7 simple tips to be productive on emails

We all are guilty of sending emails to our colleagues that are not the most optimum. We wither reduce our productivity or that of our colleagues. This blog talks about 7 simple tips I have learnt to be productive and let my team be productive while sending emails and calendar invites.

#1 Sending emails at odd hours

Let us assume you send an email at odd hours with no intention for a reply back. But there is another team member who is as enthusiastic as you are and replies to your odd hour email. Of course you are awake, therefore how can you not participate in this tete-a-tete? At last both of your are able to close the healthy dialog overnight. Sounds like a productive night?

However, now think of the other team members who were not part of this midnight rendezvous. You just sent a 2 pager email thread to be revisited from bottom to top by every single individual in the team. Each member now reviews the email and arrives at his or her own conclusion and if god forbid someone actually read it and has another point of view, your email thread that had just reached conclusion restarts all over again.

This not only results in productivity loss but also adds to the cognitive overload of the whole team. It also makes others feel not included in the decision making. Even worst, it spoils the team culture to be comfortable with odd hour conversations, even when one is not required.

If it is not urgent, then it can wait. Send a delayed response to your emails during working hours.

A self portrait when I used to send late night emails by Dirk van Wolferen on Unsplash

#2 FYI & FYA

The two most dreaded words used in emails are FYI or FYA. Have you looped in someone into a long email thread with the proverbial FYI (For your information) or FYA (For your action). While your intentions may be to include others and ensure right action is taken by the right person, you just exposed a “loooooong” email thread to be comprehended by someone and take the actions necessary. Thank you for killing someone’s productivity.

If you have been part of a long thread of email and wish to include someone then a 2 line summary of the email wouldn’t do any harm. That would not only help your team comprehend the email faster but also help you set the context in which you wish others to read this email.

Those long emails.. by Jaredd Craig on Unsplash

#3 Lack of acknowledgement

What do you do when you get an FYI or an FYA email? Read it. Put it as a ‘To Do” task. At times those emails just sit in our mailboxes marinating with the rest of our emails. All this while, the sender keeps wondering whether the task will ever get done. In extreme cases, it can also result in heightened case of excruciating unproductive idleness where the sender just wonders into oblivion.

As a receiver of these emails, it is good to acknowledge these emails with a simple “I acknowledge this email” with a timeline to return with a response. This acknowledgement helps set the expectation with the sender on the urgency and priority of the task.

Sorry, which email was yours? by Evgeny Karchevsky on Unsplash

#4 Send something without an ETA

This happens a lot when we assign actions to folks without an expected ETA (Estimated time of arrival). I have seen many emails assigning actions and then the senders loose their sleep over the task not getting completed. Guess what, you never had an end date by which the task was supposed to be completed therefore you leave the prioritization to the whims and fancies of the receiver.

It is simple, if you assign a task then have an ETA.

Just give an ETA before it is too late. Artur Tumasjan on Unsplash

#5 False sense of urgency

The exact opposite of not assigning an ETA is to assign an unrealistic ETA when there is no sense of urgency at all. These emails look like, can you please send this to me by eod (end of the day). And when you actually send something after working late nights by the end of the day, you only realize that the email is sitting on someone’s “Inbox” for 2 days.

It could have a simple fix. Have a discussion with the receiver on a comfortable ETA while evaluating your own sense of urgency and priority.

Running very fast in the wrong direction only helps if you are running in circles. by Nicolas I. on Unsplash

#6 Sending meetings with Agendas (that are not agendas)

If you do not send an agenda for a meeting then you just committed the cardinal sin of your corporate life. So that is an easy fix. Just send an agenda. Meetings without agendas are like headless chickens, no one knows what to do or what to expect.

Now, let us assume you send an agenda. The question is what is an agenda?

You should know that an agenda is not just the 3 things that will be covered in the meeting.

I must admit, I have found myself lost in many meetings. by Jamie Haughton on Unsplash

A good agenda contains 3 items.

  • Before the meeting: You should add any preparatory work that team must do before the meeting.

Add a “pre-read” document in the meeting invitation and request folks to spend 20 minutes reading and commenting on it.

Add just a small introduction for the meeting so that attendees are clear about any additional context required to be part of the meeting.

  • During the meeting: Talk about what will happen in the meeting. Add timelines to the meeting so that you can drive your conversations and your meetings. For example:

Sandeep — Present the proposal (20 minutes)

Team — Questions and Answers (10 minutes)

  • Roles of individuals: Add what are you expecting from the audience here? At times we are guilty of sending meeting invites to a large audience and let the audience decide whether they feel the meeting is worth their time. A single liner on what is expected from the audience could be a great addition to your agenda. For example,

Audience is expected to approve the proposal.

Audience is expected to provide guidance on the proposal.

Expectation is to brainstorm the idea.

#7 Treating emails like Instagram

Some of us get addicted to emails. Yes, that is the saddest part of human existence.

If you find yourself opening emails at least 30 times a day to ensure you are all caught up, then my friend, you are an addict. But guess what, there is still hope.

Block a 20 minute slot on your calendar in the morning and another in the evening to review emails. You can choose to close your emails during your most productive hours. No hell is going to break loose in that 1 hour.

And if hell is about to break loose, then folks will not just send email and wait for your reply.

Install my Email Rehabilitation tool called “ALT + F4". It has done miracles for others and it will help you my friend as well. And the best part is that it is FREE FREE FREE. by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

If you think this was helpful, then you can clap for this. The last time I wrote this, someone dropped their phone and started clapping. While I appreciate that gesture, I meant the “clap feature” on Medium. … Duh…

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