Email Management Strategies

Photo licensed (CC) by Assaulted Peanut, remixed

Email is such a funny thing. People hand you these single little messages that are no heavier than a river pebble. But it doesn’t take long until you have acquired a pile of pebbles that’s taller than you and heavier than you could ever hope to move, even if you wanted to do it over a few dozen trips. But for the person who took the time to hand you their pebble, it seems outrageous that you can’t handle that one tiny thing. “What pile? It’s just a pebble!”

-Merlin Mann from ‘Here Comes Everybody‘ (Shirky, 2008, p.94)

Be an email hero by modeling best practices

No one wants to spend more time with their email. No one. Modeling better communication practices when you communicate with others is a great way to show respect to your colleagues by reducing the amount of time THEY spend with email. Believe me, they will notice. The seeds you sow in a few seconds here and a few seconds there will be reaped when they pick up on your more effective and efficient practices and return the favor. Following are tips that will make your email pebble stand out in the pile of pebbles the recipient is handed every day, and make that pebble easier to carry for them. Everyone wins!

Clarity

Before you begin writing, think about WHY you are sending this message. There are only two types of email, which type of message are you sending?

Make it clear to the user what is being communicated or requested. Don’t bury it in a paragraph, have it stand out – right at the top of the email. And then, don’t say much more. Lengthy emails have a few problems, the biggest being:

  1. They scare readers
  2. They take a long time for you to write
  3. The longer they get, the less clear they become.

If you find yourself beyond 5 sentences, pause and consider whether you can be more succinct.

You GET what you GIVE

Be specific about what you need if you desire an appropriate response. You are doing the recipient a favor by removing the guesswork. If they understand clearly what is needed, you are more likely to get it.

After stating the most important points, elaborate as necessary.

One Topic

Write about one thing. When you combine multiple subjects into a single email, you create decision paralysis for the recipient. If your message asks for one thing in the first paragraph and another thing in the second, should they respond before they’ve done both, or after?

Consider If/Then statements to predict possible outcomes and suggest a follow-up action that does not require them to contact you in-between.

Subject lines FTW

If the reader knows what you need BEFORE they open/read the email, you’ve done an excellent job utilizing the subject line. The subject should be the essence of the most important point in the message. Consider “Tagging” your subject line.

Be as brief as possible

Brevity? Again? Didn’t we already talk about this above? We did, and it is so important we’re talking about it again!

Which communicates more effectively?

Every email you send should be a 2nd draft. When you finish your message, make a habit of editing what you wrote down into a smaller, more concise message. This is not wasted time!

People are physically and emotionally crushed when they open a long message. The shorter it is, the more likely they will read & respond promptly.

Don’t tell me you can’t say it in less words. Road signs are a perfect example of brevity. The Department of Roads could start a public relations campaign and email everyone information about the dangers that deer on the roadway can pose, including indicators of environments in which you will be more likely to encounter said deer, and seasons in which deer are more likely to be skittish and found in roadways. Or they can put up a sign with two words – one of which is a severe abbreviation: DEER XING. Message sent.

By the way – DEER XING would be a great subject line!

Delete is more than just a key.

The delete key on your keyboard is not just a key. It is a mindset. Consider what would happen if you did not reply to a message. If you are not adding value to a conversation, don’t reply. Most messages do not need our response. It saves you time, and is one less email for the others involved to open (and delete).

