Category: Reflections

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 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.

The Inbox Escape Plan – Avoiding the Ping of Email

The Inbox Escape Plan – Avoiding the Ping of Email

Email perplexes me. In theory it’s a great tool that should increase communication and productivity. In reality it’s a constant distraction that can decrease your productivity and cause unnecessary frustration when people use it poorly. I know personally I have felt the ping of my emailing drawing me in and have become frustrated because someone did not respond to me in a timely manner.

Ding this past school year I spent a lot of time researching and trying out different ways to make email great again. Over the next few blog posts I’m going to share some tips that I have learned and implemented this past year to take control of my inbox. The first three tips are all about avoiding the ping to constantly check your email.

According to a 2015 study that Adobe Systems conducted (link) the average worker spends 6.5 hrs a day checking to see if they have any new email. These 6.5 hrs are not spent sending, reading, and responding to email, they are spent checking to see if you have any new email. Does that sound silly to you? If so I challenge you to keep a tally today of how many times you check your email while sitting at your desk, walking to your car, in the bathroom, or any other time you feel bored. The results may be a little shocking. Below are three ways that I tried this year to cut down on the amount of times I checked my email.

I turned off all of my push email notifications.

Cal Newport’s book Deepwork has had a big influence on how I approached this past school year. In the book Newport argues that our constant phone notifications are not allowing us to get into a state of deep work. While a simple notification may not seem like a huge distraction, cause you to lose your focus and suffer from something called attention residue. While it seems silly, a recent study showed that even a simple distraction can cause you to take up to 25 minutes to get back into the zone. By turning off push notifications and manually fetching my email I now access my email when I am ready to focus on tackling my inbox instead of having my inbox distract me while I am focusing on another task.

I no longer leave my email open in my browser.

I’ll admit the first time I read about closing your email tab I thought it was a silly concept. I mean I’m in charge of my day right? A simple small number on the tab shouldn’t be that distracting right? I decided to test out the idea for a few days and now I am sold. During the first few hours of my experiment I found that my eyes started to drift up towards the tab that normally housed my email. I realized I was “checking” my email without even meaning to. Closing the tab had the out of sight out of mind effect that helped me focus on the task at hand.

I deleted my work email from my phone’s email app.

Apps are designed to hook us. There is a reason why updating your social media feeds on apps is easy. The easier it is the more people tend to do it which leads to people going farther down the rabbit hole and creating new distractions for themselves. In most current email apps even if I turn off push notifications all I have to do to check for email updates is pull down and boom new email. Before the advent push notifications and email apps if you wanted to check your email you had to open a web browser, pull up your email provider’s login page, and enter your login information. If you are trying to avoid constantly checking your inbox there are several opportunities along that path where you can stop and catch yourself before logging in. These few seconds provide you the opportunity to catch yourself and make an informed decision about your next action instead of an action based on a bad habit.

I’ll admit I’m not perfect. I still find myself opening my email at random times and not following my own rules, but when I have implemented these three rules I have found myself focused and productive. As a challenge try following these three rules for a week and see how you feel at the end of the week. I’m willing to bet that you will also find a new sense of focus and high levels of productivity.