Here are a few practical tips that you make email more productive and save everyone some time.
1. Add these phrases to the Subject Header to clarify subject and urgency:
a. Please Advise
b. For Your Action
d. Actions Overdue
e. URGENT – Pls Reply
2. Add "EOM' to avoid writing unnecessary body text if the subject header explains it all.
EOM means “End of Message” and informs the reader that there is no text to open, e.g. "Leaving the Office for rest of Day EOM"
This tells the reader that there is no need to open the email (because it is blank).
3. Read the most recent email response if there are a number of emails with the same subject header – especially after a period of absence from emails, e.g. travel, holidays, time differences between offices. People tend to open and reply to the oldest email when they open Outlook. Don’t read and reply to the oldest email in the chain because you will usually find that the issues have been addressed or questions clarified in later emails – then you would have wasted your time doing research, composing text, and end up looking like an idiot.
2. DON’T TYPE IN CAPITAL LETTERS!
IT APPEARS THAT YOU ARE YELLING AT ME.
5. Doublecheck who is on the distribution list, especially when using “Reply All”
Extraneous names sometimes get automatically added by Microsoft Outlook or by a previous sender - especially if they blind copied others. This can easily happen as email threads get longer with more people jumping in and out of the conversation.
6. Pick up the phone or meet in person after a number of "email ping-pongs"
It's more productive to talk and sort things out in person or by phone after a number of email exhanges. I suggest talking after 3 email exchanges.
7. Don't send an email addressed to more than one person asking for an action, e.g. "Hello Bob and Ray, Can you call Jill?"
Guess what? No one is going to call Jill! Both parties are going to assume that the other person will do the work.
8. Turn off the automatic email notfication alert that appears on your computer desktop when you receive a new e-mail message, meeting request, or task request. This tends to turn you into "Pavlov's Dog" where you stop what you are doing and open the email. (As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, you spend 6 minutes recovering when changing tasks.) You don't stand in front of your home maibox constantly opening it and checking for mail so don't do it with your computer.
To turn on or off Desktop Alerts, do the following:
1. Click the File tab.
2. Click Options.
3. Click Mail. Under Message arrival, select or clear the Display a Desktop Alert check box
9. Be careful when sending sensitive emails. Never attack others or use sarcasm, etc. Emails can easily get forwarded and reforwarded beyond their intended audience. Don't write it if you don't want it to appear on the cover of the NY Times.
Feel free to share your practical tips for managing email.
"Who is your Rabbi?"
During the early 20th century in New York City’s Lower East Side, Jewish voters of particular neighborhoods would vote in blocks. You would know who a Jewish voter would vote for by finding out who was his rabbi. The rabbi thus became very politically powerful, with favors owed to and doled from him. Hiring halls would assign work based on your answer to “who is your rabbi?”
In life, you need to find your modern day rabbi – your mentor(s).
What is a mentor?
- Someone willing to tell you that you are wrong
- Someone who has been where you want to go
- Someone who holds you accountable
- Someone whom you admire, respect, and trust
- Someone who genuinely wants you to succeed
- A guide. Your Yoda.
- A sounding board
How do you find a mentor?
Just look around and ask! This can be a colleague or manager, someone at your company, someone you met at a conference, church, old classmate, etc. The worst that can happen is that they pass on the opportunity so don't be afraid to ask (at the least, they'll still be flattered).
It’s difficult to go through life and navigate alone…so go find your rabbi(s). If you are in a position to mentor someone, then pay it forward. (The more you give, the more you get back.)
I attended the awesome SASE (Society of Asian American Scientists and Engineers) Conference as a representative of ITW - the keynote speakers and workshops all emphasized the importance of mentors. SASE's Executive Director, Khanh Vu, asked me to spread the word about their new video on this topic, so here it is:
Thank you, Dr. Dennis Howling, Thomas Kennedy, Ken Andersen, and Dad for being my rabbis.
Now how many of you think that you can multi-task - do many things at once?
Really bravado, macho, power thing to do, eh?
Research shows that you cannot multitask. Think about machines - it is physically impossible to multitask with single processor PCs; they simply switch very quickly between tasks. Humans have a single processor CPU - you can't process more than one thing at a time with your brain. (Some woman argue that men think with their other organ but we will leave it at that.)
It fact, it takes 6 minutes to recover and switch back to a task when interrupted.
Your IQ also drops when you multitask:
- Your IQ drops 5 points every time you get stoned.