Another consideration is the archiving & storage of email. Can you produce a voice mail message from 5 years ago? Can you show me a piece of regular (postal) mail you received 2 years ago? Probably not – and if so they are likely VERY important. Yet, most people keep every email message they have received – EVER. That’s a lot of baggage. Consider deleting more messages, or periodically threshing archive-worthy messages from your storage and deleting the rest. (See more on this topic below)

BCC is A-OK

BCC stands for “Blind Carbon Copy” and is another way to denote who the recipients of your email should be. The difference between BCC and To: or CC: is that recipients on BCC cannot see who the other recipients were. This is ideal in two situations:

  1. When privacy is a concern. Sometimes you need to send a message to multiple people, but it is not appropriate for person A to see who person B is. Imagine if the content of the message was regarding financial matters, or health matters.
  2. When it is not your right to redistribute a person’s email address. If you have gathered email addresses from people outside of LPS (and in some cases INSIDE of LPS), you should take great lengths NOT to make these addresses known to others. When you use a person’s email address in the To: or CC: field, everyone who receives the email can see everyone else’s email address. That is not OK, if these people did not authorize you to redistribute their email address to others, which they probably did not.

Avoid Attachments

Email was never meant for sharing attachments. Instead of attaching a file, in most cases you can do one of these things:

  1. Use the body of the email message to deliver the words in your attachment. In almost every case you can deliver the information within the body of the message itself, without any need for an attachment. Even if you used a tool like MS Word to compose the message you can copy/paste the words into an email message. When you attach a document you are saying to the recipients that your words are formatted in a special enough way that you are asking them to A) download an attachment, B) open an attachment in another piece of software. That’s pretty selfish!
  2. Use DocuShare to host a file, and link to it. Sometimes you actually need to deliver a specific file to others. In these cases, put that file in a common space in DocuShare. Send a link to it, or tell them where they will find it.
  3. Use Google Docs. If multiple people are involved with a particular document, it may be that Google Docs may be the most appropriate collaborative space to gather peopel around the document, not emailing attachments back and forth.

Tips on Managing Mail in Zimbra

Don’t Sort, Search

Consider archiving older messages to DocuShare for access in emergency situations, then deleting them from Zimbra. For a quick tutorial on this process check out this video.

Why spend your time filing all of your email messages in individual folders when Zimbra has amazing search capabilities?

Spam

“Spam” is a term used to describe an email message of any content (but often commercial in nature) that was sent indiscriminately to large numbers of recipients on the Internet. To qualify as spam, a message must be unsolicited.

When you receive a message sent to your @lps.org account that you believe to be spam, you have four options, detailed in our LPS web page “Spam: What to do about it?”

Consider Filters

Think about how much email you get “periodically”. For example:

  • daily updates from email lists
  • DocuShare notifications
  • daily announcements from your office
  • company advertisements
  • etc., etc., etc.

These legitimate messages often fill up your inbox. Wouldn’t it be nice to have Zimbra automatically organize these into folders for you to view at an appropriate time, leaving your inbox with unique messages that probably need your attention?

Filters can do exactly that! They are available in most email clients, and Zimbra is no exception.

Learn more about Inbox Filters.

Block Specific Addresses

Filters are powerful as workflow triggers, but what if you just want to BLOCK someone’s messages? In Zimbra you can identify up to 100 addresses that you always want to block. Add the undesirable addresses to the appropriate box by going to Preferences / Mail / Spam Mail Options. (VIEW AN IMAGE)

Use a Signature

Your immediate co-workers know you, as do many colleagues. Beyond that, even people who recognize your name may not remember what your role is within the district. Others of us have generic names that are very similar to many other peoples’. Help everyone in the organization by having a “signature” automatically appended to the end of your messages.

Beyond your professional contact information, many people choose to include a personal message. If you choose to do the same, remember that you are using a taxpayer funded computer and email account to conduct LPS business and avoid these things:

  • No religious messages or text
  • No political messages or affiliations
  • No non-LPS business messages, for example
    • Advertising that you tutor after school
    • Linking to your son’s band’s CD for sale online
    • Linking to your ETSY shop, Craigslist post, Ebay storefront, etc…
  • Avoid using images in your signature, they add a lot of file size to every email you send

Archive Old LPS Email to DocuShare

Great thinking on managing your email

Most of the ideas on this page were inspired by some folks who focus on productivity or simplicity issues. If you are interested in hearing more of their thoughts, please read on!