Saturday, January 09, 2010

Inbox zero - mastering email

I'm doing a 1 hour session on mastering email at my day job. I get to do this because, after 20 years of struggling with email, I have finally figured out how to do it.

For what it's worth I'll add a link to my presentation here after Jan 24th, but there's no great mystery to it. The most important intervention was reducing inflow. Of course I got rid of all email lists, newsletters and the like -- if an organization can't figure out blogs they're unlikely to have anything useful to tell me. Most of all though, I reduced the number of email replies and misdirected emails that I get.

I reduced the number of email replies by, paradoxically, spending more time crafting precise responses, and by being quicker to convert dysfunctional email to a meeting or phone call. I craft my response to an email so that no further correspondence should be necessary. If an email discussion goes beyond two cycles that's a meeting. It's almost always, in this context, a brief, productive, and satisfying meeting. The body of the meeting appointment, by the way, includes the last email sent. (In Outlook drag and drop the email on the calendar icon.)

I reduced the number of emails I had to reply to by gently educating my correspondents about what goes on the To line. The To line should include only people with tasks - such as the single person who should respond.

I reduced the time required to process and triage email by gently teaching about the correct use of the subject line. It should tell the reader what the email is about and what's needed. I change the subject line when I reply to precisely describe my replay -- including an answer summary. This subject line also makes my full-text search email archives more valuable.

These days the email I get is satisfying. It's increasingly well written, targeted, and easy to respond to. I'm now in a virtuous feedback loop; good email begets good email. (though example alone is not enough, cautious education is needed to).

More after the 24th of January.

See also some other posts of mine:
Update 11/8/10: Here's the presentation I promised. It should have all the corporate references expunged.

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