There is a lot of buzz on Mail lately. Germany and France are actually working on prohibiting replying to work mail after working hours (not a word on sending work mail though….). People write a lot of tips, software vendors create a lot of tools for managing full and cluttered Inboxes. In the “modern” world work becomes just another activity during a day, in a lot of companies the management style is still 9 to 5.
From a working perspective two worlds are collapsing. If you work from 9 to 5 it seems arguable that you’re done at 5. But now that work is being separated from a location it also seems weird it should still be from 9 to 5. Sure, there’s a lot of jobs that require being “in the office” or “at work”. Those are not the situations I’m talking about. When I delivered an Exchange Training let’s say 5 years ago, I always said, the first thing people do when they come to the office is opening their mail. Nowadays I say, the first thing people do when they wake up is checking their mail and the last thing they do before they go to bed is checking their mail. We don’t use separate devices for work and private stuff, all sits on that Smart Phone/Tablet/Laptop.
Bosses (old style managers) like to have their workforce at the office, thinking people will be more productive when they are being monitored like that. Well, statistics prove differently. But then, what to do with working hours? I had the luck (or I created the circumstances) that I get paid for a JOB, not for an hour of my time. An hourly salary is not working anymore in a lot of situations. If I get the JOB done between 11 PM and 5 AM, the JOB is done and I get paid. Sure I have meetings and stuff at regular working times and, I get a lot of work done over the weekend as well.
I needed this conversation to get back to the introduction, prohibiting people to do work mail after hours. So, the after hours is done with, there is no such thing as after hours. Unless of course, you have an agreement on that with your coworkers. Part two of the introduction is on keeping your Inbox clean. And that is where the whole discussion sets of in the wrong direction. At least half (in my opinion it’s closer to 80%) of the source of full and cluttered mailboxes lies not with the recipient but with the sender. And we just keep on working on the results of that: tools and tips and tricks for managing that cluttered overflowed mailbox.
So, now we have look at senders. When I look at the mail in my work inbox I can’t help frowning over this very incomplete list of characteristics:
- No subject or worse, a reply to an old mail with a totally different subject
- Misspelling, grammar errors
- Unfocused, not to the point
- Vague questions, no context
- No proposal for when feedback is required or if feedback is required
- CC and probably BCC to “whoever it might concern”
- Here you go, it’s of my chest (I’m not responsible anymore)
- Everything is urgent (deadlines? Hey, nobody is going to die)
- Lots of emotions and opinions
- Receipt/read confirmation to be send back
And then when you see the reply (in case of a mail thread with multiple people involved), that this list could be even much longer. People respond with their primary reaction which is “defensive”. Therefore incomplete, full of opinions. Oh, I understand, don’t get me wrong. I really have to chop of my hands every now and then for not hitting the reply ALL button and vomit back in all those mailboxes. If you hit the reply button, don’t send it out immediately, keep it in your drafts and have another look at it an hour later; you will smile and rewrite the whole thing.
So here’s just some tips and tricks for managing your Outbox (and, as a result you also manage other people’s inboxes)
- Don’t react primarily, but responsible
- Put in a clear Subject
- Break with the tradition of CC and Distribution Lists
- Forward the conversation
- Be accurate, complete and to the point
- Don’t be opinionating and righteous; mail is a bad platform for discussions
- Use your spelling checker
- Ask for an action from the recipient and say by when
- Ask for a reply (and by when) OR say “NO RESPONSE REQUIRED”
- Have it clear in your organization within what timeframe mails should be answered
- NEVER call “hey, I just send you an email” or even worse “hey, I’m going to send you an email” (how stupid)
- NEVER send a mail with just “Thanks” or “Okay” (it does not forward the conversation)
- Don’t just reject a request, offer a different proposal/solution (forward the conversation)
- Make a contribution, always
- Do not ask for read confirmation (it only confirms the mail was opened, not read…)
Now I hear you think “I do not have time for this”. Then you MAKE time for this! If YOU start doing this, your coworkers will follow and internal mail will be much easier to deal with. Within a month you’ll do it like this automatically and you’ll save yourself and your coworkers lots of time and energy. Mail does not have to a burden.
People who know me or read my blogs every now and then, know that I am a big opponent of mail period. I believe in PULL mechanisms for information and not in PUSH mechanisms. Reality is of course that I’m also guilty of being an ordinary mail user but at least I have choice: I can also be an extraordinary mail user.
Now YOU choose