y, Customer Time System - Time entry by 3pm PST today"
  2. When forwarding an e-mail for action, change the subject suitability as above!
  3. Do not re-use e-mails on unrelated topics just because some of the same people are on it, start a new e-mail with a good subject line
  4. Give all the facts all in one place, do not make them dig through e-mail to find things e.g.
    • "Our project needs to use Caching in IIS 7.5 but it is not working as expected, we need help from other Magenic team members. We have posted a Yammer but got no responses, see details of your issue below." (Note the hyperlink to the Yammer thread).
    • "The XXX customer’s exec stakeholder Bob Jones (contact attached) called me today to indicate he was not happy with project progress, I indicated that Magenic management would be reaching out to him today to resolve the issue"
  5. Include all relevant back up materials (see parenthetical examples above)
  6. Use whole sentences, or at least bullets
  7. Use TO, CC, and BCC properly
    • TO: Who needs to TAKE ACTION
    • CC: Other people who need to know about the thread(DO NOT MIX AND MATCH TO and CC)
    • BCC: Generally, don’t it is rarely a good idea, if you do, its a CYA or throwing someone under the bus, both of which are Karmically dubious
  8. Make is crystal clear what if any action is required (subject line good for this):
    • It is FYI (then say so!) and use "Low Importance" flag on e-mail
    • Action is required if so what (again subject line handy for this)
  9. Lastly:
    • Remember e-mail is forever
    • Never e-mail while angry
    • Never write something you will regret in court, in front of your family, the press, or in front of your facility or peers

From time to time we are all guilty (and I include myself here) of poor communication in the haste of our day, but we can all improve to make communication more clear and to save time and vexation in the long run.

Blog ID: 2016 Blog_636171840000000000