Friday, October 9th, 2009

Reversing Your Email Composition

March 30, 2009 by Jason Bean  
Filed under Computers

I spent today at a productivity summit that talked about a variety of ways to increase productivity both personally and in your company as a whole. The first session discussed “Managing Email Productivity”. One of the methods shared was to reverse the composition of your email messages.

Reverse Your Email Composition Sequence

Reverse Your Email Composition Sequence

In the standard model we normally write emails in this order.

  1. Input recipients
  2. Write subject
  3. Write body of message
  4. Attach files

Robby Slaughter, the presenter of the summit shared his preferred method of reversing this process flow and the reasons behind each. I’m significantly paraphrasing but this is the basic premise.

  1. Attach files – how many times have you sent an email and forgotten to attach the files? Attaching the files first also reinforces the purpose of the email which will be important in the following steps.
  2. Write Body – The body of the message in this case with attached files should be a simple statement of what action you would like the recipient to take on the attached files. Should they review them, are they to be printed for the upcoming seminar? State specifically what you want the reader to do in your email.
  3. Write Subject – Write the subject after the body because it should be a simple, stripped-down restatement of the body of the message. Clear and concise with key words at the beginning of the subject.
  4. Select Recipients – Choosing the recipients last performs a couple of helpful functions. First, if an email doesn’t have a recipient specified, you can’t accidentally send the email without the attachments or pausing long enough to make sure you actually want to hit “Send” on that email laced with your frustrations. Secondly, if you wait till the end you can further clarify exactly who needs to be included based on the actions and requested tasks specified in the email.

What processes do you use to stay on top of your email or to more effectively manage your email productivity?

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22 Responses to “Reversing Your Email Composition”
  1. Jeremy Wright says:

    Ooh, I like this actually. I might just have to adopt it. Not that I make this mistake every day or anything, but it happens often enough that a change of habits makes perfect sense…

    Thanks Jason!

  2. Michael says:

    Unfortunately, if I hit “Reply”, then the recipients are filled automatically. Which means, I’m not protected against accidentally sending unfinished mail. Any advice?

    • Jason Bean says:

      My thoughts lately are that replies are dangerous in general. If your reply is a concise follow-up on the original email, then I think you’re fine. However, I believe we get into trouble when we start a new topic or ask for additional action that may not be related to the original email. If that’s the case a new email with new subject and possibly new recipients should be created.

      • Darin says:

        When I hit reply it has become my practice to cut the reply address from the recipient field and past it at the top of the message body. By doing this I cannot accidentally send the reply using keystrokes or some other mysterious method before I complete the message. Once I complete the message and attach any supporting documents (when required), I then cut the reply address from the top of the message body and paste it back into the recipient field.

  3. Jeanne Dupuis says:

    Attaching files first is definitely something I need to start doing. These are great suggestions, Jason!

    • Jason Bean says:

      I can’t take the credit for the idea itself, just sharing what I too believe is a new way to look at email and how we use it. Credit needs to go to Robby Slaughter (@robbyslaughter) who shared it with me.

  4. Hanan Cohen says:

    Great tip!

    Now only if we could change the Outlook email composition window to be ordered this way.

    • Robby Slaughter says:

      Actually, you can do this. It’s a bit more complicated than can be described in a comment post, but here are the basic steps:

      1. Start a new email message.
      2. Click on the “Developer Tab” (you may need to enable this; Google away)
      3. Click “Design this form”
      4. Drag and rearrange the boxes
      (There’s more detail here to update the tab order and make the body box auto-expand to the right size, get BCC to work, etc, but this will get you started)
      5. Save the form somewhere (Save As…)
      6. Go to the main Outlook window, File->New->Choose Form
      7. Go to “Look In”–>User templates in file system, browse… and you can run the form.

      From here, you can either set up a new shortcut key to take over new messages (Ctrl+N is the default, use something else), or you can go into Tools->Options->Other->Advanced Options->Custom Forms. This latter option requires creating a custom form setup wrapper but can really help, especially if you send a ton of email and want to customize the functionality of the compose message window.



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