5 ways to enhance your email efficiency

I’m a project manager and it seems that I spend more time reading and writing emails than managing my project. Any ideas? This email volume is killing me and my project.

Thanks for the question. Sorry it caused you to have to write yet another email (just kidding). Kidding aside, this is a great question and I truly believe that many other people feel the same way you do.

As you will see, my suggestions to you fall into two categories, reducing your email volume and email writing efficiency.

Develop an Answer Bank Take mental note of the questions you are most often asked and write standard responses that you can cut and paste into your emails as needed. This technique has the following advantages:

• Consistently providing the answers to commonly asked questions • Being able/willing to invest the time into thoughtfully answering questions with the return on investment being able to use this quality text again and again as needed • Allows you to reduce the amount of your time it takes to answer commonly asked questions

Be Proactive, Rather Than Reactive If you have found that every time multiple people are asking you the same question month after month, for example, your project status, write a monthly status report email copying all of the people in need of your project’s status. This technique will save you the time and trouble of having to email each person individually throughout the month as they ask you project status related questions.

Make Short Phone Calls, Rather Than Writing Long Emails The advantage of making short phone calls in lieu of an email is that it saves you from writing a carefully crafted comprehensive message that will most likely cause the creation of follow up emails that you will have to read and reply. Take note that this short phone-based discussion can not only increase your productivity, but also the productivity of the person with whom you are communicating.

Added benefits of this approach is that it allows you to build a stronger relationship with this person because of the verbal exchange and also gain a better understanding of what he/she is thinking.

Don’t Copy People on Emails Who Continually Write Follow Up Emails If politically appropriate and poses no danger to your project, reduce the number of people you copy on the emails you send out with the goal of reducing the number of reply emails you receive and then are obligated to answer. Please note that this suggestion must be used with caution because people generally don’t like to be taken out of the loop. As a result, they may ask to be re-included in your emails or may feel insulted and cause you and/or your project future issues.

Ask Closed, Rather Than Open, Questions in Your Emails “Closed” questions can be answered with a single word or two; for example “Are you coming to the meeting today?” or “Do you want the document in PPT or PDF format?” The first question can be answered with a “yes” or “no” and the second question can be answered with “PPT” or “PDF”. These responses are easy to write and easy to read.

“Open” questions cannot be answered with a simple “yes” or “no”. It requires more text to answer properly. For example, “What were your thoughts on today’s meeting?” While this question could potentially be simply answered with the word “great” or “waste of time”, by its nature, it’s soliciting a longer response. A second example is “Why don’t you want John to attend the meeting?”

The issues with asking open questions in emails are:

• The person you are communicating with feels required to send a well thought out and time consuming reply that hurts his/her productivity. • You must then read his/her thoughtful reply and follow up with a reply email. • If you’re not careful, your initial open question can turn into a full email-based conversation further reducing your productivity and the productivity of others.

Of course, sometimes you do need to ask and reply to open-ended questions. My suggestion here is simply, if possible, ask closed, rather than open, questions because it can save you some additional time.

If you have any questions about your career in IT, please email me at eric@ManagerMechanics.com or find me on Twitter at @EricPBloom.

Until next time, work hard, work smart, and continue to build your professional brand.

Read more of Eric Bloom's Your IT Career blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Eric on Twitter at @EricPBloom. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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