Four Small But Mighty Changes That Will De-Stress Your Email Life

 

“I don’t understand why we send people the information they need and they don’t read their email!”

My frustrated friend was lamenting how people don’t READ their email, causing more inefficiency.

I told him that maybe it’s because when people need information, they feel the quickest thing to do is ask again instead of digging through an over-filled in-box to find it.

I’m not excusing that behavior–I’d done something similar a day before. I was confirming a meeting and could not find the street address for it. So I stopped digging and asked the person again to confirm the location.  

But I can understand my friend’s frustration. It interrupted his morning,when if his colleagues would keep up with their messages, everyone could go about their work more easily.

So how can we, as a professional society, change this?  Here are some thoughts:

Change our attitude.  Many professionals live with the opinion that email is the enemy. I have news for you. It’s not. It’s just a means of communication no different than phone calls, texts, or social media posts. Whether you like it or not, much of your business takes place in email and will be negatively affected if you don’t respond. It’s not a separate task from your work. Get over it and find a system customized to you.

Keep up with your email. Find a system that works for you. Perhaps you won’t be able to practice “Inbox Zero” but you can still keep up with the important things. (My course, Forget Inbox Zero: Be an Inbox HERO goes deeper.)

File the important items in a logical place. The address I needed? I could have attached it to the calendar appointment. Waiting to hear back this week? Have a “briefly hold” folder in your email system (don’t let it pile up!)

Set up rules.  Filter messages from vital connections so they are saved in folders or marked with a different color. Auto-direct emails related to a certain task to their own folder.

These small but mighty changes can help you handle email with much more efficiency and prevent people from getting frustrated with lack of information or response. Be a pro–give it a go!

Five Ways You are Making Your Work Harder than It Has to Be

Are you overwhelming yourself?

“I’m so busy.”

“I’m overwhelmed.”

“There’s too much to do.”

Do you ever say that? Feel that? I do.

But sometimes, we’re our own worst enemy.

We can be the blame for our own overwhelm. Here are a few ways we sabotage ourselves, which fall into four categories of  stress and opportunity, a line of thinking I’ve been considering lately.

H – Habits
O – Organization
P – People Skills
E – Email

  1. We don’t keep up with email. By not using the ADD method (act on, delegate, or delete) on a regular basis, we create a stagnant puddle of information that zaps a little bit of energy every time we look at it. (Email) 
  2. We pack too much into a time period. I’m guilty of this. I THINK I know what I should be able to get done in a day, but don’t leave adequate breathing space to think, deal with interruptions, or account for technology issues. (Organization) 
  3. We make relationships difficult.  I like to say, “We don’t have time to be difficult people.” (Notice I didn’t say “be around” difficult people.) We can easily create energy zapping drama by misconstruing a colleagues words, being too sensitive to other’s tones, or snapping at those getting in the way of our agenda.  This can lead to relational issues that take a lot of  time to figure out, and may even draw from the energy of other co-workers or bosses that have to step in to get the parties on the same page again. (People skills) 
  4. We don’t practice adequate self-care. You can’t pour from an empty pitcher. We need regular rhythms of rest and self-care to be our best for our work. But we cut corners on exercise, nutrition, and rest. Then we wonder why we feel grumpy or fatigued.  (Habits) 
  5. We don’t utilize good systems. We react to the tasks that come our way based on the urgency of the moment, rather than having an effective system in place to capture the task and assign it a time. I’m working on this myself–responding, not reacting. As an administrative professional, I tend to try to get everything done quickly, because it’s my job to take care of those details. But I can only take care of so many details in a period of time. It’s better to have a system to capture the tasks and plan a proper time to deal with them. (Habits, Organization)

So the next time you say, “I’m overwhelmed” ask yourself, “Am I overwhelming myself?” You may not like the answer, but honest consideration will help you make some changes.

*****

 

One potential solution to overwhelm is to get some assistance. Our unique model of a virtual service collective puts a team at your disposal without the headaches of managing one, and the freedom to use us on a sporadic or minimal basis. Because of these flexible models, you can retain an assistant even if you don’t own your own business. Click here for more details.

How to Use Canned Email Replies Effectively

How often do you send the same email response repeatedly?

Perhaps it’s to answer to a question about your products or services.

Or there are people who want to guest post on your blog.

You regularly set up appointments and meetings,

Or you initiate a process (such as an intake form for clients.)

Sound familiar? Then you may need some email templates or as Google calls them, “canned responses.”

Canned responses can save you and your team a lot of time, while still serving those interested in your business. But they must be used with wisdom to be effective. Here are five tips to keep in mind when using canned responses:

Write the initial template thoughtfully.

Write and edit (and edit again) so that the tone comes across the way you wish, and not like a robot. Make sure the information to be conveyed is covered and if applicable, approved by your manager.

Don’t be over-dramatic

While you want to convey information in a warm way, going overboard with flowery language can come across as fake.

