In his book, How To Be A Productivity Ninja (which includes lots of these cute ninja pictures like the one on the right), Graham Allcott talks about 7 things that you can do with an email when it hits your inbox. The point of this sort of processing is that it keeps your inbox at a manageable level and you don’t have to wade through thousands of messages to see what is important. So if your email inbox is looking untidy and you are struggling to find things, block out an hour in your diary to go through it and sort it out. Here are his recommendations for clearing out your inbox – choose the right response for every message and you’ll soon have it looking more manageable and feeling less stressful!
1. Delete it
You’ll probably find a lot of emails in your inbox that you don’t need to keep. Things about ‘cakes in the kitchen’ or general office announcements like ‘we’re clearing out the fridge’ or ‘there will be a fire drill on Friday.’ All this stuff can be deleted. Why are you keeping it, anyway?
You can probably also delete some project-related emails that are now out of date. Take a look at long conversation chains and see if it is worth keeping them all. It won’t be. Keep the last message in the chain which will have the entire history and delete all the other previous emails. That should get rid of a lot!
2. Do it now
If the email requires action and it’s quick to do (say, less than 5 minutes), do it now. Then you can delete the email, respond or whatever, but the action isn’t hanging over you.
3. Do it later
If the email requires action but it’s going to take longer than a few minutes, you can add the task to your to do list. Then you won’t forget to do it, and you can block out the appropriate length of time to deal with it in due course.
4. Decide it doesn’t need action
Some emails don’t require action but you do want to keep them. File the message for reference later. Allcott recommends creating a separate folder in your mail system for this sort of useful information so it doesn’t clog up your inbox. Then you can access that folder and review your useful messages whenever you need to.
An example of this sort of mail would be the announcement of a new project management process that you need to follow (but just not right now) – something you want to keep until you need it. If your PMO has emailed you user guides for your online project management software like Seavus Project Viewer v10, they could also be filed in your ‘useful information’ folder. Although, of course, you could store the attachments elsewhere on your network server or PC so that you can delete the email after all.
Perhaps the email does need some action, but just not from you. Forward it on to the person best placed to deal with it, preferably with some instructions about what you are expecting them to do. Once you’ve done that, you might need to…
6. Follow it up
There will be some emails where you don’t have to take any action yourself but you want to keep an eye on the project task and make sure that the person who is supposed to be doing the action is actually doing it. Allcott recommends creating a folder for this too, which he calls the ‘waiting for’ list. You can pop any relevant emails in there and then check back regularly to ensure that the person doing the job is on top of it.
7. Defer the decision
Finally, you don’t have to decide right now. If making the decision about what to do is going to interrupt the flow of clearing out your inbox, then skip over that email and move on to the next one. However, don’t leave it too long before you go back to the message and try to work out what to do with it. “The point is most people defer making those decisions to the point that valuable information is lost in and amongst a lot of stuff that should have been deleted a long time ago,” Allcott writes.
Allcott concludes that 20% of emails are actionable and the remainder are low priority noise. That’s a lot of emails that you could do without during a day, but unfortunately unless you radically change the culture of your project team and business you are still likely to get a lot of useless messages.
What you can do, however, is use this 7-point structure to clear out your inbox regularly and stay on top of all those messages! What other tips do you have for managing your emails? Do you think these ideas will work for you? Let us know in the comments!
Andy Wilkins and Kate Stuart-Cox write about successful business culture and climate in the book Business Analysis and Leadership.
They talk about 9 dimensions that contribute towards an environment conducive to project management success. Last time I talked about the first 4 of those:
- Creating ideas
- Supporting ideas.
Today I’m going to look at the other 5 dimensions along with some ideas for encouraging these in your business.
1. Trust and openness
Wilkins and Stuart-Cox say that it is important the project team feel comfortable speaking their minds and offering different points of view. If you can build that culture into the project environment then you are likely to get those different points of view presented, which in turn leads to greater levels of creativity and cross-team working. It can also help you identify unspoken assumptions about project tasks that may influence the work that is being undertaken.
While you do have to be careful making jokes at work – not everyone finds the same things funny – a good natured environment is far more fun to work in than one that is stuffy and dull. Is it OK to have fun and make appropriate jokes? Is the working culture relaxed but professional? Wilkins and Stuart-Cox suggest personalising your workplace, encouraging wild ideas and creativity, using cartoons to illustrate business concepts and having fun while facilitating workshops.
