In a busy manufacturing environment time is precious. Production inefficiencies can hurt a manufacturing company financially and also damage their reputation if deliveries don’t go out on time. But away from takt times, machine outputs and on-time delivery graphs which are often scrutinised in great detail, there’s a far more subtle element of your business that is causing your team stress and that’s communication, specifically e-mail.
Despite the rise of social media, the introduction of chat bots, and all the other ways to communicate with each other digitally, e-mail doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere fast. And with around 269 billion e-mails sent and received each day in 2017, it’s easy to see how this method of communication can leave manufacturing teams feeling under pressure if not kept under control. For example, if they don’t have an effective way of managing e-mail, manufacturing data might get lost or deleted altogether. Customer delivery requests could be misinterpreted or simple instructions to another department could end up as an HR issue because of the way the recipient interpreted the message from their colleague.
If you haven’t done so already, it probably makes sense to put some e-mail housekeeping rules in place. In this blog post we share 11 tips and tricks to help manage your inbox and ensure the messages you send remain effective and received in the way you originally intended.
Tips on managing your inbox
- Turn off all e-mail alerts. Not only are these a huge distraction they are completely pointless as I can guarantee that throughout the day a) you will receive an e-mail and b) you will check anyway! All the alerts do is stop you from completing the task in front of you so turn them off. Now. You can also apply this principle to that time stealer in your pocket or laying on your desk. Smartphone push notifications are arguably even worse due to the sheer number of apps desperate to compete for your attention. Turn them all off and become far more effective as a result.
- Set up folders or colour categories. Creating folders for certain topics, departments, customers etc is a great way of organising your inbox and is particularly useful when you have to refer back to a specific message a few weeks’ after. You can manage your inbox in a similar way by assigning colour categories, it just depends what works best for you.
- Set up ‘rules’. Another neat trick is to set up a series of ‘rules’ so that incoming messages automatically go into the folders you have created. This keeps your main inbox tidy and saves you having to drag and drop messages into separate folders. However! It does rely on you going into these folders periodically to read the messages otherwise you could miss something.
- Kill spam, dead. Despite the latest spam filters and software an incredible amount of ‘junk’ mail still gets through so it’s important you have an effective way of managing it. And hitting the delete key is not good enough so you will need to spend a bit more time killing it completely. If you are certain the email is from a known sender then look for an 'unsubscribe' option (often tucked away at the bottom of the e-mail in a colour that’s hard to see) and click it. If the email is unsolicited spam from a business or person you have never heard of then it's safer to click the spam button in your e-mail client, block the sender or set up an automatic rule to direct any future messages from them to your junk folder.
- Stop procrastinating. Adopt the 4D method to help manage your inbox i.e. delete it, do it, delegate it or defer it. How many times have you opened and closed an e-mail and then done the same thing again later that day or week? Easier said than done but adopting the 4D method can help manage your inbox and dramatically reduce the number of unread e-mails sitting there staring back at you.
- Are you part of the problem? If you’re struggling to get on top of your inbox just take a minute to think about how you communicate and whether you are in fact contributing to your own stress. For example, when you send an e-mail there is a high chance you’ll get one back, even if it’s just a ‘thanks’ or ‘ok’. The reply hasn’t added anything to the conversation but unfortunately it is a polite habit we have fallen into. The worst thing you can then do is to reply with a ‘no problem’ or ‘you are welcome’ message. Whilst this might seem like a silly example, it happens on a daily basis and if there is more than one person copied in on the original e-mail things start to spiral out of control quickly. Alternatively, if you picked up the phone and talked to the person instead you would probably get the answers you need quicker and would almost certainly save yourself a couple of e-mails.
Tips on sending a great e-mail
- Think about your subject line. With so many messages filling your inbox one of the ways in which you decide what to read and what to delete is probably based on the strength of the title. So, it makes sense that others are doing the same with e-mails you send. Keep the subject line clear and to the point. One suggestion you might want to consider internally is to create a series of subject prefixes (Action required, FYI only, Social event etc) so it is clear what your e-mail is about and what you are expecting the recipient to do with it. Subject prefixes might not work externally (unless you have told people what they mean) but can help internally and reduce some of the internal miscommunication that takes place.
- Stick to one topic. Linked to the above, make sure the body of your message relates to the title you have given it. Too often e-mails ‘evolve’ as they are being written and end up covering two or more topics. The sender won’t always appreciate how confusing this can be and probably assumes they are being more effective by covering multiple points in a single e-mail. But, if you’ve ever been on the receiving end you’ll know it doesn’t tend to work that well. So, if you need to cover multiple topics we would recommend you draft multiple e-mails each with their own clear and to the point subject lines.
- Who really needs to read this? It’s incredibly easy to add lots of people to an e-mail. Sometimes it is necessary, for example a company announcement which needs to be read and understood by all staff members. But sometimes it’s just down to laziness or worse still, office politics i.e. copying the boss or supervisor to ‘prove’ you have done something or that someone else hasn’t. Neither of these examples are helpful and certainly don’t help get your inbox under control or make the company any more effective. So think twice before you start filling the Cc box up unnecessarily.
- Consider tone of voice. As there is no way of expressing body language in an e-mail you need to ensure the tone of your message matches with how you would like the reader to interpret it. This is an extremely hard thing to get right, especially when you send an e-mail quickly without checking it first. A good example, which I’m sure you have experienced yourself, relates to the use of capital letters and exclamation marks. Capital letters could mean someone is really angry and effectively shouting at you through the text. Or, it could mean they pressed the caps lock button by accident and didn’t realise it. Similarly, an exclamation mark (or three) at the end of a sentence could mean the sender is really excited about the subject. Or they are very angry. The point is you really don’t know how your e-mail will be interpreted when it arrives in someone else’s mailbox so you need to try and make sure that each one you send remains clear, simple and polite. Unless of course you want to let the recipient know that you are REALLY ANGRY! (and then we would recommend you pick up the phone or get together face-to-face)
- Don’t hit send, yet. Always proof read the e-mail before you send it, no matter how urgent the message is. Spelling and grammatical errors make a bad impression and if your message isn’t clear you’ll only end up making things worse for yourself when your inbox starts to fill up with questions from confused recipients.
E-mail is regularly used and abused. Unfortunately, unlike face-to-face communication, it’s very difficult to build in an immediate feedback loop as body language isn’t involved. Ineffective e-mails can therefore be a big cause of stress at work and failing to manage these can lead to disgruntled employees, customers and suppliers.
If you don’t have any form of e-mail etiquette in place at the moment feel free to use some of the hints and tips above. And if you do have your own systems in place which have proven to be effective why not share them with us in the comments section below? We would love to understand how you are managing this issue and hopefully between us we can help reduce the number of badly written, confusing and ineffective e-mails being sent each day.