Personalize when you can.

Use the canned response as a base to also add something personal, like the person’s name, or a reply to something specific they’ve mentioned that may not be covered in the main body of the template.

Edit as needed.

In correlation with the above, remember to edit the template if there is information that doesn’t apply to the situation.

Review templates regularly.

As your business changes and grows, it’s likely your templates will need to be updated from time to time. Make it a regular task to review and update them so that they don’t become stale or inaccurate.

You can use templates and canned responses effectively if you remember that people don’t want to hear from robots even though they are interested in information.

Need to develop some canned responses? Our team can help you out! Contact me for details. 

Don’t Say That! Say This.

See no evil

Sometimes the wrong thing comes out of your mouth.

Some time ago in a business office setting, I was asked a question to which I responded:

“I was never told how to do that.”

The then-coworker replied:

“Remember those instructions from about three weeks ago?”

Me (sheepishly) “Oh, yes. I’m sorry. I totally forgot to apply those instructions. I should have said, ‘I don’t remember.’ “

This situation taught me a lesson.

It’s easy to become defensive if we’ve made a mistake at work, and immediately claim that we were never told we were responsible for a task, or told how to do it. It’s quite possible we weren’t, but somewhere in all the dialogs at work, we very well may have been informed. In other words…gasp…we could be WRONG.

This got me to thinking about things we can say in certain situations that would be more professional than other responses. Here are a few I thought of:

Instead of “I was never told to do that.”
Say, “I’m sorry. I’m don’t recall this. Can you refresh me?”

Instead of, “It’s not my job.”
Say, “I’m not familiar with that responsibility but I’m willing to learn.”

Instead of, “I don’t have time for that.”
Say, “This is not a good time for me to give that the attention it deserves.”

Instead of, “I can’t afford to go to lunch.”
Say, “Thank you, but that’s not going to work for me today.”

Instead of, “She’s really in a mood today,”
Say, “I wonder what I can do to help/bless her today?”

Instead of, “You all need to quiet down.”
Say, “Shut up!”

(Kidding!)

What other “not this, but that” statements can you come up with?

The One Practice that Will Make You Stand Out Among Professionals

“This guy often neglects to answer his email. Once, he told me he deletes anything older than two weeks old.”

These were the words of friend lamenting the communication he has to have with a colleague.

Deleting anything more than two weeks old may sound efficient (after all, who wants an overflowing in-box?) But NOT when you haven’t ANSWERED the emails! (As you might expect, my friend’s workflow was hampered due to the lack of response from his colleague.)

One of the key marks of an outstanding professional as compared to a mediocre one is the level of responsiveness.  It is amazing that with all the tools we have to stay in touch, there are so many people and businesses that do a poor job of answering questions, getting back to customers, or following up on leads.

Granted, each of us has a different level of expectation on ourselves and others, and some expect too much. However, there are steps you can take to develop a reasonable, courteous approach to responding to others, and start standing out from the crowd.

Consider your role.  Depending on the type of industry with which you are involved, your reasonable level of responsiveness may be different than someone else’s. For example, with my work being heavily focused on administration and Virtual Assistance related, I tend to monitor email throughout the day because it’s part of the job. For several of my clients though, it’s better that they check email at scheduled times.

Determine a reasonable level of responsiveness.  Some people answer emails, text messages and calls, immediately, while others never seem to answer them at all. Both responses are extreme. In most cases, answering a business email or call within 24-48 business hours is a helpful guide–(perhaps faster if texting.) If a colleague needs timely information in to move along in their work, then respond as soon as possible.

Share your approach to responsiveness with others.  I have a client that informs others that she checks email at _____ and _______ each day. That’s helpful for the people who interact with her.

I also remember many years ago being advised to communicate with people in a way that best matches what they would respond to (i.e. sending an email over putting something in their mailbox.) At the time, I thought people should grow up and check the places where they receive information, and not expect special treatment, but I’ve softened on this. You can communicate more effectively when you know where people tend to look at first so there’s wisdom in letting people know your pattern as well. (Hint, for me, it’s email.)

Respond for your own good! Responsiveness is a make-or-break characteristic. Have you ever booked a service with a different company because the first company you called didn’t respond? How much business is lost by simply not being available and following up on leads?

These days, simply being available and not making people wait an unreasonable amount of time can make you stand out from the crowd of other overwhelmed professionals. Make it a priority, come up with a good system, and implement it regularly. You’ll find that people will enjoy working with you, recommend you, and possibly seek you out!

How to Write a Meaningful Thank You Note

A simple method for a deeper impact

Thank you note

When is the last time you received a sincere thank-you note (electronic or written)?

I’m not talking about the quick “thank you” many of us add to the bottom of our emails, or the one sentence text (meaningful though it might have been.) I’m talking about a warm, inspiring note that caused you to pause and almost want to thank the writer for making your day.

