6 Keys to Better Email Communication

Good communication is key to productivity, yet much of our communication happens today via email. Though email allows us to move quickly, it also makes us feel highly unproductive.  Common email mistakes lead to miscommunication and decreased productivity for you and your email recipients.

Reply All

It is unlikely that everyone in an email thread needs to see every response. Remember a group email can include 100’s of people! Only send a reply to the people who absolutely need the information.  Reply all creates a Quadrant 3 (urgent but not important) distraction for everyone who did not need to see the message. If you need an added layer of protection, Outlook has created a couple of useful reply all tools. One tool is for the person replying. It sends a pop-up alert when you hit the reply all button. If you are the sender, you can also remove the reply all function before sending a large group email.

Read Twice, Ask Once

Asking unnecessary questions not only wastes the other person’s time, but it shows that you didn’t pay attention to what they said the first time around. When you are in a hurry, you may not take the required time to digest an email communication. Instead of skimming your email, take a moment to really read and understand it. Only then will you be ready to act appropriately or to ask the relevant questions.

Subject Line Mistakes

How much time do you spend searching for important, but “lost” emails?

This time zapper can be solved with three simple tips:

  1. Alert the reader to the type of email you are sending: Response, Request, Informational, or Entertainment.
  2. Create concise, but relevant subject.
  3. Every time you begin discussing a new topic you should start a new email or, at the very least, change the subject line so that it reflects the new topic.

Here are some examples:

Request: Certification meeting with Coca-Cola

Informational: Please Read HBR Productivity article Page 22

Response:  Alternate dates for Meeting request with Tom W.

Pay Attention to Details

Even little things like spelling and grammar can cause confusion and wasted time. Spend an extra few seconds of Quadrant 2 (urgent and important) time to make sure your email reads like you want it to. Watch abbreviations and read for tone. Attention to detail will impress your reader and help to avoid some of the miscommunication that happens when details are missed.

Check Your Tone

Misunderstood emails are the biggest time waster of all. Albert Mehrabian’s communication study showed that words make up a very small part of direct communications. In other words, we need to hear the tone of the words and see body language in order to really understand the message. Unfortunately, email is ONLY words, which often causes a distortion of the message. Before you send any email, read for tone. Make sure you have carefully picked each word and phrased each sentence to mean exactly what you meant. Be careful of misunderstood clichés and jargon. If you have any concern your email can be misread, it probably will be. In that case, you are better to communicate directly.

Some Things Are Better Said In Person

Email can be a tool or a crutch. If you are using it to avoid a conversation that should be done in person, think again. Criticism and frustration should always be delivered face-to-face if you want to avoid hurt feelings; misunderstandings; and long, drawn out communication cycles. Don’t hide behind your keyboard. Even easy questions are often better asked “live”. Before you send your next email pause and ask yourself, “Is this the most productive way to communicate my message?”

Avoiding these common mistakes will improve your productivity and increase your ability to communicate effectively. Technology should work for you, not against you and it can when you utilize it well!

–Contributed by Suzette Blakemore, Regional Productivity Practice Leader, FranklinCovey Co.

From 19,000+ Emails To Zero

“First of all, THANK YOU!  The 5 Choices webinar on Microsoft Outlook you did last Friday was amazing.  I was so pumped about all the new things I learned about my inbox and calendar, I spent Friday evening organizing.  Just now, I’m down from 19,000 plus emails in my inbox to ZERO.  I have rules, files and sub-files made.  Being organized makes me so happy and I had no idea how much my inbox was stressing me out every morning.

I’m going to recommend the webinar to all of my colleagues!”

Contributed by a 5 Choices participant

Great Start To 2014

The 5 Choices was an excellent course! I learned new techniques to better manage my big rocks rather than sorting gravel. I have been effective in planning my days and even have “me time” which I am learning is not “wasted time”. The technology tools I learned with Outlook have also been a tremendous help. I was able to reduce the emails in my inbox from 200+ to less than 20! I no longer feel that I am tethered to my email.

Contributed by a 5 Choices participant

The Single-Best, Life Changing Webinar

I just wanted to follow up with you regarding the 5 Choices / Outlook webinar I participated in on Friday. I can say with certainty that your webinar was the single-best webinar (and possibly training session PERIOD) that I have ever participated in. I have never left a training session as armed or as motivated as I was last Friday. The concepts you delivered were immediately applicable and have already had a huge impact on my ability to be more productive and efficient. I spent my entire day yesterday (and night – into the wee hours of this morning) purging the 7,500 unfiled emails in my inbox. When I finally went to sleep at 4 a.m. this morning, I had either deleted or filed EVERY SINGLE ONE. I had zero emails remaining in the main inbox folder. Once in the zone, I couldn’t let it go until I had also created rules, categories, and tasks.  I feel more organized and in control of my time than I ever have, and this is just 48 hours or so after the training. And by using the categories and tasks, I can easily see where I’m spending my time – and let’s just say it’s not where I should be! I’ll definitely be making more changes as I continue to embrace this new paradigm.

