A wise project manager once gave me a short course on using email that I’ve been passing along to my teams ever since. The central idea is that the recipient should instantly be able to determine the following three things at a glance:
- Is this email time-sensitive?
- Does this email require a response?
- Is this email actionable? (an assignment or request)
Before Sending Email
- Think about what you want the result to be
- RTFM (make sure you’ve exhausted other research options)
- Make sure you understand the thread (conversations are taking place outside of email)
- All your communications should be short and easily understood
- Be clear why you are emailing — if you are assigning a task, state the task up front
- The subject is your headline — use it to be clear what the email is about
- Use sub-headlines and bullet-point lists to make your email scannable
- If you are submitting multiple questions, set up the email so the recipient can respond inline
- Use AP-style — most important info first, then background info
- Don’t mix subjects — each assignment gets a new email
- Don’t CC people unnecessarily — never CC with questions, let the sender CC with clarifications
- Rarely BCC people inside the organization (BCC’s are for invitations, etc.)
- Power tip: Use hashtags in your subject line (see below)
- Don’t play “email tag’ — if you have questions pick up the phone or walk down the hall
- Email isn’t great at nuance. Give people the benefit of the doubt
- Use labels, tags and folders to find emails quickly
Using abbreviations and short-codes to focus attention is an old-time project manager’s trick. Recently, I’ve seen the technique effectively updated by adding Twitter-style hashtags to email subject lines.
- #EOM (End of Message. Don’t bother opening the email, there is nothing inside)
- #NRN (No Reply Needed)
- #Agenda (Agenda for an upcoming meeting)
- #Minutes (Minutes of previous meeting)
- #Action or #Task (You’ve been assigned a task)
- #Info (this is a non-actionable email)
- #Request (this is a request for info. Not an assignment)
- #Confirmed (I received the information. I accept the assignment)
- #Delivered (this is the information you requested. This is the completed assignment)
- #Respond (Response needed)
- #NR=A (No Response Equals Approval. Comment now or forever hold your peace.)
- #NR=A24 (You have 24 hours to respond)
- #TaskDue24 (Reminder: Task Due in 24 hours)
You can also separate your project and issue emails with hashtags: #Project, #Issue, so all the emails on a given subject can be found quickly and easily.
SUBJECT: #ProjectA #IssueX Meeting at 10am 08/11 in Conf. Room 6. #EOM
When scheduling a meeting, include the Reason, Time/Date, and Place in the subject line, so team members can cut-and-paste into their calendars. Also, include an invitation if your email software supports the feature.
Quick Add instructions from Google:
- What: This can be any text; the event title is created from this.
- When: This can be nearly any date and/or time expression. Using ‘at’ and ‘on’ can help.
- Who: This should begin with ‘with’ followed by a list of email addresses; these are added to the guest list.
- Where: This can be any text following ‘at’ or ‘in.’