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7 Email Myths That Plague the Workplace

7 Email Myths That Plague the Workplace

    Myths about how to best do email abound. Some are explicitly stated and drummed into your head, and some are the unspoken expectations of the modern corporate world. To succeed at tackling the big email time sink and making email woes a thing of your past, you need to acknowledge these myths for what they are, and implement a system that works.

    Systems need good foundations in order to work, and when an effective email management system fails, it’s usually because the user couldn’t separate these myths from their approach.

    1. Good organization is the best way to stay on top of email.

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    It’s not. Turning emails into actions and archiving everything else is the best way to stay on top of email. Organizing each message into a different folder might be handy for other reasons, such as digging out a paper trail for your lawyer when you get sued, but it’s not handy for “staying on top of” email. There is no correlation between the folder your message is in (unless we’re talking about the inbox) and your level of email efficiency.

    2. You need to reply to every message.

    Some messages simply don’t need a reply. You should only reply if you have something valuable to add to the communication. Sure, you might feel the sting of guilt as you get used to this concept and stop replying to every message you get, but if you want to reclaim your time, it’s an adjustment you must make.

    If there are people you communicate with regularly who expect a reply even when you have nothing to add, you need to educate them rather than succumb to their demands. The biggest problem with email productivity is that people simply won’t put up a little resistance to those who don’t know how to use email effectively.

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    3. You need to reply to every message… as soon as you receive it.

    Worse than myth number two is the myth that you should reply to every message the second you get it. Nothing is accomplished by this. There are always exceptions to every rule—if you work in a newsroom, waiting an hour for information is like waiting a week—but they probably don’t apply to you. Don’t find excuses to reply to every message every minute of the day; just say no.

    Replying to every message you receive is a time sink. Replying to every message as soon as you receive it is sheer irresponsibility—ironically, many people do this to create the illusion of productivity and responsibility.

    4. Emails should be about (insert number) words.

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    The appropriate length for an email is dependent on what the email is about and how much the recipient already knows about the topic, and how much they need to know about the topic in order to act on it. If it doesn’t need to be more than a sentence, never make it more than a sentence. If the email is incomplete in three or four paragraphs, keep writing until the email is complete, but make every word count and edit like crazy before you hit send.

    Part of maintaining good email productivity is maintaining good email etiquette; you could call it the “email karma” rule.

    5. Email is a beast that can’t be tamed.

    Sure it can be. The technology is never the problem; the people using it are. The question is: are you the problem person, or is it the people sending you email? Either way, there are solutions you can implement, whether they involve changing the way you think about and use email or putting up obstacles between yourself and your contacts. Auto responders are one such obstacle that will educate those who are sending you unhelpful email.

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    6. There’s no way to get off that pesky mailing list!

    Of course there is; it’s just a matter of how far you’re willing to take the matter. Spam is illegal, remember, and if it’s truly a mailing list and not just spam from Russia, there’s a way to get your name removed (even if you have to scare the bejeezus out of them with lawyers). It may just take some time and energy. If it’s going to take you more than two minutes, you should simply set up a filter so that you never see messages from that address. If you’re looking for more time in your day, why take the hard route?

    7. Prioritization is a good email productivity tool.

    Prioritization is a good task management tool. If you feel like attaching a priority to an email you’ve received, it’s a good sign that you need to turn that message into an action. On the flip side, sending an email marked as high priority using the prioritization features of your email client has an equally dubious level of usefulness. Not only is there a good chance that the priority level won’t be displayed in the recipient’s email client, it’s a matter of good email etiquette to leave the priority of a given email up to the recipient and let them fit it into the context of their day.

    Email was never designed to help you communicate during an emergency. If there’s an emergency that truly does require immediate attention, pick up the phone or Skype.

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    Joel Falconer

    Editor, content marketer, product manager and writer with 12+ years of experience in the startup, design and tech digital media industries.

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    Last Updated on September 18, 2019

    How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    Note-taking is one of those skills that rarely gets taught. Almost everyone assumes either that taking good notes comes naturally or, that someone else must have already taught about how to take notes. Then, we sit around and complain that our colleagues don’t know how to take notes.

    I figure it’s about time to do something about that. Whether you’re a student or a mid-level professional, the ability to take effective, meaningful notes is a crucial skill. Not only do good notes help us recall facts and ideas we may have forgotten, the act of writing things down helps many of us to remember them better in the first place.

    One of the reasons people have trouble taking effective notes is that they’re not really sure what notes are for. I think a lot of people, students and professionals alike, attempt to capture a complete record of a lecture, book, or meeting in their notes — to create, in effect, minutes. This is a recipe for failure.

    Trying to get every last fact and figure down like that leaves no room for thinking about what you’re writing and how it fits together. If you have a personal assistant, by all means, ask him or her to write minutes; if you’re on your own, though, your notes have a different purpose to fulfill.

    The purpose of note-taking is simple: to help you work better and more quickly. This means your notes don’t have to contain everything, they have to contain the most important things.

    And if you’re focused on capturing everything, you won’t have the spare mental “cycles” to recognize what’s truly important. Which means that later, when you’re studying for a big test or preparing a term paper, you’ll have to wade through all that extra garbage to uncover the few nuggets of important information?

    What to Write Down

    Your focus while taking notes should be two-fold. First, what’s new to you? There’s no point in writing down facts you already know. If you already know the Declaration of Independence was written and signed in 1776, there’s no reason to write that down. Anything you know you know, you can leave out of your notes.

