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Email Etiquette

kathrynabergeron —  July 25, 2017 — 1 Comment

iStock_000003795732_crop380wI struggle a lot with writing emails. My emails are too long; I cc: too many people; and it is too hard to figure out what the point of the email is.

Recently, to combat that, I’ve been drafting my emails and editing them later before I send them. This is a little bit like my theory for essays when I was college freshman except I’m not finishing the emails at 4:30 am and proofreading them in 5 minutes before I leave for my 9 am class.

What am I trying to fix in those emails? I’m taking my advice from the Harvard Business Review’s website, and I think that you should, too: How to Make Sure Your Emails Give the Right Impression by Shani Harmon

Email Fails. Talk.

Kevin King —  September 20, 2016 — 2 Comments

stop-sign-e1337976595845-2Good organizations communicate. Healthy organizations communicate face to face more than email. When you want to dispense important information to your staff, making the time to deliver the news on a personal level is much more effective than electronically. The possibility of your team missing information is much greater when your only source of communication is email. Leaders who commit their time to make sure important information is discussed with the team show that they are devoted not only to the institution but also to the individual.

Finally, email is NEVER the medium to use when delivering information that could be bad, uncomfortable or disciplinary. You owe it to your team to set up the time when you can be available to not only discuss the issue, but be there to answer questions and be empathetic.

Healthy organizations promote personal, trust-filled communication on all levels. Just remember – Email fails. Talk.

photo of laptop and vase of tulips with text "3 steps to empty your inbox & do work that matters"Decluttering is a popular topic. I’ll be honest: I love it when I do it, but it is not my natural setting. My natural setting is collecting. However, there is one area in my life where I have the cold, dispassionate, ruthless decluttering approach of any home organization maven: emails.

I have hesitated to write this post in case I curse myself, but I bragged to a few friends about my email prowess and so far my email related hubris hasn’t caught up with me, so I’m ready to shout it from the mountain tops: there are only ever about 10 emails in my inbox. At a maximum.

As library professionals we get a lot of emails. As leaders we need to be able to see what’s new information when it’s new and get to old information quickly when we need it. How do you do that when your email inbox is at 100 emails, 200 emails, dare I say, 300 emails?

Sure, new emails rise to the top and sure, you can search, and sure, you can flag things. But all of that is so much easier when there are about ten emails in your inbox. It saves you time and it sets you up nicely for when you are going to be out of the office for an extended period of time.

Here is how I do it:

When I get to work, I do a quick run through of my emails. I go through everything in the inbox and do one of three things:

1) Deal with it right now

If it will take me five minutes or less (a quick “Ok, thanks!” to let someone know I’ve received the email, for example) or if I’m just going to delete it, I do it right now.

2) File it in a folder

I have a few folders for ongoing projects or email I’m going to need to reference sometime in the future. In addition to folders pertaining to certain projects, I have one folder for general future reference, as well as a folder for time off requests, and a folder for job feedback. I try not to keep too many emails, even in these other folders. Really test yourself: can you come up with three examples of times you will really need this information? Is this information stored anywhere else?

3) Flag it

These are the very rare items that stay in my inbox. These are actionable items or information I will need for a specific date in the near future. If I get a confirmation email for a professional development event in two weeks, I flag that email so I have the information at the ready. The flag helps me remember to delete it when the event is over. Or, if I received a message about a sink that needs to be fixed in the building, I’ll flag the email until I have time to put in a work order. Once I’ve dealt with the task (put in the work order), I delete the email.

For the rest of the day, I just deal with new emails in one of those three ways. The flagged emails get incorporated in my byzantine to-do list system (which is very good, but a post for another day. It involves Outlook, sticky notes, dry erase markers, and dance breaks).

I also clean out folders periodically. I have recurring tasks that remind me to clean out my deleted emails (once a week: delete everything older than a week), my sent emails (once a month: delete everything older than six months), and my future reference folders (once a month: delete things that are no longer relevant).

This may sound like it takes a lot of time and the initial set up will take a bit of time, but ultimately you save so much time not having to hunt for things and you save yourself so much embarrassment by not missing out on things! If you have a lot of emails in your inbox right now, don’t feel overwhelmed. If you can carve out some time each day to deal with what’s in your inbox and make folders and delete stuff, great! If you are swamped for time, just deal with the new stuff that comes into your email in the way I’ve described and maybe sort through one or two older emails every day. You’ll catch up before you know it!

