The Grey Lit Café

Managing emails: a guide for individual users

May 24, 2023 Anthony Haynes Season 4 Episode 33
The Grey Lit Café
Managing emails: a guide for individual users
Show Notes Transcript

Anthony Haynes writes: "Email? - no sweat!"; "Email is no kind of bane to me!" - one doesn't offer here such sentiments.

Anyone who remembers the world of work before the advent of email will remember of feeling of wonder when email became available. When I started working in publishing, authors were required to mail hard copies of their typescripts (along with a 'floppy' disc - remember them?) With email, even those authors working in far-off lands could send their scripts with a push of a button.

But for most people, that sense of wonder has largely been replaced by more negative emotions - feelings of being overburdened, wearied, and hassled.

So there's a premium on efficient and effective means of managing email. Engy Moussa and I have for some time been collating practical resources on email management (the link is below).

Here we share our top half-dozen tips. We hope they alleviate some of the pressure!

Link

Our links to (a) a slide deck on how to manage email and (b) third-party resources are available here: https://writeyourresearch.wordpress.com/email-writing-and-management/.

Further listening

If you enjoyed listening to this episode, you might enjoy listening to the following:

Credits

  • Sound production: Bart Hallmark
  • Music: from Handel's Water Music, courtesy of the United States Marine Band and Marine Chamber Orchestra
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About the publisher

This episode is published by Frontinus Ltd. We're a communications consultancy that helps organisations and individuals to communicate scientific, professional, and technical content to non-specialist audiences.

We provide

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and work on presentations, bids and proposals, and publications (for example, reports and papers).

To learn more about services or explore ways of working together, please contact us via our website, http://frontinus.org.uk/.



Speaker 1:

Good blessed day to you all and a warm welcome to the Gray LED Cafe podcast. Brought to you by Front Limited Front is a communications consultancy focused on engineering, infrastructure, sustainability, and research. With you today is Ji Musa political scientist and teaching associate at Cambridge University and I'm very honored to be accompanied by Mr. Anthony Hays, creative director of <inaudible> in this edition of our podcast, which focuses on managing emails, greeting Mr. Anthony. Great

Speaker 2:

Things Ji .

Speaker 1:

So for today's opposite , we have both prepared our top three main tips on how to manage emails and we decided to share them our lever's order. So we go with bronze, silver, then closing with gold. So Mr . Anthony, the floor is yours. What is your bronze tip for us today? Bronze

Speaker 2:

Tip is um, an extremely easy one to implement and it makes a big difference to productivity. Most people have loads of emails that they subscribe to over the years, newsletters and special promotions and all this kind of thing. So the tip is just go through and methodically unsubscribe from all these emails. I'll give you an example. I used occasionally to travel on trains on great Western railways and I subscribed to the emails hoping I'd get special offers so I could buy cheap tickets. Well I don't think I've ever bought a cheap ticket from Great Western railways and I don't even go on great Western railways anymore. So, but I was still getting the email, you know , and so actually just going through and unsubscribing these things, let me explain why it makes a difference. The obvious reason is if it takes you a minute to read an email, well that's a minute that you've lost from your work. But actually there's some research in psychology about distraction that shows if you break off from one thing to do another, it takes time to get your concentration back and get back in the flow when you return to your original activity. So the loss of time is far greater than the time it takes to read this email that you don't need to read anyway. So that's my bronze tip is just unsubscribe from all this stuff. And what about you? What's your bronze tip?

Speaker 1:

I think mine is more organizational, but just before I move to that, I completely agree with your point, to be honest. And if there's even one main thing for me, it's that it doesn't really keep my inbox very compacted, so it's kind of freer. Mm-hmm . <affirmative> so I can actually notice the important emails. Yes . Quickly. Okay. So my bronze step is placing emails into relevant folders. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, again, kind of maybe echoing some of what you said, professors. So it really saves time because again, once I open my inbox I see what is to be read, what is important, but also it helps me even on the long term because once I wanna look for an email, I just look into my relevant folder directly. So I have for example , uh, folders for emails coming from students, other for publications, et cetera . So that helps me in the first instance to have a proper and clean inbox. But also once I wanna find an important email, I don't have to lose so much. Do you have any experience yourself into like managing from that uh , organizational site ?