So…I just wanted to thank you for giving me a new way of thinking and a new set of tools to help me become more effective and productive. I don’t want to sound dramatic, but I would consider your seminar “life changing.” Thank you again!

Christy G., a 5 Choices Participant

Holiday blues…how to manage the gravel while you are away

This is a question I was recently asked by one of my 5 Choices participants. We all love to take a vacation but what we dread is opening our inbox to see a ton of emails waiting there when we return. So what can we do to help manage that?

Here are some tips I wanted to share and am keen to hear any you may have!

1. Create an impactful and informative out of office message that helps manage the gravel for you. Be specific about your return date and what you want people to do in your absence. Consider who could help with any urgent issues while you are away and be clear about what the sender should do while you are out of office. For non-urgent issues, consider stating that on your return you will reply to any client requests or urgent business issues. For any non-urgent emails, please speak to a colleague or contact you again on your return. This makes it clear that you won’t be responding to every email when you get back.

2. Before you go on vacation, clear your inbox and ensure that any tasks on your master task list are scheduled so that you try to avoid overloading yourself on the first couple of days when you are back in the office.

3. Set up your emails so that you are using color to highlight those important stakeholders’ emails or clients’ emails so that they stand out in your inbox.

4. Block out two large slots in your diary to tackle your emails on your first day back at work, or consider extending your return to work date so that it is one day after your actual return; this will give you an extra day to catch up before people are expecting a reply.

5. When returning to work to action your emails, consider doing this while working offline so you don’t get interrupted by more gravel.

6. If a non-client email is older than 2 weeks old, consider moving it into an archive folder and allocating some specific time to review your archive emails later in the week.

7. Start at the top of your email inbox and work down. Consider filtering by topic so you can see any email chains that have had already been responded to.

If you have any more tips you want to add please let me know!

My Success Story – Wow!

Wow! What a difference!  I had no idea how email controlled me.  Now, I control it by setting time to review it.  I removed all notifications in Microsoft Outlook that would distract me or tempt to look at my email.  This task alone has saved me time.  Talking with my supervisor about Q2 helped him see what interruptions were vying for my time.  He is aware and on-board with getting interruptions in control.  Thanks for this course!!

Contributed by a 5 Choices to Extraordinary Productivity participant

Managing My Inbox

“Now I still see my inbox twice a day, but I go directly to what matters most: messages from Directors, Managers and my team in the 19 stores we have, and every e-mail has its own specific folder to go in. All other e-mails go to secondary folders that I can consult later. I don’t use a paper planner anymore: just Outlook, and it is much better now.”

5 Choices Participant

Starting Your Day with a New View of Outlook

Ever feel like your life is determined by what lands in your email inbox? You can change your perspective just by changing your view.

Instead of starting your day with a list of email to-do’s that make you feel stressed and overloaded, start it with a view of your calendar. In a quick glance you can see where you have open time to put new tasks and remind yourself of the big important rocks that you have already scheduled for your day. With this information, you’ll be better armed to face the requests that are waiting in that inbox.

Here is what you need to do in Outlook 2007 and 2010. You can find similar settings in Gmail and Lotus platforms.

When you launch Outlook, it displays Outlook Today view or moves straight to a specified folder. Most of us have specified inbox. However, you can easily change this by doing the following:

  1. Click the File tab and choose Options (under Help). In Outlook 2007, choose Options from the Tools menu, click the Other tab, and skip to step 3.
  2. Choose Advanced in the left pane.
  3. In the Outlook Start and Exit section, click Browse. In Outlook 2007, click the Advanced Options button in the General section and click Browse.
  4. In the resulting dialog, select the folder you want as the default. Choose calendar instead of inbox.

This is just one of many things that can be done in Outlook that will turn Outlook into a “productivity engine”, allowing you to feel very very accomplished!

Contributed by Suzette Blakemore, Regional Practice Leader, FranklinCovey

A Happy Facilitator

“I read the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People in 1995, and since then I have made many efforts to organize my life around my mission statement and my roles, using planners and being loyal to my big rocks every week. By teaching (facilitating) the 7 Habits since 2006, I learned the process even more in detail, and I thought I was at the top of time management practice. However, after I went to the certification of 5 Choices to Extraordinary Productivity last year, I realized that much could be done for improving my levels of energy and the way I was using technology. It took me a few months before I could really practice all the tips in Outlook Technical Guide, but it was worth the discipline. Now I know what it is to prioritize my inbox. When I facilitate all day long I can quickly reach to the main messages at the end of the day and re-spond to them or transform them into what they really are. Plus, my schedule looks much better, with all the different colors indicating the nature of my appointments, and with ordered tasks, all of which I can access from my iPhone at any time. I also am improving my eating habits according to Dr. Amen’s tips, and that has had a clear impact on my energy level during the day.”

5 Choices Participant,  Brazil