Making email more efficient

If you get email from me, you may notice some changes. For instance…

  • Subject lines include one of several keyword so you can instantly know what sort of email this is and thus prioritize it better in your own inbox.
    • Request – I am asking you to do something / delegating a task to you
    • Delivery – Email contains content you requested of me / I promised to give you
    • Confirmed – I am letting you know that something you requested (a task, a meeting date & time, etc) is now confirmed
    • Info – Email content is some information I thought you would find interesting, but is not anything I specifically promised to give you (aka low priority)
    • EOM – means End Of Email. If a subject line ends in EOM, that means you don’t even need to open the email. Everything you need to know is right in the subject.
  • Email bodies will tend to jump right to the meat, will put background material second, and then all the remaining content at the end. I’ll often put some bold headers just to make things clearer.
  • I am sending fewer emails. Too often I cc’d people just-to-be-safe, or because people “like-to-know.” I’m trying to be far more deliberate when I email people. If I want people to be informed about activity, it is better for me to send them ONE email that summarizes what they might glean from being cc’d on a dozen. This decreases how much crap I put in other people’s inboxes and will likely decrease how much they send me in return.
    • An exception to the “send fewer emails” is to try and have each email have no more than one request in it, or at least to have all requests be the kinds that can be done simultaneously.  In that way each email is a task/task-bucket that can be handled in one sitting, no need to return to it multiple times to review a list of action items.

Background:
I get a lot of email. In fact, my whole life seems to revolve around email, and I find I am not able to keep up. Part of the problem is I am a glutton for punishment and sign up for yet another great project :). But a big part of the problem is my own inefficient use of email. A friend very kindly saw I was drowning in email and got me the book The Hamster Revolution, how to manage your email before it manages you. The title made me skeptical. The book’s format made me more skeptical… but I gave it a try. And I am glad I did!

The short book is full of simple, actionable, and clearly good suggestions for improving email efficiency (many of them listed above). I am putting them to use and loving the results. I highly recommend it to people.  You can find a more extensive summary of the book’s advice here.

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2 thoughts on “Making email more efficient

  1. I went to a technical writing seminar a couple weeks ago, and they talked about who to send document review emails to. They suggested no more than 5 people at a time, which is totally the opposite of what some departments do, sending to all 22 people on a project. The fact is, when you send to fewer, recipients are more aware that they have responsibility, and any discussion is focussed around the few who know the topic best. I think that this works for any type of email.

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