Speaker 2:

Uh, yes I do. To be honest. I heard you make that point before once and it changed my practice. Uh , I don't do things quite the way you do cuz I don't like using folders very much. I do a bit mm-hmm <affirmative> , but after I'd heard you make that point, I created a new folder called Red. And so what I do is an email comes into my inbox when I've read it, I put it into the red folder and then I'll deal with it in your course . And that means the only emails in my inbox are the unread ones and I just find it so much more relaxing, not having, as you've said, not having all this stuff lurking in your email making you feel guilty cuz you haven't done anything about it. So that has really worked for me . Yes , yes, yes . Thank you.

Speaker 1:

Excellent. Okay . Thank you so much for that. Makes me feel good to know that what I say is been killing it . Account <laugh> . Thank you . Okay professor, so from bronze to silver, what is your server tip us today ?

Speaker 2:

Um, the silver one is to avoid thinking of email as the only communication medium that you have available. Um, I'm thinking here of a construction company that I did lots of communication training in and uh, some people were getting very frustrated at not getting replies and not getting sort of good reciprocal communication with some of their colleagues about very important things actually, like getting invoices out and what <laugh> when I asked them , okay, so you send an email to someone and then you don't get a reply, what do you do <laugh> ? And they said rather sheepishly, well, we send another email <laugh>. And then I said, okay , fair, fair enough. You know, quite sensible, but what do you do if they don't reply to that? And then they said, well, we send another email. And it seems to me at a certain point you have to say, this isn't really working, is it this email thing and I need to try something else? My favorite is actually phoning people up. Um, which is, this will make me feel very old, but when I was young that's what we did because no one had invented email, so we just phoned each other up all the time. These days, that's quite unusual to do that, but the fact it's unusual means it makes a bit of an impact on people. Like they think, oh , he is phoning me up. So he is pretty serious about this. And what I find there is two things happen. First you can hear in their tone of voice what the truth is. So if someone sends back an email saying, yeah, I've nearly finished and I'll get it to you this afternoon, you can hear in their voice whether it's true that they've nearly finished or whether they're just winging it. And the other thing that happens is if someone , uh, just before this recording, I sent an email to someone saying, shall we set up a Zoom meeting for Wednesday? But the problem with doing that is then here reply and say, yeah, but I can only do after 11. And then I'll say, well, how about this? And often you end up, you know, that's half a dozen emails and sometimes just having a phone call just instead of having half dozen emails, you just arrange everything in one phone call. Mm-hmm . <affirmative> , it's not just phone calls. I actually find snail mail can make a difference. So some people respond better to some things than others and a nicely presented letter on nice letterhead, some people respond to that, they give it a bit more value and it sort of sits on their desk until we're dealt with it and they wanna deal with it to get out the way. So my, my Silver point to put that in a nutshell is simply to say avoid thinking that email is the only communication medium that you've got and try other things. Hmm . Does that make sense to you? What I just said ? I mean , is that something you would you ,

Speaker 1:

Uh , to be honest, I think it's, it's very, very important. Um, for me as an academic, we often just rely on emails because that , you mean we have professor do not really share other, any other information than emails. But I think we, we take it kind of as a general rule while for example, for admin members, they actually have their phones. Yeah . Uh, and you could find them out. And I tried that a couple of times and it works splendidly. I could particularly the point regarding , uh, setting meetings because as soon as you enter into kind of going back and forth that time, important for or not, well your whole week is waiting for that meeting to be set, right? Yes. You cannot put any other meetings on the schedule until you know, when that is fixed. While in a phone call, even if it's a long phone call still, it's much, it'll be much shorter than just hours and hours of kind of waiting back and forth. So completely agree with you point to

Speaker 2:

Be honest. Yes . Great. And what , and what about you then ? What's your, what's your silver point?

