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Email should work for us, rather than us working for it

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Many of us have self-taught online skills and we have all probably picked up bad habits along the way. 

lesley jones

When we are preparing to gain new IT skills and move into a more digitally savvy world, it is sometimes good to reflect on how we use existing systems such as email.

Cleaning up how we use email can be helpful before adopting new communication tools such as WhatsApp or closed Facebook groups.

You may be familiar with the five Ds of emailing – discard it, delegate it, do it, date it and drop it.

  • Discard it: So much junk comes through email, so consider if spending time reading the email is valuable or not.
  • Delegate it: At first glance this looks a bit risky, but you need to consider if you are the best person to answer or manage the information in your email. Getting someone else’s opinion before delegating is often helpful and often means the delegated email is more likely to result in the appropriate action.
  • Do it: You need to act within three to five minutes. Otherwise, an email may sit in your inbox and turns your inbox into a to-do list other people set for you.
  • Date it: If the email needs a more considered response, date it. Move the email to a dated folder, which becomes your to-do-it-by-list.
  • Drop it: The last D is to drag the email and drop it into a folder set aside for a particular subject or project. You can manage these emails once you begin working on that project.

These guidelines are all helpful, but they only work if you use them in conjunction with other good practice and I have highlighted some top tips to help you get organised.

Top tips

  • Some areas are introducing closed Facebook or WhatsApp messaging in teams and there is a danger in thinking email is a non-urgent means of communicating. You might miss something important.
  • It is bad practice to blind copy someone into an email chain.
  • Having email-free afternoons or whole days is good practice for organisations, and making this agreement among teams is also a sign that organisations value other activities that staff members undertake, such as talking to each other or meeting up.

Never send an email response in anger. Remember that an email is difficult to recall completely. Always pause before responding and use the DESC anagram to compose your response if you cannot contact the person to discuss your concerns in person.

Your response should:

D: Describe what happened;

E: Explain how you feel;

S: Share your ideal for the future;

C: Compromise and state what you will do differently.

You may also want to revisit what you have written one to two days after writing it to see if the email is still worth sending.

You also need to check how your online behaviour affects staff. Bad habits include late-night emailing or emptying your inbox before a bank holiday only to fill the inbox of a colleague. Email is a great system, but when used poorly it can be a source of stress.

Lastly, there is the email chat. Try not to talk about how many emails you have in your inbox. Email figures are used by some people as markers of how busy they are. Be careful as a high number of unread emails can mean that you do not have an email management system.

Managing your emails can be liberating and allow you more time to be productive and creative while undertaking the parts of your role you enjoy the most.

Email should work for us, rather than us working for it. Once you have developed a system to help you manage your emails, then you can layer on other means of communicating such as social media accounts. Cleaning up bad habits can lead to better online personal management.

This series of blogs has been co-produced with help from trust staff looking at and introducing systems: Arran Rogers, Royal Berkshire NHS FT; Jane Benfield Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Trust; Sam Neville, Basildon and Thurrock NHS Trust; and Dr Natasha Phillips, University College London.

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