How Experts Organize Their E-Mails

Who comes to the “on” field, who is on “CC” and what’s the difference between sifting and processing? With a few simple rules, the flood of e-mails can be mastered. At any rate, this is promised by coach Sigrid Hess.
Sigrid Hess trains IT and office organizations. She has eight tips for e-mail senders and three for recipients.

Good information management also clarifies the question of where someone is an expert and where a rough overview is enough.
Four out of five e-mails are in-house back and forth. This is the thesis of Sigrid Hess, IT and office organization trainer. In her book “Survival in the Information Flood” Hess gives tips for dealing with e-mails.
Before going into concrete terms, Hess expresses a principle: according to the motto “a picture is worth a thousand words”, administrative processes should be visualized. Best on a DIN A-4 sheet with all the important elements at a glance. The goal is to distinguish important from unimportant through good information management.
In the first step, every manager or actually every knowledge worker should identify so-called knowledge goals.

These are clarified by three questions: 

Where do I want to be an expert?

Where do I want to know the most important facts?

Where is a rough overview?

This results in positive and negative lists. They are based on the following points:

  • Does the subject matter to me?
  • Is the subject in my sphere of influence?
  • Does my knowledge of this subject change my decision-making horizon?
  • Are others in any way dependent on my being informed about this subject?
  • Am I happy about the subject, is it building me up

Sort white spam out
If these questions are clarified, we get down to practice. You should move “white spam” into a separate folder via the “rules” function of the mail program, then it will not appear in the inbox anymore. White spam is Hess’s name for messages from colleagues or employees that have no relevance. The sender simply wants to “secure a certain status,” the trainer speculates.
However, Hess specifies this statement. Whether cute pet photos and pictures of the sprout with school bag are an important social lubricant or just annoying, ultimately everyone must decide for themselves. Everyone should take care of at least a little private exchange, she advises.

Send in-house e-mails

If you send company-internal mails, Hess recommends the following:

Use the address fields correctly.

Everyone who should do something in the matter is in the “on” field. Who is on “CC”, can read this mail, but does not have to do that

Introduce fixed terms for the subject line.

The goal is to inform each recipient at a glance about the content of the mail. For this, certain concepts can be defined in joint projects or for recurring tasks.

Writing index terms in the subject line.

So-called index terms contain an action request, such as “Check” or “Release”. Hess advises putting these terms in parentheses before the actual subject. This looks like this: “(CHECK) Drafts for the poster campaign”.

Using the @ sign.

If five recipients receive an email, but only a specific colleague should do something, the @ sign is suitable. The note to this particular addressee should be well-placed set at the top of the message so that the recipient sees it and not after 30 lines of text.
For short messages use the subject line only. This is especially useful for those who read e-mails on their smartphones. So that the recipients know that no further information will follow, simply add “Greeting XY” at the back. In the US, the abbreviations “eom” (“end of message”) or “nfm” (“no further message”) have already been established.

Manage sent e-mails.

About one-third of the sent e-mails will be needed later, Hess estimates. So that you don’t have to search for them in the “Sent” folder, you save them in a suitable folder.

Let the recipients wait 24 hours.

Unless it is a very urgent matter, no one needs to turn to today’s “very unhealthy spiral of acceleration,” Hess appeals.

Do not phone:

In each seminar, there is a colleague or someone who sends an e-mail and calls no later than in 30 seconds, “Did you get my mail? What do you mean?” Hess reports. And offers: “If you know this person, send him\her to me!”

What can recipients do?
Hess also has three advice for the recipients of e-mails. They are:

Edit the Inbox regularly – but not all the time: agents with direct customer contact will need to view their mail more often than other colleagues. Nevertheless, one should not open the inbox constantly, but get used to a regular cycle. Important: this includes a regular break.
E-mails viewing and e-mails processing differ. Morning viewing is about identifying urgent construction sites. These (and only these) must be processed immediately. The mailbox remains closed. Only then are the other messages processed.
Practice in making decisions. Whoever causes a bad conscience to his mail should train his decision-making skills. Hess explains, “If you’re in ‘edit mode’, do not let yourself be ticked off before deciding what to do with each email.” This decision should then be implemented immediately.
Sometimes it works without e-mails.

Incidentally, a whole range of e-mails can be avoided by creating a team drive for joint projects. Hess quotes the example of the usual meeting protocols here. They don’t have to be sent by mail, she says. Instead, a team can agree that the log will be created and placed in the drive no later than two days after the meeting. If someone has a change request, he will contact you within four days. Thereafter, the protocol is considered adopted. Hess explains: “In this procedure, not a single e-mail is sent!”

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