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10 ways to get your busy boss to action your emails now

You want action or a decision – now! You know that your boss or colleague is probably buried in work and drowning in email without your help. The last thing you need is for your important email to be marked as unread, flagged, colour-coded, put on some never-ending to-do list or otherwise forgotten!

Check your own inbox after reading this. How many of the emails you have in there meet the tests below? What would you add, edit or delete on the list? You have a lot of experience in this area. Have your say – I’d be delighted to hear from you.

  1. Purpose before prose. Stop. Don’t think about hitting that ‘New’ ‘Reply’ or ‘Forward’ button before you know exactly what you want to achieve through your email and whether a mail is the best way to achieve it.
  2. Create smarter subject lines. The subject line is prime real estate on the screen. Include useful elements like ‘AR’ (Action Required) + a date; ‘IO’ (info only). Consider ‘EOM’ (End of message) if you can get the key content in one line!
  3. Headlines work.  The first 2 lines of text are the second most important piece of real estate on the screen – especially small Blackberry screens. State the purpose of the mail and include a specific call to action here – especially if the mail has to be long or technical or is the culmination of a long email conversation. Never put a call to action anywhere else and never, ever ask someone you CCd on the email to do something just before you sign off!
  4. Context is critical for good decisions. Where you think it would be helpful in achieving your purpose, use the first 2 lines to point to the context – either through hyperlinks or relevant copied text at the end of your mail. Don’t build the context at the top of the mail, your reader may not need it!
  5. Be specific. Numbers, dates and ratios in emails are more helpful in clarifying thoughts, decisions and actions than rhetoric can ever be. Save your persuasive language for other communication channels. 
  6. Less is more. Keep your email as short as possible. Use short, simple words in short sentences. Use short paragraphs and bullet points to reduce the risk of your reader skimming and missing the point.
  7. One mail for one issue. You want action or decision now on this one email. A number of specific emails, each with a call to action, are easier to process than fewer mails, each with a number of decisions to process.
  8. Internal signatures for internal emails. Create a simple 2 liner signature with name direct dial and mobile phone numbers and use this for all internal emails. Make it easy for the reader to contact you directly off-line if necessary. Never use the flashy marketing and legal statement signatures for internal mails.
  9. Maintain emotional neutrality. Never fire one off in the heat of the moment. Avoid emotional language. Save the slap on the back or the slap in the face for another time. I always assume my business mails will be forwarded to someone who will not have my best interests at heart –it helps create rigour.
  10. Review. Remind yourself of the purpose and the preferred response you are looking for; re-read your mail fully, revise as necessary, hit ‘Send’ and – in that moment – create your ‘next step action’ before going on to your next task.

Of course, you can always contact us directly to tailor a support programme to your needs.

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