Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Emails Anonymous : Taming the monster within

For the last couple of years I've gotten over my addiction to reading emails every now & then and more importantly keeping the number of emails in my inbox in control.

A simple routine of  How to read them has removed my daily work life free of the toxicity by emails.

Does this require discipline ? Yes, LOADS, but then what important thing in life doesn't ?

As a project manager communication-management is one of the most important things I do on a daily basis.
Email is no doubt one of the top segments of communications.

I try to utilize face-to-face, phone & chat more than the email since it is more efficient, but emails seem to be inevitable ( Perils of 20xx :) )
I'm trying to check emails roughly 6 times thoroughly during the day - 5-10 mins. each.
This is important for me since I want to make sure I'm providing everything my team needs as soon as possible.
Remember as a Project manager, majority of the work will be performed by your team and you need to be there to monitor & remove any hurdles that come their way.

Here is what I do when I check emails :
a.) Sort emails by subject
b.) Open the latest in the thread (take steps given below)
c.) Move all the rest in the thread to my personal "archive" folder.

For each email I open, I take an action and do not close it unless that is done. I don't want to just "read" an email - serious NO NO.
Remember an office email is sent to you to move some task forward towards completion.
Read the above again ! Slowly this time & let it sink it.
An email has to move the conversation ahead !

Which implies that you too should never send an email unless you want to move something ahead and want the other person to take an action. Ideally you would call out the action expected from the other person.

o.k. Coming back to the point of what to do when you open an email.

Each email falls into four categories :
1.) An action needs to be taken by you - note it in your "My tasks" list. Move it to the relevant project folder, if this isn't a project, move to archive directory
2.) You need to assign a task to someone
a.) Forward them the email.
b.) If you know the exact date by when the action needs to be completed : Add a reminder for you & the assigned person for follow-backs.
In outlook click on the follow-up --> Custom option and set the date AND time when you want to be remided about this
c.) If you don't know the exact date by when the action needs to be taken : Ask the person about the estimate. And add a reminder for yourself to check back on it after a specific time.
Again, In outlook, click on the follow-up --> Custom option and set the date AND time when you want to be remided about this
c.) Note this action item in the "Other people task list"
d.) Move to archive
3.) The email has reference information - which you can use later
a.) Move to the relevant "Reference" folder. e.g. Technical, Resource Management, Appraisal, etc.
4.) None of the aboveIf the email doesn't fall into either of the above criteria, in 99% of the cases they aren't useful - you probably know exactly what these are have quite a few in your inbox :) Yes, I just delete them. Haven't ever had an issue.
"Uhh... the happiness of deleting these emails.."
Unless you get a ton of those and have a filter for them ;)
In which case "Uhh... the happiness of emptying the TAT folder.".
        Where TAT = "Thou art Terrible" :)

I've been trying to follow just these simple 4 steps and have controlled the email monster for the last couple of years.

Is this the only way to slay the daemon ? Heck no, let me know your email-hunting war stories :)