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60 Minutes to Better Email

Quick Tips for Better Communication

Matt LeMay

Are you struggling to dig yourself out from an ever-growing inbox? Is that inbox full of open-ended questions and “quick pings” that are difficult to prioritize and address? Do you “hate email,” but rely extensively upon it to communicate with your colleagues?

This session provides quick, actionable tips for using email in a more purposeful and manageable way. You’ll learn why those “quick questions” you’re sending and receiving can be wasting enormous amounts of time for your teams and colleagues, and how to better balance asynchronous tools like email and collaborative documents with synchronous meetings and face-to-face discussions.

What you'll learn-and how you can apply it

By the end of this live, hands-on, online course, you’ll understand:

  • Why emails that take such a short time to send can take so long to answer
  • How asking for a few minutes of a person’s time can actually be less burdensome than a “quick ping” email
  • How to manage and track the time you’re spending on synchronous and asynchronous communication

And you’ll be able to:

  • Bring clarity to asynchronous asks with an email subject style guide
  • Better understand when to use synchronous time such as meetings
  • Ask for, and offer, specific and finite amounts of time
  • Put structure around collaborative editing tools

This training course is for you because...

  • You want to be more thoughtful and efficient in your use of email, whether you work on-site or remotely

Prerequisites

  • Experience using email to communicate

Recommended preparation:

Recommended follow-up:

About your instructor

  • Matt LeMay is cofounder and partner at Sudden Compass, a consultancy that helps organizations take a cross-functional and customer-centric approach to working with data. Matt has helped build and scale product management practices at companies ranging from early-stage startups to Fortune 50 enterprises and has developed and led digital transformation and data strategy workshops for companies like GE, American Express, Pfizer, McCann, and Johnson & Johnson. Previously, he was senior product manager at music startup Songza (acquired by Google) and head of consumer product at Bitly. Matt is the author of Product Management in Practice from O'Reilly and was recognized as a top 50 product management influencer by the PM Year in Review in both 2016 and 2015. Matt is also a musician, recording engineer, and the author of a book about singer-songwriter Elliott Smith. He lives in Santa Fe, NM, with his wife Joan and their turtle Sheldon.

Schedule

The timeframes are only estimates and may vary according to how the class is progressing

Introductions (5 minutes)

  • Presentation: Instructor Introduction
  • Exercise: The oldest message in your inbox?
  • Participants will be asked to quickly consult their inbox and find the message they have gone the longest without responding to. What has made that particular message challenging? Why have they been unable to answer it?

The Asymmetry of Email (15 minutes)

  • Presentation: Identifying asymmetry
  • Email is very easy to send, and often very difficult to answer. This is the dysfunctional asymmetry at the heart of why most people “hate email”; even though they hate how big and unwieldy their inboxes can become, they continue sending email because it feels easy and unobtrusive.
  • Exercise: Reflecting on open-ended asks
  • Participants will be asked to look back through their sent emails and find something they sent asking for feedback or asking a “quick question.” How long did it take to send this email? How many people received it? And, based on your prior experience answering these messages, what was the total cost of time it took for everybody on the thread to respond to that message?

Three Steps to Managing Email (30 Minutes)

  • Presentation: Step One: Recognizing that you have a problem
  • Oftentimes, teams don’t realize that email is a problem, because the time they spend solving it is not time where they are together.

Exercise: Tracking synchronous vs. asynchronous time

  • Participants will make copies of a template they can use with their teams to track the amount of time they spend on asynchronous communication like email, vs. synchronous communication like meetings.

Presentation: Step Two: Be specific!

  • One way to balance out the asymmetry of email is to put more time and energy into thinking about what you’re asking for, and then asking for it more directly and specifically.

Exercise: Creating an email subject style guide

  • Participants will make copies of a style guide they can customize with their teams to clearly set expectations in their email subjects (for example, by distinguishing an “FYI” from a request for feedback”)
  • Presentation: Step Three: Balance synchronous and asynchronous communication
  • Sometimes you’re better off having conversations and making decisions “in the room,” whether that room is a conference room or a video chat or a phone call.

Conclusion / Q&A (10 minutes)

  • Discussion: Inspecting and adapting
  • The tips we’ve discussed are a place to start--but it’s up to you to continue evolving your tools and techniques until they work for you and your team. What are the steps you will take to begin socializing these ideas with your colleagues, and how will you work with them to reflect on what is and is not working and adjust course accordingly?
  • Q&A