« All Episodes

A Simple Shift for Your Email Inbox Strategy

Published 4/14/2017

In today's episode, we'll be talking about a very simple shift for your emailing strategy.

Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
How much time do you put into your emails? Not really talking about how much time do you actually spend scrolling through your long poorly managed inbox. I think everybody has one of those at least one point in their career. What I'm talking about is how long do you spend getting better at email? That's what we're going to talk about on today's episode. My name is Jonathan Cutrell. You're listening to Developer Tea. My goal on this show is to coach you through your career. Help you make better decisions like for example, help you by giving you practical tips on how you can write better emails. What does it mean to write a better email? That's what we're going to talk about in today's episode. I hope you enjoy this episode. I hope it becomes immediately useful to you. It's my goal to give you these tips and give you this coaching and give you a turnaround. Give you immediate results and also long term results. This stuff is not easy necessarily. Some of the stuff may sound easy but actually retaining the habit, keeping this going, actually putting in the time to think about and changing the way you do things. That's not easy. If you're willing to do the hard work, you will see results on this kind of stuff. It's kind of like exercising. If you're not willing to do the hard work, well, you're probably not cut out for the hard exercises. You're probably not going to end up being extremely cut if you don't want to pick up a weight. That's what we're doing. We're doing hard work. Even though I'm giving you practical tips, this stuff sounds simple. Some of it is simple, but it takes work to implement it. It takes work to actually follow through. I'm going to ask you a few questions, hopefully, to get your brain turning. What was the last time you thought about an email from the perspective of what you hope for the user or the reader in this case to do whenever they read it? Really we're talking about the purpose of your emailing. What is the purpose of the message that I'm writing today? I'm going to give you two practical tips today, both from the perspective of composing emails, but also from the perspective of reading emails, how you can be a better email receiver. Seems like that's a pretty simple thing, but you'd be surprised at how bad people can be at receiving emails. These are the two tips. I want you to think about it from this perspective. I want you to think about the importance of email for you to really embody this idea that email is actually pretty important. It's a one-to-one or sometimes one-to-many, but typically one-to-one or one-to-two communication tool. That's really important that you think about the implications of your communication on this platform. This is something that is in people's pockets. It's on people's laptops. It's on their desktop screens. Email follows them for perhaps the longest of any service that they use. I have had my email address for longer than any of my social profiles or anything like that. I've had my email address for many, many years, and it's something that I use almost daily. From a practical perspective, we can think about email as almost a fundamental communication platform. It's almost like writing a letter, a very similar to writing text messages. These are things that we need to think about. We shouldn't treat email like it's purely just a task, like it's something for us to do as quickly as possible. That's not what email is. Email is about messaging. I'm actually going to slide in a little bonus tip in here. I didn't plan to do this particular point. I didn't plan to focus on this particular point in this episode. I think it's really important that you separate these two ideas. You separate the idea of a to-do list from your email inbox. There's some apps that have come out in the past that help process your emails this way. I want you to separate these two concepts from each other. Develop your own process. My process for doing this is when I go through my emails, if something needs to be acted on outside of my inbox, that's the key factor. If I need to do something outside of my inbox, even if that's still on my computer or on my phone, if I need to go and find something else online or if I need to go make a comment on a GitHub issue or something like that, I'm going to get that information out of my inbox and put it into another tool. I use Trello for this. Although my daily to-do tool has changed probably 20 times in the last year. I'm sticking with Trello. I'm going to try to force myself to stick with it. The whole point is to get this stuff out of your inbox and into another place that is your to-do list. That's going to help you process your emails as messages. Think through this. The important thing here is psychologically, you need to process your emails as messages, not as to-do items. This brings us back to our practical tips for the day. The two tips, one for the composing side of the email, one for the receiving side of the email. When you are composing an email, recognize that it is a message and also recognize that you have the option, you have the power in your emailing, you have the power of making it into someone's to-do list. Whether they manage their email as a to-do list or if they take the advice that we're giving on this show of taking that stuff out of their email, most people put a lot of weight on the messages they receive in their email. This is why email marketing is so important, by the way. Your email inbox is an incredibly important part of your everyday. If you have the access to someone else's email inbox, and that's really what this is, you have access to add something into their email inbox, you should take that very seriously and not take advantage of it, but recognize the opportunity. So from the composer's perspective, my practical tip for you today is to think about your call to action. Think about your call to action. This sounds like something that you would hear for designing a website. Obviously, calls to action, for example, on an e-commerce site, those are talked about over and over and over. But in a one-to-one email, you have the opportunity for a call to action. You should be thinking about this. So kind of a part of this is lowering the barrier for someone to take action. You're going to apply some of the same psychology that you already are using in your development, right? Whether you're a front end developer or not, it doesn't really matter. The barrier to entry, the ability to take a simple action, that's what you want to structure in your one-to-one emails. If there is a call to action that you want to put into someone else's inbox, you should structure it so that there's a low barrier to entry for that call to action. So a very simple example of this is not asking open-ended questions in your emails. If you ask an open-ended question, then that's likely to go to the end of the to-do column, especially for people who are very sensitive with their time. And so if you instead ask a question that has preformed answers, for example, if you want to set up a meeting with someone, provide two or three options for them to choose from for a meeting time. Instead of them having to expend the brain energy to go and figure out a good meeting time for them, you've provided two or three options for them to pick from, and they can decide which of the three options actually works the best. Perhaps the most common rule-breaker in this area is emails that end with the word, with a question mark, thoughts. You're asking for someone's thoughts. And if you don't provide them more direction, if you leave the question totally open-ended, then the amount of time that it takes for me to respond to that email, well, it's not really certain. It could be an hour or it could be one minute. So imagine that your response rate is going to follow a curve. And the harder it is to respond to your email, the