After reading my last post, 5S Your Email Inbox, a couple of colleagues asked whether they could apply 5S to sending emails as well. Here are the guidelines that I use – I’m sure others have their methods, too, so feel free to share your own best practices!
1. Ask yourself, does the recipient really need this email? What is it that you want them to do with it when they get it? What makes this email, out of the 250 they will receive today, worthy of their stressed and limited time? If it’s not needed, don’t send it. (But, see the note about thank-you emails below.)
2. Be careful of cc’s (copy-to) and bcc’s (blind copies). Don’t add people to the distribution list as a way to let the primary recipient know that you don’t trust them to take action, or you’re setting up a blame-sharing scenario (trust me, they’ll figure this out without you telling them). And I’ve been burned by bcc’ing something to which the bcc’d individual responded by hitting reply all. Very embarrassing.
3. Know when to pick up the phone. For any email with more than 3 back-and-forth volleys, I call the person to finish the conversation. And some communication just shouldn’t be done by email. You already know that readers can attribute “tone of voice” to email communications, so if you’ve got something sensitive or confidential to share, do it in person or by phone.
1. Help recipients know what you want them to do with the email. Put it in the title: Project XXX (please read and provide feedback by Friday). Status of Team YYY (please respond with any questions). Action Plan for Department ZZZ (Urgent – Action Needed by End of Business Day). Meeting Notes from xx/yy/zz (Review and File).
2. Remember that a lot of folks scan through emails using the Preview function. Put the most important things in the top 2 or 3 lines of the email, including an executive summary, action requested and deadlines (if not in the title).
3. If you’re sending to more than one person, be very clear if there are specific action items requested of some individuals, versus the expectation that they will read-and-review.
1. If the email is longer than a couple of paragraphs, consider sending an attachment instead. Within the email, use bullet points to draw attention to important issues. Use bolding (sparingly) to draw the eye to essential points or deadlines.
2. If you are sending an attachment, consider sending the PDF version to save space.
3. Review your email before sending it. Take out any unnecessary verbage – be concise and at the end, close by saying something like “please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or concerns about the above.” Trust that your readers will let you know if they need more info.
1. Many time-management experts think that you should set a certain time aside each day to read and reply to emails. In the spirit of continuous flow, that doesn’t work for me, but only you can decide how to handle your inbox. Pick a method that works for you, and practice it.
2. You can sort your sent mail into folders, so you can easily find it again – it’s an option you can consider. Also, did you know that you can drag your sent email into your in-box folders? That way you can keep all your to-and-from correspondence together, if that works for you.
1. Make up a little email audit form to review when sending email, comprised of the check-points you want to review before you hit send. Mine looks like this:
- Check, do all recipients need this email? Check cc’s. Phone instead?
- Action requested vs review – clear to all recipients?
- Concise enough? Need attachment?
- OK to go?
I’ve been asked about those little “thank you” or acknowledgement emails; some people love them, some think they’re a waste of email space. I love to get them, I appreciate them, I feel warm and fuzzy about them, and then I delete them.
A note about tracking: To me, it always feels a bit like “Big Brother is watching you” when I get the notice that the sender wants to know when I’ve read the email. I use tracking very sparingly; I’d rather set a reasonable timeframe for response and then give the recipient a nudge if they don’t get back to me. But, it’s a personal preference; I know some people who track all their emails (just as I know some who flag every email “high importance”).
Lastly: Your email signature / contact info is an essential part of business communication. Don’t just sign “love, Sue” – if someone needs to call you back or fax you a response, it’s very frustrating to have to go searching for the information. The basics include: Name, title, company, mailing address, phone, fax, email, website if there is one. Use with caution: motivational quotes, images that add size to the email, blinking or moving graphics, background stationary, fonts other than web-safe (Arial, Verdana, Courier, Times New Roman).
Now that I’ve shared my preferences, I’d love to know what other methods you are using to send emails in a Lean manner!