Speaker 1:

Okay, so my silver point is pretty simple, but for me it has been very effective, which is immediately delete any unimportant or unneeded emails, right? So, and even when actually there is an important email, like for example, we have an event announcement about an event that you wanna attend it , just simply put it in your calendar and delete emails. Again, it goes back to the kind of main point that we have been echoing so many times now, which is having a clean inbox, right? You don't wanna just open your box and found hundreds of emails there. That consumes your intellect by looking at like, have I replied to this? Or have I not replied to this? What should I say here? Oh my God, I forgot this one. If there is an event, put in your candor deleted. If there is an email that you are not gonna respond to or you think it's unimportant , just again, delete it immediately. And building on that as well, it's kind of, you mentioned about putting things into red folder once you read , you read them. Yeah . Uh , I have a little bit different approach. I only show my unread email Yes . In that respect. So they are all like in the inbox still, but I only see the unread ones, which also helps a lot in kind of getting things done quickly. Yes. Any thoughts on that one? Yes,

Speaker 2:

I, I think there's a real advantage to that, which is in the European Union there's some legislation called the G D P R , which is about information privacy, which, which I mean, to put it in a nutshell, it it basically says you shouldn't keep people's data if you haven't got legitimate reason for doing it. And , um, even, you know, in the UK now we're not in the eu, but we still have that legislation on the statute book. And even if it gets removed, which I think it might do, we still have to abide by GDPR if we're dealing with companies or organizations within the European Union. And if you kind of don't keep on top of it, you have to periodically go through your emails thinking, now do I need to keep that anymore? Or is that now redundant? And that, that's just a , I mean that's a really irksome and joyless activity, so just kind of delete the thing quickly is a good way of keeping on top of that. I like that.

Speaker 1:

Yeah , that sounds very scary to be honest, <laugh>. But I think yeah, just simply deleting that we will , we'll avoid us thinking of all these repercussions, I would say. Okay, so time for gold professor

Speaker 2:

Is yours . Okay . The gold one is simply use your prime time to do something important. And I think most people agree the secret of time management is to get on and do the things that are important, even if they're not urgent. So rather than wait until they become urgent, just get on with them . And now if you observe people in a work setting come and sit down at their desk at nine o'clock or whatever, what's the first thing they do? Well, they read their emails and not only read them, they deal with them and they say, I'll just, I'll just deal with my emails first. And of course what happens is by the time they've dealt with the emails, they start getting replies to the ones that they've sent in the first place and it just goes on forever. And that normally it's when you start work and you are , you've just had a coffee or as I am now doing, I'm having a coffee while, while working and you wide awake and that's, that's your prime time. Well , spending prime time just fiddling around with emails, that's a nonsense. You need to spend your prime time doing something that is really gonna make a difference. I mean, in in , in my case, it might be for instance, completing a sales proposal and getting add off because if a sales proposal is successful, I can make a big difference to my work and my company. So simply fiddle around with the emails later and concentrate in your prime time and actually doing something useful and that will really make your productivity stand out in comparison to other people's productivity puts you ahead of the game, I think. How do you feel about that? Would that make sense to you or

Speaker 1:

Very much sense? I think that particularly the loop of kind of entering into the email world and not being able to get out quickly. Yes. It's just like a day-to-day challenge. Yes. Regardless of when you, you kind of start opening your, your inbox, but definitely when it's your , in your prime time in the morning or like in the afternoon, depending on your , um, your pattern, it really consumes a lot of time and a lot of attention. And it sometimes causes anxiety and stress if you receive an email that you need to prepare mm-hmm . <affirmative> , um, for which is with take time. Yes . And you just feel like, okay, I have already scheduled something for today, but then this things comes up. Yes. So that's right. You feel like very disturbed, but yeah, completely agree. That's

Speaker 2:

Right. So what , what about you? What's your goal tip ?

