Tag Archives: email

Make Your Email Notifications More Relevant By Skipping the Inbox

Word association time:

  • Email
  • Telephone
  • Inbox
  • Voice Mail

EscapingOverwhelmingEmailIf the first and third words conjured slogging through innumerous messages, you’re not alone. Email has long been identified as that sucking sound that you hear as soon as you start your work day.  In my work, that flashing red light that used to indicate I had a voice mail has long ago been replaced by Outlook’s pop-up email notification.

Not only has email been identified as a detriment to productivity, so has that email notifier. Clicking this link will show numerous productivity experts telling you to turn the darn thing off. It’s a tip on page 35 of Franklin Covey’s Time Management for Outlook Toolkit. However, this email desktop alert was designed to serve a purpose: letting you know when emails important to you have arrived.*

So how can you use the email notification tool without derailing your productivity every time an “FYI email” or free whitepaper pops up in your Inbox? By not putting those emails in your Inbox in the first place.

Here’s a technique I developed a while ago that routes all emails to a folder that’s not tracked by the email notification tool, then pushes the stuff I want** back into my Inbox.

emailRulesFirst: create a special folder to receive all your emails. I call mine: “Inbox Manager.”

Second: create an Outlook rule that applies to all messages, with the action: “Move to the following folder.” Specify the folder you just created.

Third: provide exceptions to the rule. Mine are:

    • If it was received from members of my immediate team, my boss, my boss’ boss, and project managers for the projects I’m working on.
    • It was marked with High importance
    • It’s a type of Meeting Request
    • It’s flagged as “Call.”

You may not find all these exceptions useful for you. For example, perhaps these settings will not be as exclusionary if you’ve got people who mark every email “important.” Hopefully, this small selection of exculsions gives you an idea of how robust your Outlook rules can be.


There is a catch:

You’ll have two “Inboxes” to check.  And this second environment, quite frankly, runs the risk of accruing a balance, as it will be easier not to apply the “zero Inbox”/”Getting Things Done” methodologies that you may use to manage your “primary” Inbox.

Weigh your options. Will you benefit from allowing Outlook to help you prioritize the emails you address first? Will your productivity rise as your email distractions decrease? If so, activate those organizational skills you’ve resolved to apply, and give this a try.



* That request for information from your boss’ boss for today’s meeting? Yeah, you’ll want to get that.
** A much smaller list, n’est ce pas?

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Can There Be Unbiased Messaging?

Stories of Organizational Communication, Part 4

Geri’s question:  In the 3P’s section of the text, focus is directed towards unbiased messaging. Can we really get away from this in today’s world where there are so many differing points of view?

I’ll start off with a confession: I didn’t read that portion of the text, so I’m not really sure what the “three P’s” are.   But my short answer is:  why not? If my purpose is to inform, then why does my message need to have a bias because I know someone else has a differing viewpoint?

If my purpose is to convince, then sure: bias will exist.

For example, I have this professional blog that focuses on the T&D field. Typically, my posts are meant to provide information in a way that convinces designers to create material in a certain way – try this, your learners will like it, sort of thing.

BUT sometimes my posts are simply meant to inform. I recently posted on our Chapter Blog a summary of the keynote speeches at last week’s ASTD TechKnowledge along a specific theme. I had no intention to convince anyone of anything – the content was more geared towards Organizational Development than Training, that’s not my expertise – but I thought it was an interesting topic, and I wanted to share.

So my response would be, it depends upon the purpose of your content. But yes, we can communicate in an unbiased way.

Hopefully, “purpose” is one of the three P’s.  If it isn’t, it should be.

This is one of a series of posts inspired by question prompts from Geri Girardin, the instructor of DHTV’s Organizational Communication course. Other posts in the series were:

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Positive Impressions

Stories of Organizational Communication, Part 3

Geri’s question:  In your writing, do you grapple with ensuring that you incorporate “positive impressions”. What does that look like?

Early in my career, no.  People used to comment that they liked my conversational style.  I took that to heart, and said whatever came to mind. And I was rewarded for this. My eNewsletters for ASTD-Orange County were applauded for their informality and friendliness. They weren’t stiff; the language encouraged people to read them.

But you can become too conversational, and if you’re not watching out, you can find yourself choosing words that are regrettable.  You can find yourself venting about something that frustrated you.  You can get in trouble for the very informality that you embrace.

After a while, poor messaging impacted the perception of others who had a say in hiring me.  I got reprimanded in performance reviews, and the words I chose cost me real dollars in the form of raises, and promotions.

I learned. As I gained more responsibilities at work, the messages I sent became a measure of who I am.

Now, I seek a few things in my writing:
• Clarity.
• Conciseness
• Clear conscience – I never want to have to wonder if I should have said something.

My successor in the Communications post at ASTD-Orange County has a similar tendency for informal communication, and he took that casual, friendly tone in our eNewsletters to a new level — they were very popular. But, I contend that his willingness to publicly air what he thought could have damaged our organization’s reputation if I hadn’t, for one episode, stepped in.

