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The Inbox Escape Plan Part 3 – The Follow Up

The Inbox Escape Plan Part 3 – The Follow Up

In my previous post I talked a little about the importance of the follow up. I used to think that sending a follow up email was rude because I was bugging the person I emailed. I mean obviously my initial email was as important to them as it was to me (please note my extreme sarcasm). Over this past year I have learned that follow up emails are not rude and at times are necessary to help get things done.

So how do you make sure you follow up on important emails? You could try and remember every single email that you sent but chances are no matter how great your memory is, you are going to forget one or two emails. Also storing information like this in your memory is not the best use of your mental strength. As this blog post from LifeHacker points out, the end goal of “productivity” is to spend less time doing the things you have to do so you have more time for the things you want to do. Sorry but remembering what emails require a follow up are not that important. Below is the workflow that I use to keep track of my follow ups.  

The Follow Up Label

To track the emails that I want to follow up on I created a follow up label in my Gmail account. Any time I send an email that requires a follow up I quickly label it with the follow up label. Tagging the email with this label automatically creates a follow up list that I can use to keep track of which emails I have not got a reply from. Once I get a reply from the recipient I will either remove the label if the conversation is over or leave it if the email requires an important future reply. This entire process only takes a few seconds but can have a huge impact on your response rate. For more on labels in Gmail please click here.

Set Aside Time to Check the Follow Up List

Creating a list is one thing. Checking the list is another. In my calendar I have a weekly event scheduled that reminds me to check my follow up list. I decided to create a weekly reminder instead of a daily reminder to allow recipients the opportunity to respond before I follow up with them. If I have not heard back from you within a week it’s a sign to me that I need to send a quick nudge to get a reply. Creating an event in my calendar has also helped me build the habit of checking my follow up list.

Be Polite

When composing your follow up email it’s important to remain polite. I know our instinct is to get angry because we feel that the person is avoiding us on purpose. Instead of getting angry I would encourage you to assume positive intent. The more positive you are with your follow up the more likely you are to get a response.

Now does this system work 100% of the time? Of course not but it has increased the number of responses I get to emails. There are times that I have had to let go of some emails because I sent a few follow ups and got no response. In situations like this you may want to rethink your communication strategy and choose a different medium.


The Great 2017-2018 Slack Experiment

The Great 2017-2018 Slack Experiment

One of my school’s new initiatives this year is the implementation of Slack. We believe that by implementing Slack school wide that we will be able to increase staff communication and transparency. In this post I want to share the why behind our implementation of Slack, a brief explanation of what Slack is, and share two Slack basics along with some tips and tricks!

Why Slack?

As a school leader it is crucial that we build a strong culture amongst teachers, staff members, and administrators. In many schools, culture is rooted in the ways teammates and coworkers communicate. A lack of communication between staff members can cause unnecessary stress and confusion which can lead to negative feelings about work. A lack of communication can also lead to staff members starting to question if their school leaders are being transparent about decisions. When communication and transparency break down staff becomes unhappy and unmotivated to do their best on a daily basis. So how can school leaders increase communication and transparency with their staff? I believe that the answer is using Searchable Log of All Conversation and Knowledge aka Slack.

What is Slack?

Slack is a cloud based collaboration tool that looks to increase team communication. Slack combines text messaging, instant messaging, and group chats all into one powerful tool. In Slack conversations are organized by topic through a series of private or public channels. With Slack users can share files, engage in public and private communication, and quickly search for messages and files that have been posted in Slack. Slack is free for teams, can be set up in a few minutes, and is not limited to any specific platform.

Slack Basics

What is a channel in Slack?

An easy way to think of a channel is to view it like a hashtag on social media. Just like hashtags, channels are used to organize conversations. Organizing your conversations with channels is key to making sure that the general chat room does not become overwhelming for users.

Slack by default creates two channels for you when you set up your team. #general channel is for general group conversation. This is a great channel to use for all staff announcements or information that you need everyone on the team to receive. The second channel that Slack creates for you is #random. This channel is great for non work talk and for fun conversations.

To create additional channels in Slack click on the plus sign next to Channels. If you click on the word Channels you can browse and join any public channels that have already been created in your team.

The first step when creating a channel in Slack you will need to decide if you want the channel to be public (any user on your team can join) or private (only users you invite can join). To create transparency with your staff you will want to have a majority of your channels be public. The only time that I would recommend creating a private channel is if you will be sharing confidential information in the channel (private student information, information about staff members, etc.). After setting your channel’s visibility you will need to give your channel a name. If you will be using slack across campuses I would suggest creating a naming convention that quickly identifies each campus. For example if I wanted to create a channel about math instruction at Middle School One I could call the channel #MS1 Math.

What is a direct message in Slack?

Direct messages in Slack are one on one or small group conversations. A direct message is similar to a Google Hangout or any other instant messaging program. Sending a direct message can be done by click on a user’s username in the sidebar or by clicking the plus sign. If you click on the words Direct Messages you can also see a list of all of your previous direct messages or search for a particular conversation.

