Number 13, January 2008
THE LOVING TREES NEWSLETTER
Tips for Using Email at Work
Email is easily abused because it is easy to use. Checking and answering email provides an immediate sense of accomplishment. However, it crowds out those actions that could really move you ahead. The objective of email is to get it read and acted upon.
In addition, email messages are easily misinterpreted. We make assumptions about what others mean in their messages and we include assumptions in the messages we send. Email lacks the context provided by live interaction with its body language, tone of voice and facial expressions. Consider these tips for using email more effectively:
1. Check email at defined times daily. Check email randomly at your peril. Turn off email autocheck (“You’ve got mail!” Jeepers.) Decide in advance exactly when you will check email. I typically check mine twice in the morning, twice in the afternoon, and at night. For many people two or three times per day is sufficient.
2. Use email for non-urgent communication. Email was not meant for emergency communicating. While the increasing use of Blackberries and other email handhelds have altered this, full-time email access intrudes on our abilities to focus on the task at hand and on our face-to-face interactions with colleagues (and family). Text messages also tend to be shorter and can increase the chance for miscommunication and confusion. If time is of the essence, pick up the phone.
3. Use subject lines. Please. People scan their inbox by subject and sender. Make your subject line specific enough that your readers can decide if it's relevant. I do not open emails immediately without subject lines unless they are from my wife, a current colleague, or a current client.
Also, change the subject line when replying to messages. Sometimes you reply to a message just because it is addressed to the person you want to write to anyway. However, they will not know the nature of the message unless you change the subject.
4. Make action requests clear. Email messages should enhance, not retard, productivity. If you want things to get done, say so. This is especially true for emails copied to many people. Summarize action items so everyone can read them at one glance.
5. Avoid attaching lengthy files when the reader needs only an excerpt. If you do forward large files for reference, save readers time and effort by noting the specific passage or table that is relevant. Provide context for attachments or forwarded messages. Put yourself in their shoes; what would you prefer?
6. Do not forward inappropriate jokes, stories, or pictures. Once forwarded, you assume responsibility for the content. Remember: employers own their email systems and can legally inspect anyone’s email.
Email is a form of business communication. Effective email use helps us get things done and stay in touch. Email also leaves a trail, so we benefit by taking the extra moment to consider what we are sending and writing to others. Proofread, proofread, proofread before hitting send. Use the spell checker. Even mynor airers make you look bhad.
The Loving Trees Newsletter. Copyright © 2008 Brooks C Mendell. All rights reserved. We welcome sharing this newsletter in whole or in part if properly cited and attributed.