Project managers are busy people. Apart from getting the project completed they also need to look after the project team. Time is always tight, managing time is important and managing emails can be difficult. There are several perennial time wasters for project managers including:
- Meetings that take too long and are not run effectively
- Dealing with people issues (including lack of responses)
- Spending time informally monitoring project progress and
- Emails that consume time
This blog takes a look at how to manage emails effectively. It should provide some best practice for managing emails.
Pro-Active Email Management
A good start to avoid email overload and to manage your email inbox is to start pro-actively. A big email inbox leads to frustration and stress. It would be a good idea to set these ground rules at the start of a project.
- Ground Rules: Meet with the project team and use the following to set some email ground rules. All staff will welcome some help in managing their email in-box.
- Unsubscribe: Unsubscribe to junk emails that you never read. If you want to, you can resubscribe later.
- Distribution Lists: Set up the project distribution lists in line with the communication plan. Share the lists with the project team. Make sure that people are only on the lists that they need to be on.
- Read Later Folder: Set up a folder that you can use to read items at a later date. This will reduce the size of your inbox, and collect together items that need more attention.
- Rules to Folders: Set up rules to move emails to specific folders. This can be departmental communications, emails from particular stakeholders, or certain reports etc. It will de-clutter the inbox, and allow you to concentrate on one topic at a time when you have time to read them.
- Holiday and OOO Protocol: Discuss with your team how you will manage Out of Office (OOO) and cover personal holidays. Ensure people use OOO when away for a longer period, and encourage people to have a clear and professional OOO reply email, that is turned off promptly on their return.
- Reply to All: Ask people never to reply to all by default, and only use it when it is necessary.
- Signatures: Set up a standard project email signature, perhaps a small logo and the project mission statement.
- Thank You: Be polite in your emails and dealings with staff, but is it always necessary to send a “Thank you” email (especially when replying to all!). Using a “No reply necessary” is a good way of reducing your inbox size when sending out information.
Getting organised in this way at the start of a project may help with the project communication processes.
Subject Lines for Email Management
Here are some ways of using the subject lines to make managing emails easier:
- Ensure that the subject line is clear. One option is to use subject lines that start with one of the following:
- For Action:
- For Information:
- Other key word subjects could include “Question:”, “Invitation:”, “Important:”.
- Another method contains the entire message in the subject line followed by EOM (End of Message)
- The Stakeholder Meeting for Friday is confirmed for 2:00 in Room G24 EOM.
- Use key terms in subject lines (names, departments, projects, etc) to get the best from the email search tools and help find relevant emails in the future.
A few simple rules set up with the project team will help project team members manage their emails more effectively.
When writing emails follow this check list:
- Is Email the Best Method? Bad news or difficult conversations are perhaps better held face-to-face,or by telephone.
- Correct Distribution List? Who is getting this email? Does everybody need it? Have you missed anybody out?
- Be Polite: Always recheck your emails for politeness. Adding a “Please” or “Thank You” costs nothing, and helps with personal relationships.
- Be Professional: Always assume that your email message will be inadvertently passed on, or revealed. Be professional at all times.
- Use a Good Subject Line: See the above tips. Just before sending the email check that the subject line contains key words, and is still appropriate for the message.
- Call to Action: Start the email with what you want to happen. Don’t bury the ‘request’ at the end of the email.
- Proof Read Before Sending: Check and wait before sending the email. Is it Polite? Professional? Sent to the correct people? With a good subject line? Clear in what is required?
Try to remember the above tips when sending every email.
More Email Management Tips
The Boeing emails show the embarrassment of what can happen if emails are written unprofessionally. Here are some more tips to help manage emails and avoid problems:
- Use of BCC: BCC is great when you want to inform 100’s of people about something without a huge distribution list being seen by everybody. (However, is email the best tool for this?). BCC is also a useful feature when you want to include other people privately. One option for external emails is to copy people internally who need to know without confusing an external customer. Internally BCC is best avoided as it can be seen as encouraging eavesdropping, or can breed mistrust. Better to forward the email to other people directly than be found out copying information behind peoples back.
- Body Language: Cannot be seen in an email. If you keep a professional approach then this is not an issue.
- Tone of Voice: This cannot be heard in an email sometimes different meanings can be taken from the same words by using a different tone of voice. Remember that the recipient is reading and not hearing your message.
- No Capitals: This can be seen as SHOUTING and is neither polite nor professional.
- No Sarcasm: Avoid sarcasm at all costs! Emails might be taken literally as the tone of voice is not heard.
- Touch it Once: Always action an email once opened. Move it to a “read later folder” or if it will take 2 minutes to complete, then complete the action. Too often emails hang around and are read (or passed over) when they could be dealt with quickly.
- Urgent v Important: Remember that emails ‘chiming’ into your inbox are urgent rather than important. Work on the important things first.
- Check Emails at Set times: Turn your phone or email system off, and only check it in the morning, or at a set time. This acknowledges that you are working on important things first. Your staff or project team will soon learn that if it is important and urgent, then they must telephone you.
Following these tips might remove the possibility of embarrassment and awkward situations with project team members.
The start of a new project is a good time to review email etiquette and remind staff of good email practices. However, there are often better ways to communicate than using emails. Poor use of email can lead to stress and problems with co-workers.
The above tips may help avoid an over-flowing inbox and reacting to the “buzz” of a new incoming email.