The emails to set up a meeting in your office probably look something like this:
• Tuesday I’m free all day, and Wednesday after 2:00
• I can do Tuesday at any time but 4:00, Wednesday is ok
• Anytime Tuesday works for me, but Wednesday is out
• Where shall we meet?
• I have a client luncheon Tuesday, I’m pretty sure I’ll be done by 1:30
• OK, let’s do it at 2:00 Tuesday
• OH, I’m so sorry, I forgot I have a dentist appointment then. Can we do 3:00?
Does this look familiar? Of course it does. It involved 7 email exchanges. SEVEN!
Zapping out a quick email to ask this seemingly innocuous question may seem like the simplest way to arrange a meeting, but it actually pulls us into a tiresome “reply all” chain that clutters our inboxes and adds frustration where it isn’t needed. When this happens, finding a meeting time can become so frustrating that you might even resort to drawing a grid to show in one place when everyone’s available. In the end, planning a meeting actually takes more time than the meeting itself.
Thankfully, there’s a solution that even the least talented artists can embrace –the Outlook Calendar feature.
To avoid insane scheduling emails, Outlook Calendar is an excellent solution, as long as everyone uses it all the time.
There is no part time option.
Several years ago, my 100+ person division wasted countless hours and emails trying to decide when to meet. It frustrated me to no end. Back then, I didn’t have a solution, but one of my managers suggested that we start using the Outlook Calendar. A stroke of genius!
A New Start... We held a meeting to announce the new process, review why we needed to use Outlook Calendar as our scheduler, and what would happen when someone failed to update their schedule. Then, we gave every employee a week to include every meeting and event in their Outlook calendars. Whether lunch, a doctor’s appointment, vacation, or travel time, it all was to go in there.
Here’s a tutorial by Microsoft that will help.
I was truly amazed at the results! Finally, I was invited to meetings I could actually be at! All I had to do was “accept,” then the appointment magically appeared on my calendar. I could see the attendees, the meeting objectives, and the location. .
Surprise! While we got used to this, we only used Outlook Calendar to schedule meetings with multiple attendees. Then, to my surprise, people started using it to plan one-on-one meetings, and eventually to schedule meetings with people outside of our division. With more attention given to planning and scheduling, no one had to drop everything when the office “drop by” happened. . Calendars everywhere filled up with meetings – it was a hit!
Soon we discovered that even conference room assignments could be placed on the calendar. No more running around the building to find what rooms were available when. And, when a meeting got cancelled, the room instantly became available in the Outlook Calendar! This all sounds too good to be true, but it isn’t – so long as everyone’s on board.
Not all a bed of roses. Inevitably, people outside of your control will initiate email chains, including employees in other divisions, customers, and personal contacts. Some may not use Outlook, others may not know how. Some will even miss – or worse, avoid – placing items on their Outlook Calendars. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work as you hoped or planned.
Rogues. So how do you deal with the rogue employee in your division who forgets to update their Calendar? Imagine, for instance, that a meeting request goes out to eight people for a time when all are available, except the rogue has an un-entered conflict.
Thankfully, the fix can be simple. When this situation happens (and it will!) that rogue must now become responsible for rescheduling the meeting. That person won’t want to repeat being the cause of a rescheduling, so they learn the importance of utilizing Outlook rather quickly.
All to commit. It’s important to reiterate that for this to work, everyone in your control must commit to updating their calendars. In addition to enhancing the productivity of your work group, it avoids rewarding the wrong behavior. When the organizer has to rework the scheduling rather than the person whose mistake created the redo, the wrong behavior is being rewarded. Having the entire department encourage each other to use this tool creates appreciated efficiency and boosts productivity while minimizing stress.
Sometimes the solutions are already there; we just need to discover them. In this case, the Outlook Calendar is a huge productivity tool. So use it, and make sure everyone else does, too.
Here’s a tutorial by Microsoft that will help.
You might think you’re being productive. You might think it’ll impress the boss. You might be trying to cure your insomnia. Yes, you might. BUT – You might be messing with your career.
Not convinced? How do you feel when you see the time sent of a received email as some ungodly hour!
The boss could wonder…
• Why is Jim up at 4:00AM, regularly? Is he getting enough sleep? Is he in control? Is he stressed out? Is he out of balance?
• Is Rebecca just trying to impress me? Does she think that I value this behavior? Doesn’t she know how to delay the sending of the email to a “normal” hour?
• What part of “have a balanced life” didn’t he understand?
Your co-workers might say…
• There Avish goes again, trying to impress the boss. What a manipulator.
• No wonder Sally isn’t with it during the day. She’s not getting enough sleep.
• How can he be thinking clearly at 2:00 AM?
• Does this mean I hafta get up and check my email, since Harry does it?
And from your direct reports…
• Yikes. My boss is emailing me at 3:00 AM! I wonder if he expects me to do that too?!
• I better check my email first thing in the morning; the boss may have sent me something again in the middle of the night. How’s that for wake up stress?
• Whasssamatter with her? Is she losing it? Why can’t my boss get a good night’s sleep?
• Does this mean I have to have my blackberry wake me in the middle of the night?
• Since he’s working 24/7, I assume he wants me to also. Gad, I hate my job.
The risk. In addition to these unhealthy perceptions, you’re taking a real risk emailing when you create an email message when you haven’t had a full night’s sleep. You may not be running on all cylinders. We’ve all regretted sending an email when we were awake and functioning during the day. Sending in a sleepy state increases the potential for misconstrued messages.
If you HAVE to… If you are a true night owl, or on the occasion that you are at your computer in the early AM, if you must, compose a message, then save it. Don’t send it till you’ve had a chance to review it in the light of day. We can almost guarantee that you’ll make changes that you’re glad you had the opportunity to make.
Your best strategy is to give it a rest. Make it a rule to NEVER send an email message when you should be sleeping. Your career, your co-workers, and your employees will be all the better for it.
For this and other great tips, check out our book, “Inbox Detox and the Habit of Email Excellence” available in paperback and digital format.
Two times is enough! Rounds of Email Messages, That Is…
Frustrated that things are not progressing fast enough on an issue or project? Too many emails? Responses not fast enough, or worse, off the mark?
Here’s your solution: Pick up the phone!
I like to call this the two ’round rule. Once each person has sent his or her second clarifying email on the subject, it’s time to talk. Simple as that.
Let’s remember that the more email without actual conversation, the less real communication is happening. We lose up to 80% of our communicating effectiveness when we lose voice inflection and body language. So it is no surprise that the more back and forth emails, the more chance for misunderstanding or even anger to evolve.
Picking up the phone does several things:
1. It allows your tone of voice to accentuate the important points of your discussion
2. It allows more communication. We talk 4 times faster than we write, so we can convey more information in the same time that it takes to compose an email message.
3. You’ll actually accomplish something!
And I didn’t say that you had to even connect with the person, voice mail allows a better communication than an email.
So, next time you feel frustrated with email ping pong, let your fingers do the dialing!
Here is today’s e-mail management tip:
Turn off all dings and flashes.
You have got to stop interrupting yourself, and the best way to do it is to turn off the dang dings. You should choose when you go in to get your e-mail messages, just like you choose when you go to your Postal Service mailbox to pick up your mail. The continual interruptions of those flashes and things are more toxic to your productivity than you know. Turn them off and see how much more work you get done… Then, let us know!
For your free resource, here is the link for an assessment of your emailing practices: http://InboxDetox.com/assess
What is your best e-mail. management productivity tip? Share it here..