7 Steps to Better Email

Email Email Tips Help with Email

For many of us, the Email is our “Go To” method of business communication.  It is easy, quick and you don’t have to worry about disturbing the recipient with an ill-timed phone call.  The recipient can read it when they are ready.

But, are you using Email to best effect? Here are a few quick tips to help you craft a better Email, and make the most of this useful tool.

A clear layout

A clear layout with paragraphs and bullet points as needed will make your Email easier to read.  Easier to read means it is more likely to get read thoroughly.  Reading it thoroughly means the required actions are more likely to be carried out.

question. why, what, where, when, how

Who needs a copy?

Don’t copy in everyone you can think of, just in case they are interested. They probably aren’t.  People get lots of Emails and if you get a reputation for sending an Email every time your cat sneezes, your Emails will be the ones that people don’t open.  A quick rule of thumb is only to send to people on a “Need to Know” basis.

 Why are you Emailing me?

When people open an Email they need to know, very quickly, why you sent it to them, what action they need to take, and how soon that action should be completed.  A good Email will make all of this as clear as possible as early as possible.  It is best practice to put action addressees in the main Email address box and information addressees in the Carbon Copy (CC) box if at all possible.

Reply all.

For the love of all that is furry and cute, please don’t do this unless you absolutely have to. It might seem like a quick way to tell everyone you agree with them, but it becomes a tangled mass of replies.  At some point, someone will think they are replying to a single person in confidence, say something inappropriate or ill-advised, and find they’ve just told everyone about that.  Reply All is notorious for the many ways in which it can backfire on you.  It has brought down entire Email systems, caused friendships to end and been cited in Tribunal hearings as evidence.  Always check that you are replying only to the person you think you are replying to.

If you are Blind Carbon Copied, and you reply all, you will expose your presence as an addressee.  Depending on the circumstances, this could be embarrassing or escalate a situation.

In some Email systems, you can disable Reply All.  For the sake of harmony in the workplace, this can be a good plan if it is feasible.

books, library, learning, training, readingBigger than Ben Hur.

If there is a long Email chain, look to see if your question has already been answered.  Asking it again doesn’t look very professional and adds to the volume of messages without adding value.

War and Peace 

Emails should be concise and to the point.  Use an appropriate level of detail and consider whether all the information is essential.  Weeding out unnecessary information results in a better Email.

 Same But Different

Do you get lots of very similar Email enquiries into your business?   Perhaps you get lots of people asking if you are open on Saturdays, requesting a price list, or needing to confirm bookings.  Rather than spending lots of time answering these similar Emails individually, why not create some template Emails.  In most cases, you will be able to send the Email just as it is written, and if it doesn’t quite fit, you can tweak it to make it more appropriate.  It can be a great way to save a bit of time without compromising on customer service.  Get in touch with me here if you would like to find out more about how I can help you with template emails and Inbox management services.

Three Steps Will Increase Your Productivity

increase productivity, three steps to increase productivity

This is the third in the series of posts about the organisational methods outlined in David Allen’s book “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity”.  This post examines the importance that review, update and reflection play in the system.  If you missed the previous two posts, you can read them here and here.

When I first started with the Getting Things Done system I had to really force myself to review my lists regularly and to stick to what was in my diary.  You do need to regularly review both in order to make the system work.  No matter how good your system is, if you don’t visit it and reflect on its contents, it won’t be functional.  No diary can ensure you are where you are supposed to be if you don’t actually look at it after all.

Review

review tasks, review lists, listing and reviewing tasksSome people like to review and update the lists daily, having a mini-brain dump/mind sweep session as their last task before finishing work.  Others do it once a week, often on a Friday night, or on a Sunday.

If you find you are adding the same thing to your To Do list each week, or regularly moving a task to a fresh list without dealing with it, then ask yourself why that is.

Is it outside your skill set?  Is it not as urgent as you first thought?  Is it too large a task? Does it need to be broken down a bit to make it manageable?  Do you hate doing the task?  Do you need to outsource it to ensure it gets done?  Do you really need to do it at all, or can it be removed from the list?