When sending a direct message I would suggest tagging the user by typing @ and their slack user name. I have known of a few people who turn off channel and direct message notifications but leave on tagging notifications so I always tag the user I am trying to speak with.

If you currently use Slack with your staff I would love to connect and talk more. You can reach me by completing my contact form.

The Inbox Escape Plan Part 2 – New Etiquette

The Inbox Escape Plan Part 2 – New Etiquette


In my previous post I talked about how I avoid the ping of checking my emails and offered some tips on how you can lessen the ping. In addition to trying to avoid the ping of my email, this year I have implemented three changes in my email etiquette that have had a positive impact on my communication skills and productivity. These three tips have lead to a decrease of stress, an increase of closed feedback loops, and less back and forth emails when trying to schedule meetings and events.

Avoid sending email outside of work hours.

A perk of using email to communicate is that you are always a swipe or fingerprint scan away from accessing your email. A bad part of using email to communicate is that you are always a swipe or fingerprint scan away from accessing your email. In my previous post I talked about how I avoid the ping of checking my emails. Like I said in that post I’m still not able to avoid the ping 100% of the time but being aware of the ping helps me avoid it. One way I am trying to help my teachers avoid the ping of their email is by not sending any emails outside of work hours unless it is an emergency that has to be dealt with before school starts (e.g. last minute bell schedule change, school closure, etc.)

In the book The Best Place to work Ron Friedman talks about the importance of limiting your emails to work hours. By doing this you are allowing your employees to have a break and decompress. Friedman argues that when a boss sends emails during non work hours it sends a message to employees that they should be working as well since the boss is. I’m hoping that by not sending emails during non school hours that my teachers don’t feel the need to be constantly checking their emails and find the time at home to relax and get ready for the next day.

Sending follow up emails is ok.

During the school year managing your email can be like trying to get your three year old to sit down for more than ten seconds…impossible. It is very easy to send a quick email requesting someone to do something or promise to do something for someone and then forget about it 10 minutes later. According to the website Internet Live Stats, approximately 2.6 emails are sent every second. In fact in the time it took me to compose the introduction for this section, 143.5 million emails were sent. While you may not be receiving all of the 269 billion emails sent per day, you probably receive too many emails to keep track of. You are not alone. That’s why this year I learned that not only is it ok to follow up, sometimes it’s necessary to follow up.

I have found that  sending a quick following up email does two things.

  • Following up acts as a reminder to the recipient that they have not yet responded. In the chaos of running a school or teaching I know it can be very easy for an email to be quickly read and then forgotten about. A quick “Just wanted to bump this to the top of your inbox” message helps remind the recipient that they need to respond to the email.
  • Following up helps  the recipient triage their inbox. Sending a quick follow up sends a message to the recipient that your initial email is important and requires their attention.

While you may feel weird at first sending follow ups, sending these quick reminders leads to an increase in people responding to your messages. In Part 3 of this series I’ll share more about how I use Gmail to help me follow up with emails.

Make it easy to say yes.

In the book Unsubscribed author Jocelyn K. Glei shares a tip that will help you cut down on the amount of email you receive during your day. Glei suggests that when composing emails you want to make it easy for the recipient of the email to say yes. A simple way to do this is to try and end email chains as fast as possible by making a request and suggesting possible solutions.

Let’s look at a common situation that I’m sure many of us have experienced when trying to schedule a meeting. Each bullet point is a separate email.

  • I have a big project that I’m working on and need to meet with you to discuss an aspect of it. Can you meet next week?

  • Sure. Does Tuesday work?

  • Perfect. Does 1pm work?

  • I can’t do 1pm. Does 2pm work?

  • I have a meeting at 2pm. What about 3pm?

  • I can make that work. Do you want to meet in my office or the conference room?

  • I think we can use the conference room. Want me to request it?

  • Please! Thank you!

Eight emails. It took eight emails to set up a meeting at. Using Glei’s suggestion of making it easy to say yes, let’s look at how that could play out instead. Again each bullet point is a separate email.

  • I have a big project that I’m working on and need to meet with you to discuss an aspect of it. I’m available next Tuesday at 1pm and 3pm. If that works for you I can request the conference room or we can meet in my office.
  • Tuesday sounds great. I have a meeting at 1pm but I can do 3pm. Let’s use the conference room. See you then!

Two emails. The difference between the two is that the sender made it easy for the person to say yes by figuring out the logistics before sending out the initial email. If I had received the detailed first email I can quickly check my calendar to see when I’m free and figure out a location by only having to respond once. Quick and easy.

I would again challenge you this week to try out one of these three tips and see how you feel at the end of the week. I’m willing to bet that you will feel a decrease of stress by avoiding your email outside of work hours, see an increase of closed feedback loops by sending follow up emails, and be able to quickly get to yes.