This is not Miss Bender's usual lecture about the paper trail -- of the CYA/Kumbaya variety. We'd like to go a little wider and deeper in today's class. These are habits you need firmly established before you need them. Because you never know when you are going to be deposed.
Let's review some examples of a email reply, with attachment.
1) subject line: none. No message text
2) subject line: "spreadsheet". message - "Here ya go." or... "per our conversation," (however formal your environment tends to be)
3) subject line (name of attachment): message text:
Three months or 3 years after that report has been cited as evidence in a business issue, you will be glad you chose #3.
I acknowledge the tedium of email. It is actually more annoying than business by phone (if that is possible) and can be terribly time-consuming. In the corporate arena, especially, we are buried in it, and without secretaries to weed it out for us. Most days, it seems the only way to get through it all is to reply-yes, reply-no, reply-see attached, reply-please reschedule... and you already made a macro to insert "Please." F12 is nice for that.
Take this Pop-Quiz
Pull a history of the last 6 month's emails on any given category of your work. (If you are not yet using Outlook categories to reference your email, please set aside additional time to read this). Based on what you find, could you put together a reliable discovery-worthy history of events, using only these official business documents you yourself created? Then I urge you to begin tomorrow, writing business emails so complete you could come back to work after a traumatic brain injury and still know what you were doing last week.
These do not have to be baroque in style -- heretofore, forthwith, whereas -- or even particularly long. They need to be
Thorough - if you need a template, try this:
- The Big picture this pertains to.
- The central message of this email.
- Action on the part of the reader.
- Next steps for the sender.
Date and Time stamped - the easy part is done for you already. What you also want to include are points of reference that can be useful, such as noting to Brenda that the report was run "a few minutes" before the time stamp on the message. The action came out of "today's call," which likely has minutes or notes stored elsewhere. Date your attachments whenever possible, also. If it is later modified, its properties will tell you that; the date in its name can signal when it was created, run, or what it refers to (Annual_Report_2010). If you develop a consistency for your own dating convention, the document name will have immediate meaning for you and your recipients.
Cross-Reference - Refer to supporting documents, work request IDs, meeting minutes, and the like by their full names. This will be exceptionally handy even if no one seizes your records. If the email is internal only, consider linking directly to shared documents from within the message so they can be retrieved immediately.
Recycle - Another handy tip for general productivity, and a sure thing for keeping the story straight. Copy statements from your minutes, right to your action items, to your progress reports, your dashboards, your email messages. No telephone game here -- and in a desktop search, you'll find all the documentation that pertains to that item. (And if you are not yet using a desktop search tool besides the one your operating system came with, please set aside additional time to read this. )
Learn how to make a quick and relevant timeline out of your email archive. Test yourself on a project some time back -- a year ago, even -- by making a 1 page document of key actions, milestones, decisions based only on what you can retrieve from your email. Management is easily assuaged by
mm/dd/yyyy: PERSON takes ACTION - QUANTITATIVE RESULT
mm//dd/yyyy: AUTHORITY decides to DO/NOT DO
In which case, please set aside additional time to read this.
Happy New Year from the Business Women's Finishing School & Social Club.
Tell us what's on your mind.