By keeping on top of the list, adding to it, reviewing it and reflecting on it, your mind is aware that you have the tasks under control and isn’t wasting energy racing around in circles trying to remind you about things and making you feel stressed.

Once a week, review your list of tasks completed and still to do, and the brain dump list, and make your plan for the week.  Sunday evening is a great time to do this part.  You will hopefully be fresh, rested, have a clear head and be starting to consider the week ahead.  Preparing on Sunday allows you to start on Monday with purpose and know what your goals for the day and week will be.

Keeping the systems up to date and reviewing the tasks regularly takes practice but it can produce some great rewards.

“Do it, Defer it, Delegate it”

delegate, delegate tasks, delegate workDavid Allen suggests using the “Do it, Defer It, Delegate it” approach.

If a task will take less than two minutes to complete you should just do it right away rather than adding it to a list.

If it will take more than two minutes then you should defer it, that is, document it on a list, and, if appropriate, add it to the diary or planner, so that it can be done at the most suitable time.

Finally, for those tasks which are very time-consuming, are not your area of expertise, or you absolutely hate doing, you should delegate the task to someone who has the time and expertise to do it well on your behalf.  If you hate the task then you will either put it off, do it badly, or it will take you much longer than it should.  All of which will have a negative effect on your productivity and impact on your work-life balance.

If the thought of cross-checking and updating that spreadsheet sends you to sleep.  If your paperwork backlog makes you want to poke out your own eyes with frustration.  If you’d rather handle a live snake than fill in those forms, then the answer is simple.  Delegate those tasks.  If you have a task or two that you aren’t that keen on doing, why not get in touch with me here.

Lists: The Key to Productivity

Getting things Done; Lists: Productivity

Keeping track of everything you need or want to do in a reliable and effective system is utterly critical to successfully negotiating a world in which you are bombarded by information from the moment you wake up to the moment you go to sleep.  Getting Things Done, both quickly and effectively, has never been more important.

This is the argument which David Allen puts forward in his book Getting Things Done:  The Art of Stress-Free Productivity (ISBN 978-0-349-40894-1).   Getting Things Done is a whole system and I will only be covering some small areas of it.  However, in the book, David himself suggests that if you take only some of the ideas from the book and apply them, then you will improve your productivity.

This is the first of a series of blog posts on the method and if you find them useful then I really do recommend you purchase the book.  There is so much more to the book than the tips I will be sharing with you.

Like all methods, Getting Things Done does have a learning curve and this can make it feel a bit of a challenge to start out with.  Just like the latest productivity app, it does add some time to your day before it takes it away again, but when you have made it your own, it really does work.

The idea is to capture all of the things that you need to act upon or remember, all the things you want to do in future, and any half thought out ideas, in a trusted capture device.  The recommendation is to use a loose-leaf folder or notebook for the capture device.  You could use an electronic tool rather than paper and a pencil, but writing the lists longhand is the recommended method.   Alternatively, you can write each thing on a separate piece of paper.  This has the advantage of allowing you to deal with each item separately, shuffle the paper into themed piles and easily add items to themed lists.

This initial Brain Dump, which I won’t lie to you, does take time to do properly, captures every single thing that is swirling around in your head.  All you have to do is sit down with a notepad and a pen and write down anything that comes into your head, both professional and personal, that either needs doing, or you would like to do.  Even those big goals that you hope to achieve at some point, such as climbing Everest or buying a sports car.    Big ideas and small ones. Even really small things like get a lightbulb for the bathroom or brush the dog.  It doesn’t matter what it is, just dump it all out.  If you find it easier, you can put it onto separate sheets of paper headed things like work, family, goals, house, garden.  Whatever works for you.  It’s your list after all.

Once you have everything captured initially it needs to be organised into sections so that you can find things easily on your lists.  Loose leaf files work well for this reason.

I can hear people grumbling as they read.  “So, you want me to create an immense list of stuff to do?  A list that will mainly remind me of all the stuff I haven’t done?  Have you been sniffing the highlighters again and lost your mind entirely?”

