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.

Walking into Walls

I was with a colleague the other day. After a long week of travel and customer meetings we decided to take a moment to relax. As he turned the corner, instead of walking into the sitting area, he walked directly into the wall. His body made a large thump as he expressed surprise and confusion about what just happened.

In our exhaustion, we probably laughed louder and longer than we should have but since then, his little encounter has made me think.  Literally or figuratively, when we are really tired and run down, walking into walls is a pretty common occurrence.

Think about what happens to you when you are tired. You can’t navigate the plans you have made, or things you really want to do. When you hit a wall of exhaustion, you can barely make time for anything except the absolutes. You know why that is?  Because your pre-frontal cortex, the front part of your brain that thinks, makes decisions, handles relationships, is completely worn out.  Think too, about the people around you. When you are tired, your co-workers, your boss, your kids, your friends all have to contend with your wall of exhaustion. You have nothing left to give from the executive function of your brain and suddenly you become less accessible, less creative, less solutions oriented and far less fun!

So what can we do to stop walking into walls? Choice 5 in The 5 Choices to Extraordinary Productivity highlights our ability to re-fuel our brain by focusing on 5 energy drivers.  They are:

  • Move
  • Eat
  • Sleep
  • Relax
  • Connect

Making time to attend to these drivers on a consistent basis will fuel both our brains and our bodies. The key is to intentionally make those high value decisions that keep us charged and refreshed, so we can head off those walls of exhaustion.  Burnout and stress create a perpetual wheel of dysfunction. Yet, it is possible to break the cycle by simply consciously deciding that restoration of our bodies and our brains is one of the most important things we do each day.

Of course, this takes planning. These drivers often slip; because they are an afterthought or something we’ll get to “if” we have time. Don’t forget these all important big rocks! Add them to your master task list. Plug them into your calendar and keep the 5 driver promises you make to yourself with the same diligence as the promises you make to others. If you do, you’ll see your energy go up and your stress, guilt and exhaustion go way, way down.

After all, nobody likes walking into walls.

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

Time Is On Your Side – When You Are Proactive

We all know the saying, “Time is on your side.” The question is; is it really? As I work with people who are trying to be more productive, questions about time are a hot topic. Here are just few items to think about when you consider how you spend your time.

How often do you “touch” each email in your inbox?  Two, three, four times?  Many of us read the email once, then leave it in our inbox until we can finish the task, decide how to answer, find someone to delegate too. Yet, most of the time we skim over the same email for days. Finally we do whatever is needed or we delete it because it no longer matters. It takes time and ENERGY to skim those emails, leaving us feeling tired and overwhelmed. Time isn’t on your side when you are procrastinating. Read your email once then do what needs to be done.  Change it to a task or an appointment, delegate immediately, pick up the phone and answer the question. Whatever it is, don’t wait. Make a goal to touch it once. You’ll be surprised how liberating it will be!

When it comes to decisions, “Strike while the iron is hot,” is a better way to get things done. Many of us wait to make decisions. We go to six stores hoping to find the perfect suit or dress, only to go back and buy the first thing we tried on. Worse yet, we wait to make the most IMPORTANT decisions. Waiting results wasted time and sleepless nights. It can even result in missed opportunity and regret.

I recently talked to a man who had been offered a promotion. For days, he sat on the decision. He knew he deserved the promotion and he wanted the bump in pay but the title and the tasks of the job were not quite what he had hoped for. So he sat, mulling it over, tossing and turning at night and delaying the conversation each time his boss approached.

“I can’t get anything done right now.”

“Why don’t you tell your boss what you want?” I asked.  “Why waste all this time and energy?”

Later in the day he pulled me aside. “I did it! I called him. I told him what I was really hoping for. He said if I accept this now, it can be a stepping stone to where I want to be. I was glad I clarified my aspirations and both of us are excited now that I’ve accepted….”

How often do you delay hard conversations…even easy conversations because you are afraid of the outcome? How often do wait, considering the options, hoping for something better to come along instead of acting definitively? Most of us know exactly what needs to be done, but we wait days, months sometimes even years to make a decision.

Don’t wait! Do what needs to be done.

If you want time to be on your side. Be proactive!

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

A Never Ending To Do List

I used to work with a woman who loved to make lists. She created endless pages of everything that needed to be done, and more pages of things she and her team were working on.

At first, we were all in awe. She seemed so on-top of what would be required to succeed. However, our awe quickly turned into frustration as week after week she reported more additions to the list, but never seemed to complete anything. I will never forget the day our CEO stopped her as she rattled through another long list of to-dos.

He cleared his throat to get her attention and then he said, “I am sorry to interrupt, but please don’t overwhelm us with everything you think you have to do. We want to be overwhelmed by what you’ve finished.”

The room was quiet and so was she. Then the excuses started. They were as long as the list of to-do’s. A few weeks later she quit.

It was a great lesson to me. “We want to be overwhelmed by what you’ve finished” comes back to me again and again.

Months later I became a productivity consultant. Now, I spend my time teaching The 5 Choices of Productivity. These choices help me to remember that this life isn’t about getting hung up on all the things I should do. It is about choosing the most important things, aligning them with my highest priorities, and getting them done! Knowing the 5 Choices has freed me from the long lists I used to make.

