I used to frustrate people with a lack of response to their emails. In fact, this was a specialty of mine. If there was an attachment along with a long-winded explanation or request, I’d send it to the bottom of the pile.  When deadlines were missed or work was not completed and I heard “I sent you that email weeks ago!” I would just stare blankly at the person and think “Do you have any idea how many emails I get a day?!”

As a reformed expert in email mismanagement, I’ve come upon a few practices that help to create and maintain better order in the email inbox. My sanity has benefitted as well!

In current practice, I am an accountability expert who deals with executives who often complain about too much email. So I teach them to use the email SUBJECT LINE to streamline their communication flow.

E-mail concept. Laptop and letters

Here is the required format of the subject line:

Need by: 10.1.13/Time: 20 minutes to review attachment / For: (Select one) Decision, Input, Information Only

The item can then be put “in time” in a calendar for focus rather than opening everything immediately.

Executive assistants love this because they can prioritize or renegotiate timelines. I teach executives to teach their direct reports and staff to use the subject line this way and lead by example by doing it themselves.

In the event something is urgent a code is used in the subject line that means “pay attention now”. For example, we use Yellow Ball. That means if you do not look at this now we might drop a ball that could affect our customer.

We emphasize the following group agreement:

1. Don’t put fake deadlines.

2. Don’t make your lack of planning someone else’s emergency.

3. Do not cc: anyone as an “fyi” or as a cop out to claim you informed everyone.

4. If review of an attachment is involved be realistic about how long it will take for a thoughtful response so receiver can plan accordingly.

5. Never use Yellow Ball or whatever your urgent signal is UNLESS it is totally true.  By doing so, it builds trust.

6. Develop discipline to file the email away with a connection to your calendar so it gets your full attention at the right time and move on (no peeking or you will get distracted).

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