more time it takes to respond to your email, the less response you're likely to receive, the lower the likelihood that you're going to receive a response. So this is especially important for those of you who are reaching out to a company about an interview. One of the hardest emails to respond to as a hiring manager is, are you looking for developers? Are you hiring? This is such an open-ended question because the answer is kind of fuzzy. And it's true for a lot of agencies. The answer to that question is kind of fuzzy. And if you sent me a bunch of information for me to go through and basically I'm having to judge whether or not you're going to potentially be a fit for a company, a much better way, a much more actionable way for you to approach a company. This is another kind of side tip here. Another actionable or a better actionable way for you to approach a company is to ask for a meeting. You don't ask for an interview, just ask for a meeting. We talked about this in a recent episode as well. I can't remember exactly which episode it was, but just ask for a simple coffee meeting or to come and see the facility where that company is. This is so much more actionable for the person who's reading that email and there's not a commitment barrier. There's not a big commitment sign floating over the reply button on that email. So you're going to likely get much more traction that way. And once you actually get the conversation rolling, once you actually have a meeting with those people, then you can earn more by it. You can earn longer intensive calls to action. So this is a very simple concept in communication. When you want someone to respond to you, make their response simple. Lower the barrier to entry, make that call to action simple. That's a practical tip number one. The second practical tip that I have for you is for the receiving side of email. So if you do receive an email, there's going to be tons of these that come to your inbox that the call to action is higher. For example, a very general bug report. This is something that developers see quite often. A bug report that doesn't have a lot of data or information along with it and it would require perhaps two or three hours worth of work to respond to. A lot of times those emails get pushed to the bottom of the sack and sometimes they even get forgotten altogether. So going back to our previous point about separating your to-dos from your emails, what I want you to do is respond to every email as soon as you get it. This sounds crazy. You can still block your time off and respond to your emails all in one block. So I'm not saying constantly check your email. It would be totally antithetical to everything they were about on this show. I want to promote focus, but I also want to promote the idea that these are messages. Imagine if someone had texted you the same thing or if you were having a conversation with another person in the same room and they sent you that message, what would you say to them? This may be a controversial way to deal with email. Nobody has their own system for how they want to deal with email. Their own value system of how email should play a role in their life, like what role email should play in their lives. Some businesses approach email very differently. But what I'm asking you to do here is to be more communicative and say, hey, I'm not able to look into the bug report immediately. I just wanted to let you know that we're going to be working on it. This level of communication, this extra one step of responding to somebody that reinforces the idea that this is a communication platform that you know how to communicate. That you're not ignoring that person. So in essence, what you're doing is quite the opposite of what we were saying for when you're composing. You're lowering the barrier of entry for yourself. You're saying this doesn't require me to answer their question in full. The only thing a message requires of me to do is respond to it. So maybe you're a hiring manager and you get a request about whether or not your company is hiring and you don't have all the information to respond in full and answer every question that that person sent. Instead, what I want you to do, and this is kind of your homework for today's episode, I want you to go and look at the emails that have been sitting for too long and you can decide what too long is. To me, I think most emails typically are answerable within a day or two and usually a lower amount of time depending on what the volume of email is that you receive in your inbox, of course. But for people like me and I receive quite a few emails, of course, I can process my email and respond to them within about a day or two days. I want you to respond to those emails as if you were just simply having a conversation with that person, letting them know what you think or letting them know that you will get back to them. Here's the amazing thing that happens when you communicate that extra bit, when you go the extra mile and communicate. This is kind of like if you need a mental model for this, for those of you who develop in JavaScript, it's kind of like the event loop, right? You have an asynchronous process that starts up, right? This is similar to your long running response to an email, to an open-ended question, for example. It's an asynchronous process. It's not going to be something that you can sit down and just type out in an email, you're going to need to go and get other information from elsewhere. But the event loop lets you know it returns immediately, right? That's what happens. It lets you know that it got your request. Then later, when it's processed that request, when the asynchronous job is complete, then it returns to you with the information that it got. If we model this in our communication, then you'll start to see what are strangely quite well-paralleled in a synchronous loop like this. You're going to start to see very similar patterns of communication. For example, maybe you no longer need that response. Maybe you find out that you can just cancel that and you can ignore whatever the response is. You can ignore the rest of that request. It's also possible that this will reduce the level of urgency that you feel as a person who has received the request. You're going to give some context back and you're potentially going to receive more information from the person who sent you the email in the first place to add more context to whether or not this is actually an urgent issue for you to respond to. The idea is don't let emails get blocked up. Don't let emails get backed up. I'm preaching to myself on this episode. I've got quite a few emails currently sitting in my inbox. You're going to find the same thing will happen to you. You'll go through phases where this is something that you're really 100% dedicated to. You're going to go through phases where you fall back to that old behavior, putting those emails in the bottom of your inbox. I highly encourage you to make this a regular habit. Make this communications process and separating your to-do's from your email inbox make this a regular habit. I think you're going to see huge results from both from a simple productivity level, but also on the personal relational level. I think you're going to see really good results if you implement these ideas. Thank you so much for listening to today's episode of Developer Tea. If you try out what I'm asking you to do in today's episode and you find value from it, then I want you to do two things. One, I want you to subscribe in whatever podcasting app you use. This will make sure you don't miss out on future episodes just like this one from Developer Tea. The second thing that I want you to do, and this one's optional, but I want you to reach out to me on Twitter. You can find me at Add Developer Tea. I'm also at At J. Catrol. I'd love to hear how you are implementing this, these ideas in your inbox, in your emailing life. I'd love to hear how it impacts your day to day. Thank you so much for listening to today's episode of Developer Tea. And until next time, enjoy your tea.