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Stever Robbins on email overload

HBS Working Knowledge: The Leadership Workshop: Tips for Mastering E-mail Overload

Great article on dealing with a high volume of email that focuses on what you can do to craft email messages that are easy to process, read, and answer. So full of goodness, I’m not sure what to highlight, so I’ll just quote a tip for beating back one of my pet peeves, the wishy washy project update:

Make action requests clear.

If you want things to get done, say so. Clearly. There’s nothing more frustrating as a reader than getting copied on an e-mail and finding out three weeks later that someone expected you to pick up the project and run with it. Summarize action items at the end of a message so everyone can read them at one glance.

When I manage a project and send this sort of email, I frequently start with a set of open and recently closed items as well as when they’re due (if we know) and by whom:

[ ] Ralph - 2005-04-01 - Build ramp near chicken stand
[x] Potsie - 2005-03-01 - Find out where Arnold’s chicken stand will go
[ ] Fonz - Get bike tuned up
(x) Pinky - Sent lucky scarf as requested

(more on my little codes here)

Anyhow, Stever’s article has super advice throughout, and, if I may say, it’s a nice companion to the recent email articles posted here:

(via injoke.org, BoingBoing, and many others)

An Editor's picture

I get a lot of...

I get a lot of email a day, and I have started processing it almost immediately, after reading the productivity entry you wrote.

I have a formula too. I acknowledge receipt personally with a quick Got it and Thanks! I respond to my boss who is always forgetting if he sent me something. I am using draft mode more. If I do a brain dump in a draft, then I can go back later to craft it but I don't have to remember what the hell I needed to write about.

I don't turn the email off, but I do turn the sound down (Ta Daa! is my new mail sound) and I might turn the monitor off too if I am proofing.

And finally, I have started adding labels in the subject line, not for the other guy, but for my Sent Item sorting.

Thanks for the tips. You've made the constant interruption of email more productive for me.




An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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