Knowledge Musings

Musings about knowledge management as I go about my daily life

Thursday, July 10, 2008

TRASH Your Emails!

OK – sometimes that how we feel, but as we see later TRASH is an acronym for how to process your emails.

Sorry for the lapse in keeping this blog up to date, but I have been rather busy with client assignments recently. Even though consideration of ECM (enterprise content management) systems is a core topic, everyone understands that this a strategic investment requiring significant investment. However, one topic always comes up as a relatively quick win these days – and that is of email management.

Essentially, if people follow good practice guidelines for email they can improve their personal productivity as well as making the recipients of their email more receptive and productive. It is reckoned that every (non-spam) email send is read by an average of seven people. Therefore, a bit of planning at the front-end by the sender can create efficiencies at the back-end by the recipient. Some experts estimate that good practice throughout an organisation can save each person 30-45 minutes a day in reducing the amount of time spent managing email.

In outline there are five areas to tackle and three prongs of attack:

1. Thinking about what you are trying to communicate and whether email is the best method.

2. Composing your email – there is lots of guidance on this aspect, e.g. on subject headings, structure, clarity

3. Sending your email – targeting it appropriately

4. Processing your incoming emails – this is where you TRASH them. A key point is to batch your processing (don’t be distracted by the little “you have a new email” pop-up). There are really only five things you can do with an incoming email (some people say four as you’ll see below):

T – Trash it – read (or skim) and delete

R – Redirect – forward it to someone else to deal with

A – Act – process it (e.g. reply) there and then

S – Save – for future reference

H – Hold – for processing it in future

(though every email you hold is an email you will have to process twice, so this action is often eliminated).

5. Managing the information - if emails have lasting value, then they should be filed somewhere, either in well organized personal email folder or perhaps in your organization's ECM system; either way you'll need a good search tool for efficient retrieval.

The three prongs of attack are:

1. Process and Protocols – having set procedures for handling and filing emails; protocols could for example be team specific e.g. use of subject line, action needed by those cc:ed, how to allocate priorities.

2. Technology – especially the use of rules and filters; for example I don’t have a single inbox but 20 in-folders where my rules pre-sort emails into these folders based on sender and subject contents.

3. Good practice – adopting ways of using emails that suit your preferences and personality, and also that others can expect.

There’s no need to labour these points here. There are plenty of useful sources on the internet. While you are reading this website have a look at our Effective Email Guide that I wrote 10 years ago and which has generally stood the test of time. Here are some additional more recent sources: