Once upon a time, email was a fun treat. Does anyone remember the 1998 movie “You’ve Got Mail”? Each arrival was greeted with the phrase “you’ve got mail!” It was an event. That world is gone for most of us.
In most workplaces, email is a powerful tool for communication. Email is also a source of professional pain and overwhelm. It doesn’t have to be that way. Previously, I wrote 12 Ways To Use Email Better to help readers build their baseline skills with email. Today, I want to go deeper to explore the gold mine in our email. Your email archive is a valuable resource in boosting your productivity, if you take the right perspective.
Mining your email for gold is easiest to use with Gmail which is well known for its vast archive and outstanding search capabilities. However, I have also used this approach with good results with Microsoft Outlook as well. Regularly using these practices will improve your productivity by combatting forgetfulness and reminding yourself of your achievements.
Mine Your Email For Follow-Up Activities
Most significant work takes tasks and multiple people to achieve success. Given that reality, follow up is absolutely vital. In formal meetings, follow up may be straight forward – simply review the action items noted in the meeting minutes. There are many circumstances not covered by such documentation: meetings between two people, short phone calls and brainstorming sessions to name just a few. In those cases, reviewing your email is helpful.
Use these methods to improve your follow up effectiveness:
1. Email Sent To Managers
Emails sent and received from managers at your organization are important. Success starts by determining whether or not you delivered against the request. Once you reach that level, you can follow up to determine client satisfaction and see if there are additional needs.
2. Emails Related To Meetings
Without follow through, meetings produce minimal value. Reviewing your email for messages related to meetings you attend makes a difference. Specifically, you may want to ask follow up questions to clarify an action item or check whether somebody else at the meeting needs help.
3. Emails To Suppliers
Remember that quote you requested last week? Maybe you have already forgotten it. Simply assuming you will receive timely responses is a mistake. Instead of hoping for a response, send a follow up message on supplier requests that have been outstanding for more than five business days.
4. Emails That Request Information
Requesting reports, data and other information from other departments is a regular activity for project managers. Yet, those requests are easy to neglect and lose in the shuffle. If you directed your request to someone you haven’t interacted with before, following up is even more important. They may not understand the reason for your request or how you will use the information.
Tip: A short phone call is an excellent way to build rapport. After your request is fulfilled, remember to thank the person who assisted you.
Mine Your Email For Accomplishments
With constant change at the office, it is difficult to keep track of everything we deliver. Hopefully, you have specific goals that you are working to deliver against as a starting point. Yet, goals are only part of the story for accomplishments. You need evidence and details to demonstrate your success. To obtain those details, mine your email archives for additional insights.
1. Email With Attachments
Attachments you send via email usually mean a report, an analysis file or some other tangible piece of work. On a monthly basis, review these items. You may be pleasantly surprised with how much you are delivering.
Tip: Look for patterns in the material you develop. If you are regularly delivering PowerPoint presentations, look for ways to reuse these files or build a template.
Gmail Tip: Use Advanced Search operators in Gmail such as “has:attachment” to find emails that have attachments.
2. Email Sent To Clients
Emails sent to clients are a rich resource filled with potential material for accomplishments. You may have delivered a risk analysis, provided minutes for a key meeting or provided an alternate plan to ensure the project was completed on time.
Tip: Search for replies from clients. These comments will provide ideas for improvement and material to include in your annual performance review.
3. Look For Relationship Patterns
Over time, our email habits provide clues regarding relationships. Specifically, the quantity and quality of communication has a major impact on relationships. Review your sent email for the past week to identify patterns. You may find that you have been neglecting key stakeholders. Or you may find that you have carried through your communication plan effectively. What’s the accomplishment here? For project managers, the accomplishment could include completing your communication plan and managing stakeholders successfully.
4. Take Notes On Your Accomplishments
Taking note of your accomplishments is the step that brings everything together. Here’s what I recommend: use a spreadsheet to take notes on your accomplishments each month. With a few simple categories (e.g. Date, Activity Description, Goal, People Impacted, and Benefits), it is easy to track accomplishments. With this process in place, preparing for your annual review becomes much easier.
Tip: Set a recurring reminder on your calendar to update your accomplishments spreadsheet on a monthly basis.
Email Resources and Tools
There are many tools and techniques to become better with email. In this section, I cover a few key tools and methods to make your email more productive.
Gmail App For The iPhone. From time to time, Apple’s Mail app doesn’t work for me. In those cases, I like to have this app available as a backup.
Boomerang for Gmail. This tool makes Gmail more powerful. With this tool, you can schedule emails (e.g. write an email at 9pm and schedule it to send at 8am the next day!) and track emails for followup.
How To Write A Damn Good Email Signature. Published by Yesware, a technology company that serves sales professionals, this article provides some interesting approaches to crafting an email signature. I’m not sure I agree with the image based email signature approach.
My 10 Essential Email Habits. Leo B, author of Zen Habits, shares his approach to email. A key point from this article is to write short emails (“I usually reply with 1-3 sentences”).
Unroll.me. Over time, you may have subscribed to a number of email lists. This tool is a great resource to unsubscribe from email lists quickly. I eliminated over 100 subscriptions the first time I used it.