    Second, what’s relevant? What information is most likely to be of use later, whether on a test, in an essay, or in completing a project? Focus on points that directly relate to or illustrate your reading (which means you’ll have to have actually done the reading…). The kinds of information to pay special attention to are:

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    Dates of Events

    Dates allow you to create a chronology, putting things in order according to when they happened, and understand the context of an event.

    For instance, knowing Isaac Newton was born in 1643 allows you to situate his work in relation to that of other physicists who came before and after him, as well as in relation to other trends of the 17th century.

    Names of People

    Being able to associate names with key ideas also helps remember ideas better and, when names come up again, to recognize ties between different ideas whether proposed by the same individuals or by people related in some way.

    Theories or Frameworks

    Any statement of a theory or frameworks should be recorded — they are the main points most of the time.

    Definitions

    Like theories, these are the main points and, unless you are positive you already know the definition of a term, should be written down.

    Keep in mind that many fields use everyday words in ways that are unfamiliar to us.

    Arguments and Debates

    Any list of pros and cons, any critique of a key idea, both sides of any debate or your reading should be recorded.

    This is the stuff that advancement in every discipline emerges from, and will help you understand both how ideas have changed (and why) but also the process of thought and development of the matter of subject.

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    Images

    Whenever an image is used to illustrate a point, a few words are in order to record the experience.

    Obviously it’s overkill to describe every tiny detail, but a short description of a painting or a short statement about what the class, session or meeting did should be enough to remind you and help reconstruct the experience.

    Other Stuff

    Just about anything a professor writes on a board should probably be written down, unless it’s either self-evident or something you already know. Titles of books, movies, TV series, and other media are usually useful, though they may be irrelevant to the topic at hand.

    I usually put this sort of stuff in the margin to look up later (it’s often useful for research papers, for example). Pay attention to other’s comments, too — try to capture at least the gist of comments that add to your understanding.

    Your Own Questions

    Make sure to record your own questions about the material as they occur to you. This will help you remember to ask the professor or look something up later, as well as prompt you to think through the gaps in your understanding.

    3 Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    You don’t have to be super-fancy in your note-taking to be effective, but there are a few techniques that seem to work best for most people.

    1. Outlining

    Whether you use Roman numerals or bullet points, outlining is an effective way to capture the hierarchical relationships between ideas and data. For example, in a history class, you might write the name of an important leader, and under it the key events that he or she was involved in. Under each of them, a short description. And so on.

    Outlining is a great way to take notes from books, because the author has usually organized the material in a fairly effective way, and you can go from start to end of a chapter and simply reproduce that structure in your notes.

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    For lectures, however, outlining has limitations. The relationship between ideas isn’t always hierarchical, and the instructor might jump around a lot. A point later in the lecture might relate better to information earlier in the lecture, leaving you to either flip back and forth to find where the information goes best (and hope there’s still room to write it in), or risk losing the relationship between what the professor just said and what she said before.

    2. Mind-Mapping

    For lectures, a mind-map might be a more appropriate way of keeping track of the relationships between ideas. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of mind-mapping, but it might just fit the bill.

    Here’s the idea:

    In the center of a blank sheet of paper, you write the lecture’s main topic. As new sub-topics are introduced (the kind of thing you’d create a new heading for in an outline), you draw a branch outward from the center and write the sub-topic along the branch. Then each point under that heading gets its own, smaller branch off the main one. When another new sub-topic is mentioned, you draw a new main branch from the center. And so on.

    The thing is, if a point should go under the first heading but you’re on the fourth heading, you can easily just draw it in on the first branch. Likewise, if a point connects to two different ideas, you can connect it to two different branches.

    If you want to neaten things up later, you can re-draw the map or type it up using a program like FreeMind, a free mind-mapping program (some wikis even have plug-ins for FreeMind mind-maps, in case you’re using a wiki to keep track of your notes).

    You can learn more about mind-mapping here: How to Mind Map: Visualize Your Cluttered Thoughts in 3 Simple Steps

    3. The Cornell System

    The Cornell System is a simple but powerful system for increasing your recall and the usefulness of your notes.

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    About a quarter of the way from the bottom of a sheet of paper, draw a line across the width of the page. Draw another line from that line to the top, about 2 inches (5 cm) from the right-hand edge of the sheet.

    You’ve divided your page into three sections. In the largest section, you take notes normally — you can outline or mind-map or whatever. After the lecture, write a series of “cues” into the skinny column on the right, questions about the material you’ve just taken notes on. This will help you process the information from the lecture or reading, as well as providing a handy study tool when exams come along: simply cover the main section and try to answer the questions.

    In the bottom section, you write a short, 2-3 line summary in your own words of the material you’ve covered. Again, this helps you process the information by forcing you to use it in a new way; it also provides a useful reference when you’re trying to find something in your notes later.

    You can download instructions and templates from American Digest, though the beauty of the system is you can dash off a template “on the fly”.

    The Bottom Line

    I’m sure I’m only scratching the surface of the variety of techniques and strategies people have come up with to take good notes. Some people use highlighters or colored pens; others a baroque system of post-it notes.

    I’ve tried to keep it simple and general, but the bottom line is that your system has to reflect the way you think. The problem is, most haven’t given much thought to the way they think, leaving them scattered and at loose ends — and their notes reflect this.

    More About Note-Taking

    Featured photo credit: Kaleidico via unsplash.com

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