S.M.A.R.T. Email Credo – The "M"

Part2Author’s Note: This is the second in a series of articles advocating that people and their organizations adopt the S.M.A.R.T. Email Credo. The Credo focuses on the sender’s role in the email overload problem. Better sender behavior reduces the time spent by and the stress on recipients when handling email. An explanation of the what and why of the Credo can be read at the beginning of Part 1 here.

What does the M stand for?

The M in S.M.A.R.T. stands for message formatting. Utilizing email effectively includes focusing on how to format messages that communicate efficiently.

Email exists in the wide space between hard-copy written communication and real-time verbal communication. Email is often conversational in structure, yet the recipient could be hours or days from responding. Leaving the dichotomy of immediate response expectations aside, emails also lack the non-verbal feedback received during real-time communication – tone and, if in person, body language. Recipient confusion is the result of poor email formatting and minimal surrounding clues due to this asynchronous communication environment.


S.M.A.R.T. Email Credo – The "S"

Part1Author’s Note: This is the first in a series of articles advocating that people and their organizations adopt the S.M.A.R.T. Email Credo. The Credo focuses on the sender’s role in the email overload problem. Better sender behavior reduces the time spent by and the stress on recipients when handling email.

Why Does This Matter?

We currently spend 2.8 hours per day handling email (Basex, Inc.). Global use of email is growing 13% per year and will continue to do so through at least 2016 (Radacati Group). We are overwhelmed with email volumes and the situation is getting worse (Wall Street Journal).


Spaghetti on a Plate – Hard-Coded Time Versus Soft-Coded Time

Spaghetti on a plate.  That’s what many of our calendars – electronic or paper – look like. All of our appointments and lists of to-dos mixed together in one place. This accomplishes one of our goals: to get everything written down in one place. However, it doesn’t accomplish our primary goal: to get everything done in a timely fashion with minimum stress.

Another (food-related) way to look at this issue is to answer these questions:

  • Do you have a kitchen?
  • If so, do you have a silverware drawer?
  • And a junk drawer?
  • Does your calendar look like your silverware drawer or your junk drawer?

This is the fun, interactive example I use during my Focus Pocus: 24 Tricks for Regaining Command of Your Day seminar to get people thinking about how they can be more efficient and productive. The point is that getting everything into one place is the first step in efficient productivity. The second step is having a sorting system for all those things so your brain doesn’t have to constantly sort things before selecting which to do next.


Finishing – The Second Hardest Thing

Much is made of starting; it is the hardest thing. We lament its prospect. We’ve named the behavior of non-starting – procrastination – which many consider a condition or a failing or a personality type.

In “Do the Work,” Steven Pressfield’s insightful analysis of this difficulty with starting, he names the force we experience Resistance. Resistance, says Pressfield, is the ever-present enemy within us all that must be battled daily so that results can be produced.

Many have addressed starting and its accomplice, proscrastination.  Here are a few:

Techniques and suggestions for beating procrastination and getting started can be found in those works.

Fast Forward to the End

But what of starting’s silent partner – finishing? Getting our work to closure is often a struggle too. If fact, behind starting, finishing up is the second hardest thing to accomplish.  Whether it’s the actual work or its remnants, failure to lay tasks and projects to their final rest can create just as many problems as failure to start can.


Gerbils on a Wheel – Making that Wheel Roll Forward

“Gerbils on a wheel.”  I use this expression frequently when talking with audiences about how we feel after busting hump all day and feeling like nothing got done.  Wouldn’t it be nice to feel like the wheel actually moved forward once in a while?

Breaking Free from the Frame

Like most wheels, the wheel we each run on during the day is held in place on either side of its hub by forks.  Imagine looking down on a bicycle wheel to where the forks attach to the hub.  The wheel spins at the hub and the forks keep the wheel in place.  That’s good on a bicycle because everything works together so that the spinning wheels assist in making the bike move forward.

The gerbil’s wheel is similarly secured but its forks are fixed to the bottom of the cage.  Thus, no amount of spinning will move the wheel forward.  The wheel must break free from the forks for it to roll forward.


10 & 2 – The Rhythm of Productivity

Anyone who’s spent more than ten minutes with me knows that fly fishing is one of my life-long passions.  It’s a product of my Montana upbringing.  Long before Robert Redford brought Norman Maclean’s beautiful novella A River Runs Through It to the big screen, I was standing in the dirt lane in front of my childhood home trying to master the art of fly casting.

Finesse Versus Force

What makes fly casting unique is that it’s the line that’s being cast, not the nearly weightless artificial fly tied to the end of it.  You see, the fly follows the line and the objective is to cast the line out so that the fly comes to rest on the water delicately.

Brute force has no place in this endeavor.  It’s about rhythm and finesse. The harder we try to drive the fly out to where the fish are, the less chance it will happen.  However, if we settle into the rhythm of the cast and work with the forces of nature, the more successful we are.


Closing Time – What a Dishwasher Can Teach a Professional

Closing time – a phrase immortalized by Semisonic in their 1998 pop hit.  The song focuses on that moment late in the evening when the lights of the bar come up signaling that it’s time for the patrons to leave.  But for those working in those environments – bars, restaurants, retail stores – closing time is just the beginning of the end.

After Hours Effort

What I’m talking about is the closing routine that starts after the last customer leaves.  Much of the really hard work begins here – the cleaning, scrubbing, tossing and organizing.  It all needs to be done before the day is really over.  The closing routine is a fundamental part of preparing for the next day, so it’s a process worth perfecting to maximize it’s effectiveness.

The restaurant kitchen is a great analogy for this analysis, primarily because “Dishwasher” was the first title your humble author held in his working career.  The cycle of productivity in a restaurant kitchen can be easily described as (a) prepare to cook, (b) cook, (c) clean up from cooking.  Interestingly, (a) and (c) are interrelated.


Taskus Interruptus: Good Writing Requires Concentration

(Editor’s Note:  This is a guest post by M.H. Sam Jacobson, Legal Research & Writing Instructor [Retired] at Willamette University College of Law in Salem, Oregon)

Good writing requires knowing what you want to say. Knowing what you want to say and how to say it requires concentration. And concentration requires managing distractions, no small task in today’s multimedia world. Never before has the ability to pay attention been challenged to the extent it is being challenged today.

The Cacophony of the Modern Workspace

Consider what happens when you just want to type a document. You open the file and begin working when a pop-up message says you have a program update. You can stop what you are doing and then restart your computer, or you can ignore the message, only to have the pop-up return over and over until you give up in frustration, save what you are doing, update the program and restart your computer.


DMV – The Model of Efficiency?

Going to the DMV ranks near the bottom of things people like to do. We wait until our license plates or our driver’s licenses are nearly expired before we drag ourselves down to the local office, expecting the experience to be both miserable and interminable.  Those fears, coupled with our general fear of the unknown, make a trip to the DMV something just slightly more fun than getting a root canal.


Such was my state of mind a few weeks ago as I approached our DMV branch office with the title to my new (old) car in hand.  The mission: to get the old Montana title converted to a new Nevada title.  Simple enough.


Search is No Savior for Overloaded E-mail Inboxes

Last week, the New York Times ran an article titled 5 Easy Ways to Stanch The E-mail Flood.  As an author and speaker on time management who spends a lot of time taking about and dealing with e-mail for both myself and my clients, I am always interested in new tips and tricks for making e-mail more manageable and more productive.  Moreover, I am generally loath to take issue with other people’s positions on how best to do this.  However, this particular article left me with a sense of surrender and failure that has nagged at me for days.  So, on behalf of myself and all my clients, this is my response.