I have used this system for something like 8 years and in 4 different positions and it has always been effective. I know some people are more nervous about deleting emails than I am and make a folder for all of their emails and keep them for a month, and then clean out that folder. There are lots of ways to make this system your own but I would really encourage you to keep your inbox between 0 and 10 emails and to regularly clean out your future reference folders in whatever shape they take. Join me in the joyous world of email decluttering!

Email is a hungry monster

nighthawk309 —  September 20, 2013 — 3 Comments
photo credit: Biscarotte via photopin cc

photo credit: Biscarotte via photopin cc

Email can gobble up loads of time (if you let it). Prior to my departure from my previous job, the library director asked me to create a list of key duties and associated time estimates so that he could get a handle on how to best fill my position. I went to work listing out various tasks and time estimates but found that I was coming up short. I racked my brain and then realized I hadn’t jotted down email and the time I spent with it.

Email and online communication turned out to consume a significant chunk of time each week. This was an alarming realization to me. If I was spending major parts of my day reading, writing and managing email, that meant I was spending too much time parked in front of a screen rather than getting out and interacting with people (both public and staff).

Can you relate to this factoid? “According to a 2012 study from McKinsey Global Institute, the average worker in the knowledge economy spends 28 percent of his or her time reading and answering e-mail. Doing the math, that comes to 11.2 hours per week, if one assumes a 40-hour workweek.” (See this article for more details.)

Once you realize how much time you sacrifice to the email monster, you can make changes to save your workday.

– Rather than staying glued to your monitor throughout the day, schedule times during the day that you’ll be at the computer. Use non-computer times to get out of your office, get around the library, do work with the collection, talk with patrons and interact with staff.

– If you need to respond to an email that really warrants a discussion with someone, pick up the phone or walk to his or her desk. Just because you receive an email doesn’t mean you have to respond with an email. Voice conversations may be the more efficient response.

– If you can’t pry yourself from the computer, try this one. Hold office hours in public spaces. Take your computer, sit at a public table and get to work. Tell people where they can find you and encourage them to stop by. Talk to people around you. See what it’s like on the public side of your library.

– Find periods of time that you disconnect from email entirely. Don’t check email on your computer or phone. Use the time to clear your head and do something productive. If you’re concerned people won’t be able to reach you, make them aware of your email vacation in advance.

– Take a look at the Email Charter.  It contains some superb suggestions to make our email lives more sane.

Email can be a useful tool for communication. You can accomplish a lot with it. It can also be a constant distraction. Don’t let it become your job. Keep your goals and duties in perspective. Make sure the time you’re dedicating to tasks is an accurate reflection of who you want to be and what you want to accomplish.


photo credit: Stéfan via photopin cc

The fear starts right around the middle of your vacation.  It starts with voice inside your head stating with immense trepidation, “You are going to have so many emails when you get back to work.”  Then you start checking the number of emails on your phone even though you promised your family you would not even think about the library.  When the number starts to grow you secretly find ways to answer the ones that only require one word answers like “Yes,” “No,” and “Custard.” Eventually you start to wake up early just to tackle some correspondence even though you should be sleeping in.  In the end, when panic fully sets in, you simply take your iPad to the beach.  Email has defeated you again while on vacation.

This year I vowed to not let email defeat my vacation again.  My plan involved doing a few things before, during and after my time off.

  • In the days leading up to vacation, I worked diligently on the emails residing in my Inbox.  I replied, filed and deleted until I was left with a very manageable number.   Don’t try and do it all in two or three days.  Start a week or more before you leave ands only work on emails for no more than an hour at a time.
  • While on vacation, use travel time to answer emails.  I find that the times riding in a car or sitting in airports are wonderful for quick replies.  It is in your best interest to never respond to an email that requires an involved or more sensitive response.  I’ve regretted quickly replying to emails that actually required a more extensive answer., save those for when you return to the office. Another great tactic is to simply delete all the junk mail or group messages that do not apply to you because you are off from work.  Be very selective when using downtime to check emails during vacation.  Remember this time off is essentially for recharging the battery!
  • When you return to work make it a goal to only reply to emails for one hour chunks, two to three times a day.  This will give you time to attend to other non-email type work piled on your desk as well as opportunities to check in with your staff and team.

During vacation last week when the fear started to invade my brain, I was able to fight it back with the knowledge that I had a plan.  This in turn allowed me to have a great time with my family.  When I returned to work one colleague even remarked, “You must of had fun because I noticed you were not on email as much.”  Take that email.  I beat you.