Productivity

On Effective Emails

I get my fair bit of email every day. Probably more than the average person, but nowhere near as much as people who really do get a lot of email. What I see everyday is failure to write good, effective emails. Thus, I want to touch on this a little bit.

What is an effective email? To me this is very clear. An effective email is one that achieves the desired result, completing the reason for it being sent in the first place. Whether it is someone agreeing to help you, someone giving you the right information that you wanted or someone answering a question that you had, an effective email will increase the chances of a positive and timely response.

Let’s consider written communication for a moment. It is tricky. There are fewer nuances than when we speak with one another and the interpretation is even more in the hands of the reader. “Communication is what the listener does” applies here more than ever. For this reason, we need to always be writing emails in the mindset of the specific recipient.

An effective email is short, to the point and clearly structured while still being polite (nine times out of ten, that passive aggressive sentence is totally uncalled for). You need to specifically put yourself in the mind of the specific person you are writing any given email to, and write to reach your goals.

If I get an email that is just a wall of text with the desired action buried, it is hard for me to process. I may well have to read the email twice, first to know what the person wants and second to get the context. Thus, lead with the reason for you writing the email. This is something you were taught when writing letters: “I am writing to you in regards to…”.

Another tip is to make sure the indented respondent can reply quickly to your email by asking a specific question, or even limiting the initial response to just a yes/no situation. The easier it is to respond, the more likely you are to receive a timely reply.

As you see, it is all about putting yourself in the mind of the recipient. What type of person is he/she? How would he/she read this text? How can I make it easy for him/her to answer quickly and positively to my request?

Keep thinking about all of these things and I assure you that the people you email will be happier, and you will have many more favorable and quick answers to your emails. Plus, you’ll quickly be known as that person who is great at email.

On Prioritizing

We all have 24 hours a day. It might seem like a cliché, but eventually you might run up against having many more great ideas that you want to pursue than you have hours in the day to do them in.

The solution is definitely not to sleep less, or work crazy hours. Your body and mind can’t sustain that. Instead, what successful and smart people do is realize this limitation and do one of the following:

  1. Prioritizing. Focus on the truly awesome ideas, giving the merely great ones a miss.
  2. Increasing Productivity, giving them more hours to spend on executing greatness.

It can be hard to pass on a great idea. You just have to make sure that what you instead chose to work on is even better and bring even better returns.

Having loads of improvements you want to do is great. It means you see potential for change. The trick however is knowing which ones to focus on, knowing that you (sadly) can’t do them all.

On Taking Time Off

Last week I wrote about working on weekends. In that post, I briefly mentioned that I am a vocal advocate of working smarter and not more. Today, I want to turn my attention to taking time off.

Let me be clear: Taking time off could well be the most productive thing you do.

In my line of work, that is being creative, coming up with new solutions and solving intricate problems, I need space and distance. It is only with space, calm and distance that you reflect deeply on what is going on around you. How do you get this perspective? Simple: You take time off.

Alongside this are many added benefits too. You see, I firmly believe that we don’t make the best decisions under fatigue. Add that to the “work smarter not more” philosophy and you have a pretty good argument for time off.

So, don’t be the guy who just works, hour after hour just because. Stays late even though you don’t have any energy causing you to spend hours more on a task, instead of resting for a bit and then tackling it in less than half the time.

Work smarter, not more and take time off!

On Working Weekends

Quite often you’ll find my working on weekends. Up until now I’ve more or less been forced to, juggling a full time business with full time school and university. But there are more reasons, why I have also kept doing it the past weeks when I’m “only” running the business.

First of all, let me clarify that I don’t think life revolves around working. I vocally advocate working smarter instead of working more.

Still though, weekends can be wonderful. For one, there is more peace and quiet around. There are no clients calling, little email coming in and in general just a perfect time when you can get down and really focus.

If you’re in the zone, you can easily get a few day’s worth of work done in a weekend. With that time saved, it means you can probably work a little less during the week and get more time then.

For me, for the type of work I do and the position I am in, this works beautifully. I’d rather spend a few hours on the weekend (if I am in the zone!) and compensate that with a little more time off during the week, or at some other point in time.

Working partly on weekends can ultimately mean you get more done, in a shorter time and enhance your overall life quality. I think that’s a very good thing.

One of my favorite weekly routines is doing “Sunday Night Planning”. This is one of many things I have picked up from the good people at Manager Tools/Career Tools that truly does make a difference.

What it means is that I spend a short time every Sunday evening to review the coming week. What are the important items that need to be taken care of the coming week? Which projects need your utmost attention? What are your main goals?

Having taken care of these items you start your Monday morning in a much more controlled and calm way. When most people are scrambling to get to grips with the week, you are already on your way towards the first goal. And the best thing is that it doesn’t take much time.