Email Best Practice for Managing Directors

A MD2MD we often host meetings giving members to share best practice. In March 2009, a few had expressed frustration with the time spent managing emails so that was one of the areas we covered that month. It seems like a trivial area, but as a group and a blog aimed at helping SME Managing Director’s to be more effective I feel I need to cover useful practical things like this as well as the clever stuff like strategy and leadership.

Anyway Jim, one of our members, kindly offered to share with his fellow business leaders some tips and techniques had evolved to be efficient and effective with email management. So here for all my readers is my notes of some of the hints and tips we received from our very own IT trainer and coach for business leaders.

  • Keep your inbox empty – Process emails out of it quickly
  • If the required action is quick, deal with the email immediately, it can take longer moving it around again and again than it would to deal with it straightaway.
  • Delete (or archive) trivial or unimportant emails immediately
  • If the required action needs consideration or takes time, move it to an ‘@ction’ folder
  • Keep folders to a minimum or you may find you spend time hunting multiple folders because can’t remember what folder you put the email in
  • Keep folders to a minimum by using Desktop search or similar. These tools will probably find the email more quickly through keywords than you would looking in folders
  • Use folders for key routine documents, & regular email newsletters you want to keep
  • Use wizards to put routine documents, newsletters and similar straight into the right folder without intervention for you to look at in due course rather than immediately. Wizards can also deal with persistent SPAM and email pests that get through spam filters.
  • Use appropriate etiquette for emails. Consider whether the recipient is likely to react better if the email is addressed ‘Dear Fred’ or whether this is too formal
  • Use subject headings to help guide the reader as to the urgency and purpose of the email. Consider stating explicitly ‘For information’ ‘For action’ ‘For urgent action’ ‘For decision’ etc
  • It is useful to keep emails for reference and to support commercial disputes. There may also be a degree of legal obligation to do so. But keep these in a separate .pst file so you don’t slow down your main email system.
  • Use a different email address for automatic registration systems such as newsletters, downloads etc so that if the email address gets abused you can close it.
  • Use follow up flags with dates to keep track of follow up actions
  • Turn off the message box that reminds you when an email arrives as it will be distracting you when you should be concentrating on other things
  • Plan a good time or times of day to process your emails and avoid looking at them at other times when you should be dealing with something more important
  • Don’t email when you should be phoning or talking face to face. Especially important when giving feedback or criticism
  • Be careful how you use BCC; ask yourself why you are using it and be comfortable with your self-answers
  • Be careful of Reply all. No one likes receiving irrelevant copy emails.
  • Be careful to ensure you only copy emails to those who need to be copied
  • Try to understand different people’s information preferences. Have an explicit conversation about it if appropriate. Some people need to know everything, or have it available; others may not want to be drowned with so much information.

Written by Bob Bradley, founder of MD2MD.