But wait.  I promise it will all make sense in a moment.  Firstly, you won’t need to look at that immense list every day.  Secondly, there is a scientific reason why this process works.

A Russian psychologist, Zeigarnik, discovered that the brain can more easily recall incomplete tasks.  Knowing you will want to finish the task at some point, your brain works hard to keep that information available to you.  Once the task has been done it will breathe a sigh of relief and instantly forget that particular thing.  So, if you have lots of unfinished stuff swirling around your head, then your brain is always cursing and swearing at you, having to hold on to much more information than it was designed to hold.  It will drop some of it because there isn’t room in there for the sheer quantity of stuff that we are exposed to in the digital era.  It will also make you feel stressed, upset and on edge all the time as it constantly tries to remind you of all the things you have left undone.

Later research by Baumeister and Masicampo showed that tasks we have not completed will actively distract us from other activities.  This is why we become less productive if we have a lot of things that we are trying to juggle.  However, they also showed that distraction evaporates once we have noted down a plan for completing the distracting task at a later date.

In short, dumping stuff out of your head brings calm.  Calm allows focus.  And focus enables productivity.

The lists work because they become an external hard drive for your brain. Once your brain realises that it is all written down it can let go of all that stuff that is swirling around in your head making you feel stressed.

For those of you who are already terrified about just how long your list will be, I’ll cover the organisation step in the next post because that part is critical.

Productivity starts with the Environment

Productivity starts with the Environment

Productivity desk organised organisation safe

It is easier to be more productive if your environment is organised in a way that makes sense to you.  Time is money.  If you can find things easily and quickly when you need them, rather than scrabbling through boxes of dis-organised paperwork you will be able to make best use of your time.  Of course, organising the office takes time, you are busy and perhaps feel you have more pressing tasks to deal with.  However, tackling it a bit at a time makes the task more manageable.

You could start with the desk, removing clutter and finding ways to organise the items you require so they are to hand.  If you can find things more easily then you will be able to work more quickly.  Organising the desk need not be expensive either.  I love IKEA for low cost organisation solutions. For example, I use a plastic IKEA cutlery tray for pens, paperclips and staples etc.  The tray slides up the drawer easily so items stored under the tray can be retrieved quickly.  If you don’t have time to trek off to IKEA, there are other options.  Empty jars, Syrup and Treacle tins are great for storing elastic bands, paper clips, and other small items.  Tins are also great for pens, pencils and rulers.  Perfect if you prefer your stationery out on the desk, right where you can grab it.

Are you comfortable?  Is everything where you can reach it easily and safely? If you have a land line phone, do you need to stretch to answer it? Is your computer screen, keyboard and mouse located at the right height and at a comfortable distance from where you are sitting?  Can you adjust your chair to ensure adequate back support?  If you are uncomfortable you will cause health problems.  In addition, it is difficult to work productively if you are uncomfortable.  There are a number of websites which provide advice on how to set up your workstation effectively.  One very useful source of information is this NHS site:  How to sit correctly

Are the wires of your computer and devices snaking all over the place and creating a mess or a trip hazard?  Try taming them with wire tamer tubes.  These are available at IKEA and at DIY stores.  Alternatively, lower cost solutions include Ty-Raps or string.  In my house, wires get tied up with knitting wool because I always have some lying around.

Pinterest is full of really great ideas for keeping office items under control, including the Lego Figure approach.  Stick a flat Lego brick to your desk then stand your Lego figure on the brick, put your cables into the figure’s hands, and you have an instant wire tamer.  This will only work with fine wires such as Iphone cables and phone chargers.  There are also numerous Pinterest boards showing varied Lego-related organisation ideas for both home and office.

There are many ideas available to increase the efficiency of your work area and help with productivity including a number of blogs and Pinterest boards.  But if you don’t want to spend time trawling the internet for ideas (after all, the point is to increase productivity, not spend hours on Pinterest), then you could approach a Virtual Assistant.  Many Virtual Assistants, myself included, are able to organise offices to ensure they are healthy, productive places to work.  If you would like some help getting your office organised, please click here and choose you preferred method to get in touch with me.