Friday, September 18, 2009

E-mail Tips from Michael Hyatt, President and CEO of Thomas Nelson Inc.

This post contains many tips that I have found useful and I have condensed them from three articles by Michael Hyatt, the President and CEO of Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Suggestions for better e-mail communication and etiquette (Note: These pointers are taken and adapted from an article by Michael Hyatt, President and CEO of Thomas Nelson Publisher. I do not list all 18 of his recommendations. I only list those that are, in my opinion, applicable to me. For a full description of his recommendations, click here):

1. Understand the difference between “To” and “CC.”
As a rule of thumb, the more people you send an email to, the less likely any single person will respond to it, much less perform any action that you requested.

The people you include in the “To” field should be the people you expect to read and respond to the message.

The “CC” field should be used sparingly. You should only CC people who have a need to stay in the know. The “BCC” field should be used even more sparingly. People you include in the “BCC” field will not visible to others.

2. Keep messages brief and to the point.
Make your most important point first, then provide detail if necessary. Make it clear at the beginning of the message why you are writing.

There is nothing worse for the recipient than having to wade through a long message to get to the point. Worse, if you send long messages, it is much less likely that the person will act on what you have sent or respond to it. It’s just too much work. It often gets set aside and, unfortunately, forgotten.

3. Don’t discuss multiple subjects in a single message.
If you need to discuss more than one subject, send multiple e-mails. This makes it easy to scan subject lines later to find the message you need. It also contributes to briefer e-mail messages and a greater likelihood of a response. Also, the more specific you can be about your subject heading, the better.

4. Reply in a timely manner.
E-mail does not demands an instantaneous response but you must reply in a timely manner, otherwise you will incrementally damage your reputation and decrease your effectiveness.

5. Be mindful of your tone.
Unlike face-to-face meetings or even phone calls, those who read your e-mail messages don’t have the benefit of your pitch, tone, inflection, or other non-verbal cues. As a result, you need to be careful about your tone. Sarcasm is especially dangerous. If something gets “lost in translation,” you risk offending the other party. The more matter-of-fact you can be, the better.

6. Don’t use e-mail to criticize others. E-mail is a terrific way to commend someone or praise them. It is not an appropriate medium for criticism. Chances are, you will simply offend the other person, and they will miss your point. These kinds of conversations are usually better handled face-to-face or, if necessary, over the phone. Especially, don’t use e-mail to criticize a third party. E-mail messages live forever. They are easily forwarded. You can create a firestorm of conflict if you are not careful.

7. Don’t reply in anger. In anger, we may have written things that we would never have the guts to say face-to-face. This is precisely why you should never ever fire off an e-mail in anger. They almost never serve their purpose or your long-term interests. They burn up relationships faster than just about anything you can do. If it makes you feel better, go ahead and write the message, then delete it.
Usually a day or two after you didn’t send an angry e-mail, you’ll understand the wisdom of restraint.

8. Don’t overuse “reply to all.” Example, personal information which may not be necessary for everyone to know.

9. Don’t forward chain letters. Nine times out of ten, the information is bogus. It is often urban legend. If you feel you absolutely must pass it on, please make sure that it is valid information. If in doubt, check it out at, a Web site devoted to tracking urban legends and rumors.

10. Don’t write in ALL CAPS.
This is the digital equivalent of shouting. Besides ALL CAPS are harder to read (as anyone in advertising will tell you.)

11. Don’t send or forward emails containing libelous, defamatory, offensive, racist or obscene remarks. If you do so, you can put yourself or your company at risk. You could be sued for simply passing something along, even if you aren’t the original author.

12. Use a signature with your contact information. This is a courtesy for those receiving your messages. It also cuts down on e-mail messages, since people don’t have to send a second or third e-mail asking for your phone number or mailing address.

13. Use your spell-checker.
Take your correspondence seriously. It reflects on your professionalism and that of your company.

14. Re-read your e-mail before you send it.

Click here to read the entire article by Michael Hyatt.

1. Empty your inbox everyday. This must be your goal. You want to be able to go to sleep with every message processed. That doesn’t mean you answer every message. However, it does mean that you have processed every message. There’s a big difference between answered and processed.

2. Don’t get bogged down, keep moving. The key is that once you start processing your inbox, you must move quickly. Read each message once and answer this question: “Is this message actionable?” In other words, “Am I being asked to do something?”

A. If actionable, there are only three possible actions (3 Ds):

2.1. Do—take action on the task now. David Allen’s two-minute rule: If I can do what is being requested in less than two minutes, I do it immediately. This gets stuff off your to-do list before it ever gets on it. This has the added advantage of making you look responsive.

2.2. Delegate—pass the task along to someone else (if you are the boss or superior). Oftentimes someone else is better equipped to fulfill the sender’s request. Try to focus on where you add value and offload everything else.

2.3. Defer—consciously decide you will do the task later. This only applies to asks you cannot complete in two minutes or less or can’t delegate to someone else. You can either add the task to your to-do list or schedule an appointment with yourself to complete it.

B. If it is not actionable (i.e., the sender is not requesting that you do something), or not actionable any longer because you have taken action on it, then you have two options.

Delete—determine if you might need the information later. If not, delete it. My own assumption is that if it’s really important, someone, somewhere else in the world, has a copy of it.

File —if you think you might need the information, file it. But do not create an elaborate set of file folders. This is the single most important piece of advice I can give you. Just file everything in one folder, you may name it “Processed Mail", "Importance", "Worthy to keep..."

Every time you communicate, you are making a “brand impression”—for you—and for the organization you represent. What kind of impression are you making? Is it positive or negative?

What do your email messages say about you? (This section is adapted from an article by Michael Hyatt. Click here to read the article)

As most of communication today comprises of emails (90%) here are five ways to make a positive impression with your email messages:

1. Respond in a timely manner.
Aim to respond to all emails the same day I receive them.

2. Address the sender personally.
Don’t just start writing. Use the person’s name. Nothing is sweeter to the recipient’s ear than their own name. And in the age of unprecedented spam, using a person’s name indicates that you are a real person, not a robot.

3. Use proper grammar.
You don’t have to obsess about this, but observe the basics: use complete sentences, check your punctuation and spelling, and proofread your message. And please, don’t use ALL CAPS.

4. Keep the message short and your intention clear.
As a recipient, there is nothing worse than receiving a long message from someone, reading it, and still not knowing what the person wants or is saying. When in doubt, use short sentences, short paragraphs, and short messages.

5. Use a proper signature block.
Use your email program to create a standardized, email signature that includes your full name, logo, company, address, telephone numbers, website or blog, twitter handle, etc.

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