- Men’s IQs drop 15 IQ points every time they multitask.
- Women’s IQs drop 5 points every time they multitask.
So do the math, trying to multitasking is comparable to smoking a joint!
- Focus on one task at a time.
- For larger tasks or projects, break big tasks into little tasks.
- Set aside time to concentrate and work.
- Use the “Seven Habits" Time Management Matrix (above)
-- Work on Quadrant II, avoiding Quadrant III and IV
-- Work on important tasks that contribute to your mission, values, and are high priority goals
-- Avoid working on non-important, trivial time wasters
- Begin with the end in mind – take a few minutes before you start to sum up the task:
– what your goal is, what needs to be done
-- how it will be done
-- who you need to interact with to get it done
-- the estimated time and effort
United We Stand, Divided We Fall!
One of the problems for many companies with different business teams and Product Managers is the danger of “turf battles”. Each group and manager has their own set of priorities, view of customer needs, maybe even different target customer, and thus, different product strategies. For example, Service may be a separate profit center measured by revenue so they may seek to raise maintenance and support prices based on their perspective that the installed base is captive (since the products have proprietary parts, firmware, etc.). However, a prospective customer may look at the lifetime service costs and total system price as part of their initial decision process and decide not to purchase the product(s) based on the high annual service cost. So the company, as a whole, lost the initial product sale and future service revenue. Sales may try to save the initial sale by deeply discounting which results in a lower profit margin – and then the product may be viewed by upper management as a low margin product not worthy of future investment. This can start a vicious cycle. The company is competing against itself and acting like a ship with many rudders.
Think of this as a country going to war (and you are going to war against your competition). You can't have the Navy, Air Force, Army, and Marines each deciding their own targets and strategy - they need to know who the target is and share the overall strategy and mission. You then allocate the bulk of your resources to get that done. Whatever is left over can be used for their projects, maintenance or other purposes.
What happens when companies have individual product managers setting individual product strategy? The result is:
1) Limited resources are spread even thinner.
2) Short term thinking wins. He who generates immediate revenues gets the attention of upper management.
3) Everyone fights for Sales mindshare and the best product does not necessarily win.
4) Products lack commonality and rarely share the same user interface.
5) Sales people end up selling product features, not value propositions or benefits.
6) Engineering gets to decide the product priorities. Many times, the “sexiest” or most exciting project for them wins.
7) Mixed or conflicting messages to Sales, prospects, and customers.
So how do you prevent this?
An organization must align with the customer and develop its strategy around customer alignment.
You focus on the target customers and put yourself in their shoes:
1. How do they buy?
2. How do they budget?
3. Is service money a separate annual budget?
4. Who ate their customers (internal and external)?
5. Who are the key players/influencers?
6. What does the customer want to do?
7. How does the customer want to accomplish this?
8. What does their current work flow/process map look like? What would they want it to look like?
9. What’s critical, important, or minor in importance to them? Today? Tomorrow?
10. What keeps your customer up at night?
11. What are their priorities and initiatives? Today? Tomorrow?
12. What current or future events, e.g. regulations, market forces, technology, can affect them?
13. How much growth is in their business or market?
Once aligned, you set your strategy based on “the big picture” – a portfolio of products and services designed to show that you understand the customer, the problem(s), and have the total solution with the best value propositions.
Customer Alignment provides:
1) A true overall understanding of what a target customer values.
2) A true understanding of the revenue streams.
3) Knowing where the real growth and potential are.
4) A unified & clear overall product portfolio strategy & direction for all.
5) Common branding.
6) Use product breadth as a selling point – one stop shop concept.
7) Better prioritization of resources.
8) Better control of sales negotiations with overall package pricing and discounts.
9) Engineering focused on how solutions developed versus which products to work on.
10) Easier for Sales to focus on selling solutions and benefits.
One of the best companies in customer alignment has to be Amazon. By understanding what a customer wants, they introduce the Kindle family at an attainable price and know that the real money is in advertisements, ebooks, and streaming media. The Kindle hardware manager isn’t trying to make an obscene profit (maybe no profit in this case) and Amazon wins by aligning not just with one customer but two – the tablet buyer and the advertisers whose ads appear on their discounted ad subsidized tablets!
Frank Lio is a Product Manager, Strategist, and Change Agent in the Hi-Tech industry. His growing track record of successes include creating 3 winning software products, leading nationwide seminars, and turning around a failing business unit. He is currently serving a dual role as Product Manager and Business Team Support Manager at Instron ITW.
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