7 ways to tame the email monster

I am sure everyone is inundated with emails these days. We also have become notorious in generating a lot of these emails at work. As product managers, we are constantly required to stay in constant touch with our team members in development, quality assurance, sales, documentation, product marketing, press, PR, customers, partners and you name it.

But is there a way to tame this email monster such that it does not become a productivity killer for us and for others. I remembered a good set of tips that one of my colleagues Graham Rae, VP R&D Operations at SolidWorks (my current employer) had send us way back in 2003. I dug this up and even to this day, these are great tips to reduce the email volume. I still use them and they help a lot.

Enjoy and hopefully you can find them useful. Thanks to Graham for these valuable tips.
Reply to all
This is the number 1 cause of controllable email excess. Most of us are guilty of perpetuating the Reply To All habit without considering the volume of unwanted email we are generating and the potential follow on explosion as the recipients exacerbate it by following up with their Replies To All. You should always consider trimming the list of people you respond to rather than doing an automatic Reply to All:

• Always ask yourself if the entire original distribution list really needs to see your specific response
• Can the distribution list be pruned as the issue comes to closure? For example some people on the list may want to see the first email that defines the issue and the last email that defines the solution or the options – the details in between are not always of interest to everyone on the distribution list
• For general announcements that go to all encompassing distribution lists like corporate distribution lists. Never use Reply to All

Distribution lists
Replying to Distribution lists can generate 10’s or 100’s of redundant emails. Again, consider if the list can be trimmed back:
• Check to see who’s on the Distribution list (double click the Distribution List to show its members). Some Distribution lists are made up of a concatenation of smaller Distribution lists – consider if one of the smaller lists would be more appropriate
• If you have Office 2003 or later, you can click the [+] sign in front of the Distribution List and it will expand to the individual members – you can then delete individual names from the list
• Check to see what Distribution Lists you’re included on that no longer apply to you. This may help reduce the amount of mail you receive. To check this:
o Create a dummy email and enter your own name
o Right mouse button over your name and select Properties. Select the “Member Of” tab. If you want to be removed form a list, select the list to find out who owns it and request they remove you.

Be economical with words
Get your point across succinctly, politely and quickly. Long emails sometimes get pushed off to be read later and may not get read to their end! – a problem if you’ve made your main point in the final few sentences.

Using the To versus Cc list

Many people have their Cc’d email go to a different Inbox folder or use a different color to identify they are Cc’d only. When you send an email or reply to an email, consider moving recipients from To list to the Cc list to help them prioritize their email. You can select and drag names between To and Cc fields.

Consider the alternatives to email that may work faster/better
Most people work better as a team when they get to know each other. Email alone doesn’t create close working relationships. Substituting email by phone calls/face-to-face discussions/meetings or webEx will over time improve overall communication and potentially reduce email. This is especially true if the person is within a few offices of your own.

If an issue is diverging, taking too long to close or the ball has been dropped then a meeting may be the way to go. Short focused meetings may be far more effective at getting agreement and decisions quickly – many times email simply can’t compete with a meeting.

Although our culture is one of fast/immediate response, some issues/questions may be able to wait until your next group meeting rather than having an email discussion

Avoid email for expressing strong emotion/strong disagreement or criticism
It’s easier to be mis-interpreted via email than by the spoken word. It’s usually far better to have these dialogs face to face or by telephone so that your emotion is not misinterpreted and you can have a 2 way conversation in real time. Make personal visits/use the telephone more often – especially if the issue is controversial or there is strong disagreement. Email messages in this situation can do more harm than good. Good working relations (especially across groups) aren’t established via email, they’re established and enhanced by personal contact

Read your email before you send it
• Can it be shortened
• Is it clear and unambiguous
• Is the tone correct
• Can the Distribution list be reduced
• Does it contain needed “calls to action”
• If you disagree with what’s being proposed in an email, offer alternative proposals/solutions
• You have included any intended attachments (surprising how many emails use Reply To All with “you forgot the attachments”)

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