Now I am more likely to set my sights on my most important “To-Do’s”, carving time and space into my schedule so I can accomplish them. I find great satisfaction in my smaller more targeted lists. These days, I’m not feeling overwhelmed. Instead, I feel on task. Working diligently to complete a few goals at a time makes me feel accomplished and energized.

Contributed by Suzette Blakemore, Regional Productivity Practice Leader, FranklinCovey

Avoiding Procrastination

How much time do you spend worrying about what you should have already done? Procrastinating is a surefire way to increase your stress, lower your energy and obliterate your productivity.

If you are prone to procrastination, here are some tips for approaching “to-dos” differently.

  • Create a master task list of all the things you need to accomplish.
  • Circle or check the MOST IMPORTANT things on your list and plug them right into your calendar. Doing this will give them a time and space in your schedule. When you leave them on the task list, you are always looking for a time to get them done.
  • Do the things that you like to do the least, first! Once they are done, you won’t be prone to make excuses about moving on to finish the other things on your list that you don’t mind doing.
  • Don’t be a perfectionist. Challenge yourself to finish, first. If revisions are required, go back and do them later.
  • Engage in daily and weekly planning. Sit down with your master task list once per week. Review everything on your list and move the important things onto your calendar. At the end of the day, review what you accomplished. If you missed something, give it a new time and date.
  • Once you’ve completed something that was hard for you to do, stop and notice how great it feels to have it done. Compare this to how you would feel if it were still hanging out there.

Over the years, I have learned that nothing is ever as easy or as hard as I think it will be. Knowing this, makes it easier to start the things I am wary about. In the end, completion of  anything is one of the best feelings in the world.

Contributed by Suzette Blakemore, Regional Productivity Practice Leader, FranklinCovey

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 Walk and a Good Nap

When I woke up I instantly knew it was going to be “one of those days”. After a week of travel and accumulated missed sleep, I was dragging. I tried to work on various projects, but my energy was low and my ability to focus was almost non-existent. My multiple attempts to remedy the situation with caffeine and sugar produced a brief energy bump, but did nothing to improve my attention. Finally, around 2:00 p.m. and barely able to keep my eyes open, I was forced to take a nap. I felt guilty as I set my mobile alarm for 45 minutes and instantly fell asleep. 39 minutes later I was awake. No alarm needed. I still felt tired and hazy, almost worse than before I laid down. For a moment I felt a deep sense of regret. It seemed this small amount of rest just made me more tired. Knowing I had work to finish, I decided to take my remaining six minutes and go for a quick walk up and down the street. The fresh air immediately worked to clear my head. Moving my legs and my arms started the blood pumping and within minutes I felt like myself again. I went back to the office and completed more work in three hours than I had in the previous six.

It is funny the things we forget. When my kids were little, their moods and their actions warned me when they needed to take a nap or a quick stroll around the block. I was always proud of myself when I recognized the warning signs and found a solution before catastrophe ensued. Since my kids are all grown, it is certain that I am not a little kid any more. Yet, not much has changed. If I pay attention, I know exactly how to care for myself. I often ignore the signs or go for the quick fix. But occasionally I remember, to make the world right again sometimes the only thing I need is a walk and a good a nap.

Contributed by Suzette Blakemore – Regional Practice Leader – Productivity

My Best Work

In a former a job, I had the responsibility of blogging twice per month for a company column. I was supposed to write the blog and submit it on a Friday. Someone else on my team would proof read for spelling and grammar errors on Monday morning and the blog would be posted by 2:00 p.m. on Monday afternoon.  This gave me almost two full weeks to choose a topic, to formulate ideas, and to write. It was a very “Q2 Plan” and it should have worked well. The problem is, I rarely followed it. Instead, I would wake up Monday morning and frantically chose a topic. I would quickly write the blog and send it off to my team. Sometimes I would get it to them by 10:00 a.m., but sometimes it would be noon. Of course, I never really thought about what this did to the person who had to proof it or the one who had to post it. The blog would always magically appear by 2:00 p.m. and I thought all was well. Since I was in a leadership position, no one ever complained or alerted to me to the crisis going on behind the scenes.

Then I learned about the 5 Choices and as I listened, I started to recognize some things. First, I realized that I often believe I work better in “crisis mode”. I like the rush of adrenaline. At the time, I didn’t see it as a biochemical and primitive reaction. I believed it was a rush of prime creativity. Second, I started to see how often I was creating a “Q1 Crisis” for the members of my team.

It was apparent to me that I needed to make a change. So after the class, I decided to follow the plan. I picked my blog topic as I drove home that day and I gave myself until Thursday to think about the subject.  I then scheduled an hour to write on Thursday. On Friday morning, I scheduled an hour to preview my work, made changes and I sent the blog off before noon. My team wondered out loud if I was leaving for vacation. “No”, I told them. “I’m just trying to follow the plan.” They looked skeptical.

Overtime, as I broke my bad habits, team members told me how much they appreciated the extra time to get their work done. They missed fewer mistakes and even started adding new elements like photos and graphics to make the column more fun and appealing.  And I noticed something else. Despite my belief that I worked in better in “crisis mode”, the blogs I wrote after I started to follow the plan were 1000% better than the ones I wrote before. After all this time I’ve learned something new. It is this: When I give myself time to think, to widen my perspective, and to review my thoughts… when I work in PLANNING mode… This is when I do my BEST work!

Contributed by Suzette Blakemore – Regional Practice Leader – Productivity