I got one of those emus.” The year was 1993. I was a cheese buyer at Sainsbury’s, and the words were uttered by the old cheese grader. Clive was always on the road visiting creameries, and he came into the office on Fridays to see how we all were. RIP Clive.
Some 27 years later, 320 billion of the things – emails, not emus, to be clear – are sent every day. Were you ever shown how to use these things that we spend 80% of our time doing? Nope. Nor me. But then again, it’s pretty simple, isn’t it?
If you created a Boston matrix with two axes – ‘what I do most at work’ and ‘what stresses me most’ – you’d probably put meetings and emails in the top left box: the one called ‘Things we do a lot, but they don’t half cause me a lot of stress’.
Here at the MBM lab we have spent hours poring over research, and analysing emails, to find what gets our email goat. Or, rather, your email goat. And how you can move this well-used office tool towards the top right box of ‘Things we do a lot and they actually help without causing huge stress’.
To begin, we need to stop feeding the email monster. One way we feed the monster is when we cover our posteriors by unnecessarily adding people to the ‘to’ or ‘cc fields. The problem with doing this is that every person that receives your email is a person that can reply. And maybe they will use ‘reply all’. Argggh!
Here’s one way to starve the monster. Use the ‘to’ field only for people that you think need to action something. T = action. As for the cc field, when you write the email, explain why you are copying those people in. For example: “Copying you in to share the good news!” If you cannot write why, don’t copy those people in. Cc = information.
Back to cheese. Do you know what the most popular subject heading in our department was? ‘Cheese’! Make the subject line count. The average person receives more than 100 emails per day. Write a heading like a newspaper headline. Not a sensationalist ‘Freddie Starr ate my hamster’ effort – it might be a good headline, but we are at work, after all. More like this: ‘Pack size reduction XYZ product – reply by this Thursday 5pm please’. Headlines should be about 65 characters, and 11 words – the optimal length to be read on a mobile phone.