Taming The Beast – Making E-mail Work For You – Part 3 of 3

The first installment of this series focused on the Pavlovian response we’ve developed with e-mail – the constant need to check it – and recommended that we turn off the new message alerts and regularly batch process our e-mail in the same fashion that we process our postal mail.  The second installment drilled down into how to better craft our e-mails.  Specifically, we found that placing only one subject in each e-mail we send greatly reduces the risk of miscommunication (and it’s cousin – wasted time) and increases the ability to find and file individual e-mails.  We also concluded that writing strong, clear and communicative subjects in the Subject field of each e-mail sped up processing time and facilitated filing and retrieval.

This third and final installment will address another pesky behavior we’ve developed with e-mail and we’ll learn a nifty feature in Microsoft Outlook which many of my clients say is the best trick they’ve every learned about Outlook.

Modern Day CYA

What is it with Reply All?  That icon gets hammered all day long.  Seriously, I’m surprised we don’t wear out that spot on our computer screens!  Ninety-nine percent of the time the people we’re Replying All to don’t need to know what we’re sending to them, but we just keep wailing away on that thing like there’s no tomorrow.

Now, we all know what’s really going on, don’t we?  Reply All is the e-mail equivalent of Cover Your A**, isn’t it?  But let me ask you this, if we only clicked Reply and added back in the people who really needed to know the information we were adding to the thread, wouldn’t we still be CYA’ing without overloading the inboxes of all those other people? 

In addition, there are other risks to hammering away at Reply All all day long.  First, it increases the amount of unnecessary e-mail everyone else has to wade through to get to the stuff they really need to read.  Second, in their rush to plow through all that extraneous e-mails, it is easy to accidentally double click on the Delete key and inadvertently delete something that really needs their attention.  Oops!  Finally, the increased e-mail traffic has the general effect of increasing the burden on all the hardware needed to keeps those extra e-mails circulating causing all those systems to slow down.

So, do your part.  Make a concerted effort to stop smackin’ on the Reply All button at every opportunity and only Reply to the people that need to know what you have to offer.  Oh, and for those readers who have any influence over the IT department, the Reply All button can be physically moved to the far right of the tool bar – away from the Reply button – on a system wide basis.  One client reduced internal e-mail traffic by 25% simply by moving the Reply All button further from view!

The Coolest Drag & Drop Feature in Outlook

There are two e-mail tricks I share with my clients and audiences that get the most bang for their buck.  The first is turning off the new e-mail alerts.  Many people don’t even know that that’s possible!  The computer “showed up” that way, so how could they?

The second trick is the ability to drag an e-mail over the Appointment or Task icon and “drop” it into a new Appointment or Task.  But before diving in the specifics of this suggestion, please understand that this particular trick works best with Microsoft Outlook.  Other e-mail programs (like Lotus Notes and Google Mail) have some limited ability to perform this same feat, so proceed with caution if you are using something other Microsoft Outlook.

Many people use e-mail to coordinate events or exchange information about tasks and projects.  To capture the valuable content in that e-mail thread, most people cut and paste it from the e-mail into a new Appointment or Task.  Try this, instead of cutting and pasting all that information, just click on that e-mail and drag it over the new Appointment or Task icon (whichever is applicable to your specific application).  Now, release the mouse.  The content in the e-mail will be automatically copied into the comment area of the new Appointment or Task.  This is a very convenient and effective way to move information between e-mail and appointments and tasks.

A terrific application of this trick is the following example:  Let’s say you and Beth are discussing – by e-mail – a project you’re working on together.  You’ve been trading some ideas back and forth over the course of several messages when Beth proposes that you meet for lunch next Tuesday to nail some specifics down.  You agree to meet at noon – via more e-mail exchanges.  Now, before moving on to the next task of your day, you can click and drag that e-mail down to your Appointment icon and let go of the mouse.  Viola!  The entire thread of your conversation is now populated into a new Appointment.  Adjust the Subject line to reflect the specifics of your upcoming lunch with Beth, set the date, time and reminder and click Save and Close.  You can now forget entirely about that project and get one with your day. 

Next Tuesday, when the remind alerts you of your upcoming lunch with Beth, you can simply open the Appointment itself and everything you need to review before heading off to lunch is right in front of you!  No hunting around for the e-mail thread with Beth in your inbox or other storage locations.  It’s all right there. 

Note, this trick works with any kind of appointment – meetings, teleconferences, etc. – and any of kind of task.  Finally, once you’ve created the new Appointment/Task by dragging and dropping the e-mail, you can file the original away wherever necessary, confident that the information will be served up to you when the predetermined time arrives.

Taking Command Versus Feeling Enslaved

Over the last several weeks we’ve focused on some straight forward ways you can regain command of e-mail and make it work for you instead of you working for it.  The fundamental point of these suggestions is that e-mail is a communication tool and, like its ancestors, it was essentially thrust upon us with little-to-no training or guidance on how best to apply it.  As a result, we have all developed some bad habits when using e-mail. The six tips contained in this series are designed to help you replace those unproductive behaviors with more effective and efficient ones so you can regain command of this powerful tool, get more done, and enjoy greater career and life satisfaction.

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