Quality thank you notes are a lost art. We are living in a day of quick communication when people are juggling so many details in their heads that they may simply forget to write a thank you note for a gift, experience or favor. But it’s not as hard as you think. Here is an effective three-part formula to help you write the type of thank you message that will have the recipient thanking YOU.

The “You-Me-You” method goes like this:

YOU – point out the actual gift or thoughtful gesture you experienced because of someone else. It could be a tangible item, a service provided, or their presence at an event.

ME – write a brief acknowledgement of how you were affected by the gesture, how it made you feel, and the difference it made in your life (i.e. what memory it will bring up.)

YOU– compliment something specific about the person that is not necessarily related to the gift they gave you.

Now let’s practice. Let’s say Sally took Brianna to lunch for her birthday, and also gave her a cute necklace in acknowledgement of the special day.

Brianna could use the You-Me-You method in this way:

Sally,

Thank you for taking time to take me to lunch for my birthday. I really enjoyed spending time with you at a favorite restaurant, and the cute necklace was a nice surprise. When I wear it, I will fondly think of you and our friendship, and how much we laughed!

I am grateful for you. You may not be aware of this, but your cheerful spirit uplifts me and I frequently gain wisdom from our discussions. I am blessed to have you as part of my life.

Warmly, Brianna

Another tip: be careful in using superlative or trite words in a note. This can come across as over-flattering, insincere or cliche. Sally could have added words such as “always uplifts me” or “phenomenal necklace” but it might have sounded forced. Just be warm and honest without embellishing.

Now, how does that compare with:

Sally,

Thanks for taking me to lunch and giving me a necklace for my birthday. I really appreciate it.

Brianna

While any thank you is nicer than none, do you see how enriching the first note is compared to the second, without being much longer or time intensive? Which would you rather receive?

HOPE Unlimited is here to help you improve your communication skills. Want to talk over a specific issue? Sign up for a “Coffee with Beth” appointment to discuss it.

Question: What’s the best thank-you note you ever received?

Photo source.

Conversations Over Coffee

Introducing a new service to the HOPE family

coffee shopIt’s not coaching. It’s not consulting. It’s a conversation.

All that’s missing–is you!

Do you need someone to bounce ideas off of? Are you curious about what it means to be a virtual assistant? Do you want to create a better professional workflow and enjoy a less overwhelmed life? Do you need to vent about some issues you need to handle at work?

I can help!

Nearly 30 years of administrative, management and entrepreneurial experience, writing, speaking and a reputation for creativity and responsiveness position me to be an engaging and practical friend to overwhelmed professionals and entrepreneurs.

I can objectively consider your areas of frustration either as an individual professional or in the larger context of your workplace. I’m very familiar with personality styles, time management approaches, communication skills and office/operations management and am constantly learning how to manage my own professional and personal life in a more effective way, so always have ideas to share.

But I’m not a coach, nor a consultant. I don’t offer official credentials or extensive packages for coaching/consulting. However, I do have expertise and creative ideas to offer–the types of things that would be a great discussion over coffee to help you work through your questions and curiosities. And sometimes, those casual conversations are fantastic for “light-bulb” moments and that one suggestion that makes all the difference.

So, I offer “Conversations over Coffee” for overwhelmed professionals, on a variety of topics. For example:

  • What’s it mean to start and run a virtual assistance business?
  • How can I better manage my email?
  • What tools and technology might be good for me?
  • How can I better get along with my business partner?
  • How do you run your bookkeeping for your small business?
  • How can I handle difficult clients?
  • What steps should I take to make the transition out of employment into entrepreneurship?
  • Should I start blogging?
  • How can I live out my faith and values in my workplace?
  • I’d like to share what I’m learning out of my professional development reading.

These are just a few of the topics that we can discuss.

How Does it Work?

Conversations Over Coffee are held via Zoom video conferencing, a free and reliable service, or via phone call if that is more comfortable for you.

You can book a one-hour* conversation session for $50.00.  If this interests you, please contact me to request a time, and I will get in touch with you about scheduling a session. I will then invoice you and once payment is received, the session will be formally booked.

A few other things you should know:

  • Coffee Conversations are designed for those who want to talk directly with me for a focused session on professional topics of your choice. For those seriously interested in ongoing Virtual Assisting packages, I offer a free 30-minute consultation specifically about virtual assisting to determine if our team would be a fit for your needs. These two opportunities are unique and not interchangeable.
  • *A Conversation Over Coffee session is considered to be any amount of time up to, and capped at, 60 minutes.
  • Every attempt will be made to book the COC in a timely way in accordance to when payment is received.
  • This is a non-refundable service.
  • The coffee is symbolic, though I may very well have a mug of it while on the call with you and hope you will too (unless you like tea!)

To expedite a booking, you can use this button to pre-pay.

One Hour Coffee Conversation


 

 

coffee laptop