My successor had sent an eNewsletter advertising a popular event and indicating that a limited number of seats were available. He urged our members to reserve their seats soon. Shortly afterward, my successor received an email complaining that the author of the email had attempted to take his advice, but found the event to be sold out. In her angry response, she accused my friend of creating a sense of scarcity in the Chapter.

My friend took umbrage to that email; he felt it placed him in the ranks of door-to-door snake oil salesmen.  I don’t necessarily blame him there. He composed a lengthy, angry response that admonished the complaining email’s author for scolding him without knowing the facts.  And then he posted the email he had received, and his response, on our Chapter Blog.

That’s where I chose to step in.  There were two things to consider:

  1. The initial communication that had drawn my friend’s ire had been sent only to my friend, not to everyone in the Chapter. His response didn’t need to be public; it should have been in kind — a reply email. As it was, my successor was inviting a flame war on a professional blog. I suggest that a professional blog is not a place for such venom.
  2. Rather than respond in anger, my friend could have put on a customer service hat and calmly explained the procedure that he had followed. That at the time the eNewsletter had been sent, he had believed that seats were still available.   The general content would have remained the same — our volunteers work very hard to provide valuable services for our members — and any other members of the public could have been informed about why they were inconvenienced.

My friend and I had a lengthy discussion about his right to respond to the email openly, and although we agreed to disagree, he removed the post and uploaded an edited version that extolled the virtues of the hard-working volunteers of the Chapter.

Although I infer in my previous points that an email from one person to another enjoys a certain level of privacy, I would like to quickly assure you that email is not a private method of communication. Very often it is a public method of communication, even if it’s only to one person. And that’s because once I receive an email, it’s mine to do with as I please.

A case in point would be Ocean Marketing’s self-destructive emails to a customer wanting to know where his product was. This is a case study both in poor communication, and later in damaging communication. But it shows how quickly anything someone writes can go viral. So whatever you write, write something that leaves a positive impression.

This is one of a series of posts inspired by question prompts from Geri Girardin, the instructor of DHTV’s Organizational Communication course. Other posts in the series were:

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The “You” Attitude

Stories of Organizational Communication, Part 2

Geri’s question: Our text stresses the “you” attitude. What is your perspective on this? Any illuminating stories to illustrate your point?

candy fundraising

"$6? I only spend that on sustainable chocolate bars. Got any Endangered Species Chocolate?"

So there I am, working from home on a project, when the doorbell rings and breaks my train of thought. I open the door to find a kid who should be in school trying to sell me something, usually candy. Most of these kids, according to their mumbled pitch, are selling their overpriced candy to keep them off the streets and off drugs. The most audacious pitch, I thought, came from one kid who was trying to raise funds so she could go on a field trip to Sea World.
And I’m thinking: “you want me to pay $6 for a candy bar so you can go to Sea World?”

I know this isn’t a class about selling candy. That’s not what I want to focus on here. What I want to address is: the demand for my time and attention.

I was busy.
I was interrupted.
I was then asked to do something for someone else with no benefit for me.

Consider that when you send out an email. Your email will compete with tens to hundreds of other emails and phone calls and memos and meetings and visits from co-workers and projects for the recipient’s attention.

Go ahead. Make that email all about you. I dare you.

We trainers don’t call this concept the “you” attitude. We use the acronym “WIIFM,” which is to say: the people who attend our course need to know: “What’s in it for me?” As trainers, we are constantly cognizant that the other person isn’t attending our class to hear about us and what we know. They want to hear about how they can improve their performance. But if we don’t take the time to draw the link between the information we have to share and how it could benefit the participants, we could be shouting golden nuggets and they wouldn’t pay attention.

I’ll share an example: sexual harassment training.
If you ever have to take this class, you’ll probably get an email that says something like: “CA law something or other mandates that you attend one 3-hour course on sexual harassment within the first 90 days of hire, and an hour refresher training each subsequent year.” At which point you, a very busy manager, say: “CA law can kiss my…” well, that sort of thing is covered in the training.

That’s an example of an email that doesn’t take into consideration the reader. It’s all about the company being compliant and covering their…well… and we tend to resent that.

But what if that email were worded differently? What if it began: “Did you know that shouting at your computer: “CA law can kiss my …” can make the workplace environment uncomfortable, alienate your co-workers, and cause disciplinary action that could include termination? Learn what’s important to maintain a comfortable work environment for you, your employees, and your peers in our class: All about CA AB 1825.”

I think that better reflects the “you” attitude, don’t you?

There’s another facet to this “you” attitude, which is that the participant isn’t us, so doesn’t know everything that we know.

When you’re writing: challenge your assumptions. Many times we write as though we were the audience, and we assume that the reader knows about things that we’re talking about. Does the reader recognize an acronym? Are the terms you’re using commonly known, or argot that reduces comprehension? Are key pieces of information that led to the generation of the memo/email/document included?

I send a lot of emails that basically state: “I need this information.” I only send those kind of emails when I’ve already been working with the recipient on a project.  For all the other emails, I take some time to explain what the reader may need to know in a way that involves them. A person who has to guess at what you mean will not see the benefit of the information you’ve shared, or why they need to take the action you want them to take.

This is one of a series of posts inspired by question prompts from Geri Girardin, the instructor of DHTV’s Organizational Communication course. Other posts in the series were:

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