3. Managing conflict
Conflict isn’t something you want to encourage generally, so Wilkins and Stuart-Cox have some suggestions for reducing friction in the project team. Using common goals and setting shared expectations for behaviour is a good way to start. They also talk about having clear policies and strategies to deal with issues as they arise. “Being crystal clear about roles” is another tip, so that decisions can be made appropriately with everyone understanding who will make decisions and why.
4. Promoting debate
You want a lively debate on your project team. If you don’t have a team who will interact with each other, you end up with a group of people nodding at your every suggestion and who will not put forward their own ideas. Wilkins and Stuart-Cox talk about finding ways to encourage debate, which are largely around facilitating discussions. They suggest modelling active listening so that the team sees you listening to ideas as they are presented. You should also be actively open to suggestions and different points of view, and encourage the team to put these forward. Cross-functional teams are a good way to promote debate as people will necessarily bring different backgrounds and opinions to the conversation.
5. Promoting risk-taking
It might seem counter-intuitive to want to encourage risk-taking on your project, when your risk management process is specifically designed to mitigate and minimise risk! But this is more about whether you create a project culture where it is OK to fail if you try something new. New ways of working are encouraged and no one seeks to blame when something goes wrong. Instead, you pick yourselves up and try a different route forward. You can build this culture into your project by encouraging learning from mistakes, providing stretch targets and also simulated environments to test out new ideas before they are put into practice.
These 5 points, combined with the 4 elements from my last article, will help you create a business and project environment that in turn supports the chance of being successful. Of course, no amount of facilitated workshops, measured risk-taking, cartoons on the wall or debate will guarantee that your project will be a success. But if you can take a few steps to encourage your team towards creative, collaborative thinking and find a way for them to work together effectively, then you are helping your project team move in the right direction.
In Business Analysis and Leadership Andy Wilkins and Kate Stuart-Cox write about the impact that the culture of a business has on business success. They call this ‘climate’ and define it by saying that climate is:
- Distinct from culture because you can see it more easily
- More changeable than culture
- More scalable than culture and more situational
- Measurable so that you can assess some climates as being better than others – you can’t do this with culture.
Whether you agree with the distinction between culture and climate or not, it is useful to think about the factors that influence the project management environment and make some businesses more successful than others.
Wilkins and Stuart-Cox use something called the Situational Outlook Questionnaire to help businesses think about the aspects of their working environment that affect success. They have split this into 9 dimensions of climate, and while they say the full questionnaire is far more complete, it is definitely useful for project managers and those working on project teams to think about the different dimensions and see how they could influence them to generate an environment more conducive to project success. So, let’s take a look at the dimensions and see how they could have an impact on projects.
In the first part of this short series I looked at planning for your first project management job interview, although a lot of the advice would be suitable for any project management job interview. The second article looked at preparing for the interview day, and that was followed by the actual interview itself and some tips for that meeting. In today’s final instalment in the series I’m going to talk about what happens next.
Congratulations – you’ve made it through the first interview. Now you just have to wait and see what happens as you have done all that you can. There are a number of things that might happen next and you should have been told at your first interview what the process will be from now on.
Second interviews and follow ups
One thing that might happen is that you are invited back for a second interview. This is great news as it means you have made it through the initial screening and on to the shortlist. The second interview is a chance to meet other members of the team, maybe your direct line manager’s boss or other project managers. For you, it’s another opportunity to check that you really do want the job.
The second interview may include further presentations or psychometric tests. You can’t do much preparation for tests of this sort and they aren’t designed to trip you up. Answer the questions honestly and don’t try to assume what they want to hear.
Your first project management job interview is a great career milestone – someone thinks that you have the skills and experience to be a valuable asset to their team. The interview is your chance to prove that you do have these and that you would be a good fit for the team too. And, of course, it is your chance to check out the company and the environment and be happy that, if you were offered the job, it is something you would like to do on a long-term basis.
Remember that your interview starts as soon as you walk through the door to the company. Be polite to the receptionist and security staff as the interviewer may ask for their first impression of you. There might also be other candidates waiting in the reception area along with you, so bear that in mind too.
Meeting the interviewer
Normally you will be asked to wait in reception for the interviewer or a colleague to come and collect you. They will then take you to the interview room. The interviewer may already be in the room or they may join you afterwards. You may be offered a drink, and it’s up to you whether you say yes or not, but it could be easier to stick to water instead of hot drinks.
Shake hands when you meet the interviewer (and if you are worried about this, it is something you can practice in advance!).