When Email Makes More Enemies Than Friends

Recently, I received an email from a colleague who had not taken the time to write the email properly. I responded by explaining that I was confused and needed clarity. I didn’t hear back from him for more than a week. When he finally did respond, he gave a quip and unhelpful response without answering my questions or explaining anything further. I could only surmise that he was in a hurry and didn’t really read through his email to me or my response to him.

Had we been sitting in the room together discussing the issue, this would never have happened. He would have been a lot more focused on me and how he was presenting himself. 

As pastors and leaders, it is important we pay attention to WHAT we communicate via email as well as HOW we communicate it. I have made it a habit to follow these four email best practices. I recommend you give them a try.

Four Steps to Communicate Kindly in Email

1. Reread the email before you hit ‘Send’.

It’s super easy to do, and well worth the time. Just read it one more time. Eight times out of ten I bet you’ll find something that wasn’t clear and tweak it. You will never regret taking the extra time to reread an email before clicking ‘Send’, but you will sometimes regret when you didn’t. You can’t ‘take back’ an email!

2. Keep it to one topic.

I’ve discovered that people (myself included) are often guilty of just skimming an email before replying. If I try to address 2 or 3 issues in the same email, sometimes the reader will only respond to the first issue, leaving me hanging for the rest. Try to keep emails to one topic at a time – and include the topic in the subject line. If you have three separate things to say to someone, send them three different emails. It might seem a little weird and redundant – but it works!

3. Respond within 24 hours.

Waiting two, three or more days to respond to a legitimate email is the equivalent of ignoring someone while they are talking to you. It creates unnecessary drama and for some people it is quite offensive. Responding to the multitude of emails you receive each day can be daunting. If you know you can’t properly get back to someone right away, try replying with a very short note saying something like, “I’d love to get back to you on this, but can it wait until next week?” Bottom line, don’t leave people hanging!

4. End with a genuine sign-off.

We are all familiar with the typical boiler-plate sign-offs included in email signatures, like, “Sincerely,” or “Thanks.” Although this is common, it is also fairly impersonal. An extra 10 seconds for every email can turn your detached and sometimes inappropriate sign-off into a friendly one. I don’t say, “Sincerely,” to my wife, but I might for a formal letter to a company. For many of my friends and colleagues, I often close with “Be Blessed!” or “Blessings!” Sometimes, the most appropriate email sign-off is, “Thanks so much!”, “I really appreciate it.”, “Great job” or even, “Have a fabulous day!” Whatever it is, why not make it unique for every email? It will set a positive and authentic tone to the end of your conversation. Another idea: include the person’s name as well, “Have a great day Tim!”

What other email habits would you add to this list?



Bonus: Check out this infographic with more email tips at the bottom!

mbti_sendmail_infographic

Teach Yourself to Smile

[This post is also available at www.guestfriendly.org.]

That’s right. I said, ‘Teach Yourself’. Just because you have a face and positive emotions doesn’t mean you have a good smile. Don’t believe me? Check out my post, “The Problem With Your Face!” When I realized that my habitual smile looked more like a scowl than anything else I realized I needed to fix it. Here are a few steps I recommend to get you started:

STEP 1: EVALUATE YOUR ‘REAL’ SMILE.

First, it’s important for you to get a good, solid evaluation of your smile. I’m not talking about the pasted smile you put on when you are taking a picture. I’m talking about the smile you use every day at home, work, in the store, etc. You’ll need input from more than yourself too. This will require a good dose of humility on your part.

Here are a few suggestions:

  • Look in the Mirror
    As long as you aren’t embarrassed being with yourself too much, this one is really easy. The next time you are alone in the bathroom spend some time smiling at yourself. The best way to do this is to just ‘pretend’ you are in different scenario’s and smile like you would at those times. While doing this, ask yourself, “Is this what I want people to see?” The first time I did this I became very frustrated. I found that I didn’t really know how to smile except when I was getting my picture taken or was laughing. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what to do with my facial muscles and worked on retraining them.

    But don’t stop there. Just because YOU like your smile doesn’t mean others do!
     

