Dear Colleagues,

Are you like me – overwhelmed with your email traffic? Do you answer your emails quickly enough and do you get rapid responses to your messages ? Probably not.

Email is insidious – it is everywhere and it affects (infects?)  most of us. Although I must say, there is a mining prospector who lives in his truck at the parking lot near our local beach and who doesn’t have any phone, computer or even post box – and definitely no email. He is totally mobile. And only corresponds through messages left at the mining leases office. He is apparently worth tens of millions and doesn’t communicate (much) at all with anyone and just focusses on the job at hand – prospecting for iron and nickel ore.

Herewith a few suggestions to save at least a few hours per day in using your emails more effectively.

Typical Problems with Emails

One thing is for sure; There are far too many emails. Only 20 years ago, most businesses didn’t have emails. Just clumsy faxes and mostly – phone calls. The world still worked as well as today. So let’s all actively work to cut emails down and make the ones you send far more effective.

A few idle suggestions follow.

A Quick Tool Kit on Dealing with your next emails
1. Don’t stay in suspended animation waiting for the next email to respond to. Do some useful work and save a block of time through the day to respond to emails. Working on emails is not always highly productive work. You have probably other things to do which will make you more productive. Block out time to answer emails and go do something else more useful.

2. When you reply to an email change the subject line if the subject is changing. It takes a few seconds and it then helps track the discussion’s progress.

3. Use the ‘To’ and ‘cc’ fields rationally. TO is for people who have to do something. CC is for someone who doesn’t have to act on your note.  Don’t cc people who have not the slightest interest or involvement with your message. You are simply clogging up their inbox with unnecessary traffic.

4. If you want someone to act on something; put it specifically in your email message with what you require and a deadline.

5. If you are unsure about someone acting on your email (or they often don’t bother to respond); try and restructure your email so that if they don’t do what you require; you will automatically take some action. This normally immediately provokes a response e.g. ‘If  I don’t hear back from you by Friday morning, I will assume you agree with our approach and will not be contributing anything further to the design and we will proceed as stated in the attachment’.

6. Don’t conduct a lengthy debate on email. It is unproductive and probably best done in person or with a live discussion (e.g. skype or perhaps live chatting with text)

7. Read your email before you send it. Most people simply bang it off without going through it carefully and confirming this is indeed what they want to send.

8. Don’t send an angry email without leaving it to cool for a while when you can review it later and modify it or delete it and then send it.

9. Emails are often difficult to locate; so if there is a significant number belonging to a particular project; they should be automatically filed in their own folder.

10. Remember anything tricky, urgent or requiring careful thought and debate is best done using the phone or face-to-face discussions.
Thanks to Susan de La Vergne of the IEEE for a great article on email.

If these tips don’t save a few minutes in your frantic work today; do let me know of any other suggestions.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh makes a great point when she says : Good communication is as stimulating as black coffee and just as hard to sleep after.

Yours in engineering learning,