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Email Productivity: 12 Tips to Save Time and Motivate Your Reader to Read
by Sue Hershkowitz-Coore, CSP

It’s official. According to Business Week magazine (May 21, 2007), 6% of us are addicted to the “dopamine-reward system” of “scrolling through email and punching out… messages.” The rest of us may not be addicted, but we’re pretty much tethered to our BlackBerrys and laptops.

To complicate matters, because we’re so busy, we don’t really give anything our full attention anymore. Linda Stone, a former executive with both Apple and Microsoft, calls this: “CPA” or “continuous partial attention”. As we try to take care of everything at once, we do a worse job at everything! Bruce Baldwin, Ph.D termed this the “doing two or three things at one time syndrome.” He says that once we get good at multitasking, we begin to feel guilty when we aren’t! (Guilty as charged! How about you?)

These 12 tips will help you focus, save time and will make it easier for your reader to give you the result you want:
  1. Manage expectations. Do you respond to email as soon as you hear the ping indicating “You’ve got mail”? If so, you’re training colleagues and customers to expect your response instantaneously. This often makes you the “go-to” person and adds to your workload. Resist the urge to read each email as it arrives. Instead, check your email every 5, 10, or 15 minutes, and respond thoughtfully. Surprising research from Vanderbilt University (Jan 2007) confirmed the importance of not responding immediately to the email ping. People who respond immediately, according to that research, were perceived as poor time managers with little on their plates! (This shocked me too, since I’ve always taught sales urgency.)
  2. Be customer-centric. Care about your reader--and write that way. Show value for their time and focus your information on them. How will they benefit? What’s in it for them?
  3. Make deadlines reasonable and briefly explain why you need what you need when you need it. Don’t expect an immediate response--even though you may receive it.
  4. Provide complete information. I was reprimanded (and rightfully so) when I sent a request to a busy planner, and signed it only, Sue." Sue who? She wasn’t pleased, and if my email address hadn’t been so obvious, I never would have received a response from her.
  5. Don’t make your reader work to give you result. For instance, even if you provide your phone number in your signature line, type your phone number immediately after a request to phone you. (Ex: I’ll be in the office Monday and Tuesday this week. It’s easiest to reach me at 555-555-5555.) Don’t force your reader to scroll down to your signature line to find pertinent information.
  6. Be honest. Some emails just aren’t going to get answered. Delete them immediately. You’re going to do it eventually anyway.
  7. Be scrupulous about your subject lines. The more precise and specific your subject line is, the easier it is for both you and your recipient, especially when it comes to retrieving information. Additionally, vague subject lines make it too easy for your reader to simply pass over your message. Be precise and truthful. Here are a few examples of subject lines that get read:
    Action Requested: Rooming List Due Friday (Much better than: Rooming List)
    Video First Draft Done (Much better than: Video)
    Completed feedback from webinar, 7/7/07 No action needed (Much more valuable than: Feedback of FYI)
  8. Plan to work efficiently. Before responding to an email, ask yourself: What is the best way to complete this communication and not have to deal with it again?
  9. S.O.R.T.A Stamp Out Reply To All Just last week, an association volunteer sent a congratulatory note to the meeting planner, and copied 167 meeting attendees. Nice thought but… the meeting planner thanked the volunteer and then in a helpful mode also wrote, “Something else that might help is having them respond even if they do NOT need a transfer so you can properly assess how many people we're dealing with” and sent that message to every attendee. Of course, attendees started answering, also replying to all, “NO TRANSFER NEEDED FOR ME! I'm local.” It finally ended when one attendee copied everyone and wrote, “Please stop the madness. Your response only needs to go to the original sender.” Avoid getting caught in this embarrassing situation by promising to never hit the Reply To All option.
  10. Re-read before you hit send. The better you can read, the less likely you are to take the time to reread after you’ve spellchecked your message. This results in very funny (for others) and very embarrassing (for you) messages. Taking the time to reread your email to ensure your words are spelled correctly is a simple way to show respect for your reader – and for yourself.
  11. Remember people judge you by your email. In a recent survey I conducted, 96.2% of respondents answered yes when asked if they’ve changed their opinion about someone based on email. Details count. Pay attention to them.
  12. Get your team into the same email groove. At your next staff meeting, ask: What one change in our email culture would most improve the way we work together?
Want more tips? Schedule Sue Hershkowitz-Coore, CSP to speak at your next meeting!

Copyright Sue Hershkowitz-Coore. All Rights Reserved.

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