  • Ask Someone You Trust
    This means you have to admit that you might have a problem and need help. I know enough about us leaders that this one hurdle may be bigger than the smile itself. Assuming you can get over whatever pride you may be carrying, find someone you trust to give honest feedback. You’re not looking for someone who is afraid to hurt your feelings. That’s totally counter-productive. Find someone who will honestly evaluate your natural smile and ask them their opinion and thoughts. Then, as they give you feedback, just listen, ask clarifying questions and resist the impulse to defend yourself if the evaluation you receive is less than you expected.
     
  • Ask a Stranger
    OK. Maybe that’s going a little too far. You’ll have to decide. But consider this, your most trusted friends are used to seeing your face every week. It’s possible they will not be capable of giving you an objective opinion. So ask a stranger. Next time you are sitting in a waiting room or standing in a line, humble yourself and ask the person next to you for some feedback. You might start by simply smiling at the person before saying something like this: “Excuse me. I know this might sound really weird, but I am a public speaker and recently I’ve been wondering what kinds of first impressions I make when I smile. If it doesn’t make you too uncomfortable, could you just rate your impression of my smile just a moment ago as well as right now while I’m talking on a scale of 1 to 5 with 1 being that I seem really mean and 5 being that I seem very friendly and approachable? Again, just let me know if you’d rather not. I know it’s a very strange request.”
     
  • Ask a New Acquaintance
    Finally, you can ask someone you have recently become acquainted with. Perhaps it’s a pastor or leader from another church, a new attendee in your church, or a next door neighbor. You could use a similar approach as above and solicit their feedback.
     

STEP 2: DEFINE YOUR NEW SMILE

Next, you need to begin working on your new smile (assuming you need to). This isn’t something you will accomplish in one sitting. It will likely require a concerted effort on your part over a period of days, even weeks before you find the smile you are really looking for. Here are more suggestions:

  • Focus on Your Muscles
    Ask yourself what muscles you are using when you are truly smiling. There are over 50 muscles in your face. It’s highly likely that there are some that you almost never use and don’t even know are there. In fact, a good 20 minutes of ‘smiling’ could leave your facial muscles feeling sore. That’s a good thing. Find and consciously discover the new muscles you are using. You’ll need that knowledge later when you want to smile but don’t have a mirror in front of you to make sure you’re doing it right!

    A lot of research has shown that great smiles use the orbicularis oculi muscle. This is the muscle that surrounds your eyes. Good smiles will produce a slight squint in your eyes that help transform the smile from a ‘fake’ smile to a genuine one – sometimes called ‘laugh lines’. 
     
  • Ask Yourself How Your Face Feels
    This sounds weird but it works for me. I’ve discovered that when I’m smiling properly my cheeks touch the bottoms of my glasses and I can feel a different kind of pressure on the edges of my mouth. Again, that’s great knowledge to have when I’m out and about. About the only time I can genuinely ensure I’m smiling while talking to people is during a Skype call where I can see myself at the same time as the person I’m addressing. Since you and I don’t live on Skype we need some ‘help’ making sure we’re getting it right.
     
  • Get More Feedback
    You’ve developed a new smile and you like it. So you begin turning on the charm everywhere you go . . . and people start running. What gives? Try going back to Step 1 and get more input. For all you know, your new ‘smile’ still says things you never intended (and never said before). The last thing you want is for your first impression to be, “I’ve lost my marbles and hope you know where they are!”
     

STEP 3: PRACTICE

You spent most of your adult life perfecting that grumpy look. I guarantee you won’t ‘fix’ it in just a couple of weeks or even months. They say it takes 21 days to build a new habit, but in this case I suspect we’re talking more like 6 months. Practice, practice, practice. Check out your smile in front of the mirror often. Look it over every day. Until you know you are representing the ‘real you’ stay on your guard whenever you respond with a smile.

 

Don’t Hit ‘Send’ When It’s Personal

dont-hit-send

I made a leadership mistake last week. I sent an email prematurely. I actually remember pretty vividly having my finger over the ‘Send’ button on my Kindle. I paused a minute and the thought flitted through my mind, “Should I really send this email?”; then I pushed it aside and hit ‘Send’.

It felt good too. I was able to communicate my frustration and disappointment about something someone did that I disagreed with. I set them straight. Told it like it was. That sort of thing. 

