My inbox reminds me of that classic I Love Lucy skit where Lucy and Ethel work on a chocolates assembly line. Their task is to wrap each chocolate as it comes off the line. The line starts slowly enough and then as they seem to get the hang of it, speeds up and up and up. Lucy and Ethel throw chocolates in their bras, hats and mouths (really, you should watch it; it’s much funnier than this description!) to try to keep up.
I’m feeling that way myself these days. First thing each morning, I get rid of the spam. Then, I get rid of the reading I would like to do if I had time to do it. Then, I start responding to my key emails and by the time I’ve finished writing one or two emails, my box is full again. By afternoon, I’m throwing emails everywhere just to keep up.
What would help?
Posting these email etiquette rules in the break room could be a start:
“Reply to all” is rarely a good idea. Just because the writer thought that everyone and her uncle had to be in on her pearls of wisdom/question/plans, doesn’t mean you have to keep up the political stupidity. Add only those people who need to be clued in to the next step.
Concise is the new black. The only chance you have to get your email read is to make it look appealing to read. Just the thought of wading through a long email is depressing. Instead, readers scroll, thinking they’re clever enough to get the gist, and you’re lucky if they even notice your key points. It’s better to send 2 short emails, with specific subject lines, than one really long one.
Use sub-heads. Make them bold. If you have a lot of information that the reader will actually care about and needs to know, make it as easy as possible for him by using bolded sub-heads. When each paragraph or two has it’s own mini-subject line, even if they don’t actually read everything you’ve written, they’ll get what it is about. And the white space and attractive lay-out may encourage them to read more carefully.
Put the action at the beginning, or set it apart. If the due date for the pre-work is Tuesday, either:
- Write that in the subject line – Action Request: Pre-work due: Tuesday
- Bold it in your sub-head.
- Start your paragraph with the action request.
- Double space before and after the request.
Be specific in your ask. Please, don’t ask for “Your thoughts?” What do you really want? If you want their approval, ask. Most often, that is exactly what you want.
Pick up the phone or walk down the hall. If you’re emailing back and forth furiously, pick up the phone or walk down the hall. Yes, you might end up spending a few extra moments talking, but really, is that so bad? Besides, think of how much email ping pong you’ll avoid.
Now back to those chocolates…