Speaker 1:

Uh, so mine is be disciplined and plan your procrastination. Mm-hmm . <affirmative> sounds very weird, Uhhuh <affirmative> , but I would explain now. So basically you kind of, whatever email you receive is either important or unimportant, right? So if it's unimportant, we already said that, just delete it and that's kind of deal with it. But then if it's important, there are again two things. Whether you could reply quickly is kind of, yes, I will do it, or , uh, fine, et cetera . Or it requires some processing, right? It's, it's kind of an important email. You need to submit a piece of work, for example, formulate an answer , reflect about something, find a solution. So in that respect, you usually say to yourself, okay, I need some time for this. I will reply later. Right? But then every time you open your inbox you say like, wow, that email is still there. I still need to reply to it. I still need some time. So the idea is kind of once you, you face an email, which needs time, just put a deadline for yourself. Mm-hmm . Don't keep, don't keep it like hanging. I need to reply later. I need to reply. Just put deadline for yourself, be disciplined and stick to that deadline. Be 24 hours, 48 hours, you decide to do deadline for yourself and put it and then move onward from there. Um, I think that saves a lot of time in terms of yes , when you open your email as well and see that email there, it also helps you achieve that task instead of just putting it , uh, as important but not necessarily urgent. Um, and at the end of date it just gets some things done. And obviously, and that is very important for me, Ken , I said it before today, is the idea of relieving some sources of stress. Right?

Speaker 2:

Absolutely.

Speaker 1:

Important things, things that you have to do just unavoidably put you under stress, whether you acknowledge or not, it put you under stress and a big task is more stressful than any other tasks. Right . And when it takes time, then that's kind of , you are subconsciously being kind of on your toe kind of when I'm gonna do it, when I'm gonna do it. Mm-hmm . <affirmative> , if you allocate from, from the first day a time, particular time for it or a deadline, then that eases things up and you could focus in the meantime other things until the deadline or the time you allocate it for that test comes in. Does that sounds kind of useful. Does that sound something you would do yourself? Or how do you measure these things ? Yes,

Speaker 2:

Indeed. In fact, this is a another example of where I, I'd heard you make that point before and then I put it into operation. So I don't do it religiously. I don't do it very , very email, but I do it quite a bit. So I'll give you an example. On Friday I had a few emails where they're not particularly difficult, but I just need to give them a bit of thought before I reply. And so what I've done is on my to-do list for today, Monday, I've got a little box called Miscellaneous. And what I've done is listed those emails in miscellaneous. So when I get to that box today, I will deal with those emails and I've had a bit of time to think about it mm-hmm . <affirmative> . And what I find is sometimes my brain sort of thinks about and subconsciously as it were, so that by the time I get to them, I've sort of worked out what it is I want to say and that that's very kind of efficient way of working when that happens. Right . It strikes me, you know , um, a long time ago I studied economics and basically economic problems arise from scarcity of resources. And the kind of resources that people tend to talk about are things like scarcity of money, scarcity of land, scarce , scarcity of labor and so on. But it seems to me that , uh, there is something that authors have called the attention economy, which used to do with a scarcity of attention. Like there's so many claims on our attention and we can't possibly give our attention to everything. So we have to have a sort of rationing system. And I think that's what we're talking about here. We're talking about the way of managing the, the scarcity of attention. Um , yes indeed. Now we created some resources. So would you like to tell everyone where they are ?

Speaker 1:

Yeah, sure. So , um, we posted them on a WordPress website called Write You Research. Um, now the you are URL for that website is gonna be in the show notes . So if you open that link down below, then it'll take you to a page called Emails, writing and Managing. And you will find there hopefully a lot of tips and other resources even to look at that will help you write and manage your email effectively. And yeah, I think that hopefully should make you a better manager and take control <laugh> Yes. Of your inbox. Uh , much better I

Speaker 2:

Should say. Those are not just our own ideas. We also collated links to other sources of information and guidance on the internet.

Speaker 1:

Yes, of course. Um, any final thoughts come at you wish to share with our audience today on managing ? Oh ,

Speaker 2:

I think I'm probably done with my top <laugh>, my , my top ones. You ,

Speaker 1:

You wanna save that we wanna save more for, for another time than Sounds fair. Okay . Thank you very much Mr. Anthony for such an insightful edition today. Thank you.

Speaker 2:

Thank you Ji Thank

Speaker 1:

You all for listening. This was Mua with Anthony Hayes. Gray Cafe is edited by Dr . Bart Hallmark and produced by front limited front specializes in gray literature forms such as proposals, publications, papers, and reports. The music is from handles water music, courtesy of the United States Marine Band and Marine Chamber Orchestra . See you next time . Bye .

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