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Writing Great Email Subject Lines

Save for the fixed, yet nondescript “Spark Productivity” email subject lines sadly greeting my blog subscribers, I carefully craft my email subject lines for business email using context-rich keywords to empower my recipients (& me!). I am gratefully granted the same courtesy by many a sender.

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To Thank or Not to Thank…

Good corporate citizens of generous spirit are drawn to acknowledge. Therefore they sometimes develop a behavioral response that for every email, there must be a reply.

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Executives sometimes hire me as their productivity coach to help them organize electronic files. They usually have a shocking number of folders (or sometimes the opposite–no folders at all), so they complain the time it takes to file and then to later retrieve information is excessive and creates anxiety.

If this is your situation, the first piece of advice I have is to consolidate the main folder choices you have down to seven or fewer.

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This summer we were excited to see Google roll out a Gmail update espousing the same philosophy we’ve been advocating for years–separate mission-critical emails from ones that are less so.

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How often do you open up to an overwhelming email inbox? If you’re like most executives, one mistaken belief is perpetuating a daily menacing email situation. And it’s not what you think. If you believe you need to “organize” your emails to regain control, you’re wrong. Advance through the following presentation to learn how to dominate through disorder and joyfully enter your email.

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Some of our executive coaching clients are living happily and producing prolifically with thousands of emails and hundreds of folders in their inbox. We applaud this and help them in other areas where they are struggling. On the other hand, many clients find and engage with us specially to minimize their inbox disposition. We find they fall into two groups:

1) Those who adopt and adapt to inbox zero and a single reference folder like they were born to live that way

2) Those who adopt and adapt kicking and screaming along the way

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Monitors can measure heart rate and the intervals between heartbeats to deliver a common measurement known as heart rate variability. The measure is counter-intuitive.

“When you’re relaxed, your heart variability is all over the place. A stimulus will make your heart rate jump up and then it will go back down to resting state.” When variability is low, meaning the heart is beating steadily, “people are actually under more stress. It’s the fight-or-flight syndrome: You’re on high alert, your body is prepared to respond.”

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Following is an excerpt from the Chicago Tribune | Business Section | November 25, 2012:

Productivity consultant Jan Wencel, of Naperville, founder of Life Contained, is a strict adherent to Inbox Zero, but she doesn’t push it on her clients.

“I advocate finding a rhythm that works for them, and that’s not always an Inbox Zero,” she said.

CT  ct-biz-zero-inbox-web ER
(Image from Chicago Tribune, November 25, 2012)

Follow this link to view the entire Tribune article and hear how email insights from our own Jan Wencel are reducing stress and increasing productivity in the workplace!

Halloween Owl cropped

How often do you open up to a scary e-mail inbox? If you’re like most executives, one mistaken belief is perpetuating a daily menacing e-mail situation. And it’s not what you think. If you believe you need to “organize” your e-mails to regain control, you’re wrong. The practice of being organized in the inbox leaves you disorganized more times than not. Here’s how to quell that chain-shaking desire for organization and how to dominate through disorder.

Flawed Principle: Hyper Organization

When you’re bombarded with hundreds of e-mails a day, you know something must be done to maintain order. So you are drawn toward methods that give order to so many other areas of your life. Clothes categorized by body part saves time. Forks separated from knives makes setting the table faster. Papers filed by project are easier to locate. So creating an elaborate folder system to store reference e-mails must be the answer. Right? Wrong!

Imagine if Google were to “organize” information. Say you’re vacationing and you want to find a well-rated sandwich shop that will deliver to the beach. Do you look in the Sandwich Shop folder under the town name? Or in the Delivers folder under restaurants? Or maybe in the 2012 Top-Rated Restaurants folder? (Is this quandary familiar?)

Since the volume of e-mail is high, the nature of e-mail communication allows for multiple topics to be covered in one message, and because digital search has become so powerful, organization is not the answer. Search is.

Solution: Hypo Organization

Instead of using paper files and folders as your archetype, model Google. Opt for far less order and then use keyword searches and sort to retrieve items when you need them. If you’re a PC and don’t have the advantage of Spotlight, consider investing in an add-in desktop search tool like X1 or Copernic to enable split-second e-mail and document searches across your computer.

By the way, many already use hypo organization in the sent folder and inbox because of being so far behind on filing. These steps will help remove the guilt and introduce relief in seeing only new and task-begging e-mails without the clutter of useless ones.

Step 1: Practice Search

So that you can get comfortable enough to implement step three, practice search. Test yourself for up to a week to see if you can find things without referring to your folder system. Study the advanced search features and customize your sort options to yield more accurate results.

Step 2: Establish a Single Reference Point

Now that you’re secure in finding things, create a general reference folder. This is where you’re going to dump everything that no longer requires action, but may need to be referenced some day. Common names include Reference Bucket, General Reference, Reference, Dump Bucket. If you’re feeling brave, consider the Delete folder or Archive in Gmail your single reference point. This eliminates the need to file, as hitting the delete or archive key automatically removes it from the inbox and files it for you.

Step 3: Move Inbox Items Into Reference Point

Select everything in your inbox three weeks or older & move them all to your single reference point. Feel free to adjust the timing to two weeks, but don’t adjust in the other direction. Do not organize those e-mails by filing them into your folder system! It’s not worth your time. You’re currently getting along without that organization living out of your inbox, so why apply the organization when you know you can live without it?

Go through the remaining e-mails, filing items not requiring action into the reference point and leaving all those requiring action in your inbox.

Step 4: Sunset Old Folder System

The last step is to close down your old folder system. If having some e-mails organized and others not bothers you, then take the longer road of selecting all from each folder and moving into the single reference point. If this level of detail doesn’t matter to you, nest the folders under the single reference folder and then fold them up so you no longer see them. If you identify a folder or two that seems more reliable than search or sort, you’re allowed this exception (like Google’s Images/Maps/Videos filters) provided they don’t rule.

Now nothing is preventing you from fearlessness as you enter your e-mail inbox. Except maybe those frightening requests and ominous responses.

Email Stress Test

Monitors can measure heart rate and the intervals between heartbeats to deliver a common measurement known as heart rate variability. The measure is counterintuitive.

“When you’re relaxed, your heart variability is all over the place. A stimulus will make your heart rate jump up and then it will go back down to resting state.” When variability is low, meaning the heart is beating steadily, “people are actually under more stress. It’s the fight-or-flight syndrome: You’re on high alert, your body is prepared to respond.”

Which end of the spectrum do you suppose the email stress experimenters were situated in when they were unplugged from email for five days? You got it! Instead of sitting in a fight-or-flight stance all day so they could respond in a nano-second to every message that hit their email inbox, they were more relaxed and exhibited high heart rate variability.

What steps can you take to reduce your email stress without giving up email for good?

One surefire way we advocate is batch processing. By this we mean not addressing individual emails as they arrive, but rather waiting for them to accumulate for a period of time before approaching and processing them.

For some folks the period of time can be stretched fairly wide–say processing twice per day with maybe one additional skim for urgent matters nestled in there. For others the period of time is shorter–say 15 minutes.

No matter where you settle, the idea is to inch your way toward greater spans of time without email so you can escape the fight-or-flight grip.

Want more tips on breathing less stress into your email? 

email exhale

Join us at our Chicago workshop: Email Exhale Wednesday, September 26 6:30-8pm at Catalyst Ranch if you’d like to explore healthy email habits. Register for the class through Dabble.

We would love to see a relaxed you there!

Here’s the full article where you can learn about the experiment’s process and the results leading participants to feel more relaxed, productive, and participating in healthier habits such as getting up and walking around more.


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