It’s not that sending the email, in and of itself, was wrong – and being a writer, it’s not that it wasn’t written well. In fact, in other scenarios I could probably have written something very similar to what I wrote and it would have been totally appropriate. In this case, I messed up. Why?

I shouldn’t have done it because it was personal.

It’s Leadership 101, but it’s also easier said than done. When you’re reacting (via email) to something someone has done or said that is personal, don’t hit ‘Send’ on that email. At least, don’t hit it right away. In my case, I realized after the fact that I was rude and defensive. Ugh.

I’ve often quoted Ambrose Bierce who once said, “Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret.” This is even more true in emails. Once you hit ‘Send’ it’s gone for good and there’s no taking it back. The problem for many of us leaders is, we don’t always know when we’re angry. We confuse anger with our desire to ‘fix’ or ‘help’ others. That’s what I did.

Here are a few pointers I was reminded of while backpedaling and revisiting this experience.

When you should wait to hit ‘Send’.

  • If it hurts you.
    If it hurt you, in any way, you should wait. None of us are immune to pain, and none of us are at our best when dealing with pain. That means we’re probably not saying what we really should say, if we should say anything at all.
  • If you’re mad.
    Similarly, when you are in a state of anger, your brain is quite naturally on the defense. Whatever you communicate in your email (or verbally for that matter) will very likely be defensive. People, in general respond to defensive behavior from others by defending themselves. Now everybody has got their dukes up. Not helpful.
  • If it hurts them.
    It goes without saying that, as leaders and believers, we are above hurting others. It’s the antithesis of what it means to be a Christ-follower and following His great command to love others.
  • If you don’t know them.
    If you have never met, or spoken with, the other party, you need to pause when sending that email. As leaders, we have a certain degree of ‘permission’ to influence and correct those who have given us permission to do so. But if you’re trying to correct someone else on their words or behaviors, and they haven’t given you permission to do so, you’re very likely overstepping your bounds.
  • If it’s long.
    Some of us can be real wordy and get preachy in our emails. Uh, like me at times. If it’s a corrective email and it’s really long, forget it. Don’t hit send. Pick up the phone or schedule a meeting instead.
  • If it’s a big deal.
    If the content of the email is a big deal to someone – either you or them – you need to pause over the ‘Send’ button. The likelihood is real high that if what’s being discussed in the email has a personal bearing on either party or is potentially wrought with emotion, it shouldn’t be said over email.
  • If it’s complicated.
    By complicated, I’m not referring to the issue, I’m referring to the relationship. If the relationship has a history of confusion, misunderstandings, hurt feelings, etc. it’s not really good to do a lot of email communication – at least regarding personal issues.

What to do while you wait.

  • Pray.
    There’s nothing better than asking the All-Knowing God for wisdom and discernment. It goes without saying that He can and likely will shed light on how you should respond and if you should send that email.
  • Get A Second Opinion.
    I’m not talking about counselling. I’m just talking about another opinion, preferably from someone you trust and shares the same values you do about loving others in leadership.
  • Wait.
    This seems redundant to say, but I’m going to say it anyway. Wait for a while. I’m not talking about waiting for an hour or a couple of hours. Usually, it’s good to wait 2 or 3 days minimum. Give yourself time to get some perspective and cool down, if necessary. I wouldn’t be surprised if 3/4 of those emails never get sent simply because you waited long enough to realize it’s not worth it.
  • Ask For Time & To Talk Live
    Sometimes it’s not appropriate to leave people hanging. So ask for permission to wait a while, and maybe meet to talk it out live. Keep it down to about 4 sentences that might sound something like this: “I’m going to need some time to think this through first and I’m wondering if email is, perhaps, not the best means of communication for us to use on this topic. Is it possible we could schedule a time to meet over coffee, on Skype or over the phone later this week?”
  • Send A Different Email
    Once you’ve exhausted the above ideas, you may discover that starting from scratch and sending another email will work just fine. Now that you’ve had time to clear your head, you can keep the communication simple and leave out the defensive tone that was in your first email.
  • Drop It
    Sometimes the right thing to do is to just drop it. There are many reasons why this may be the best solution. It could be that the issue is relatively small in the bigger picture and not worth making a big deal about. Often, we may realize that the person wasn’t trying to be mean or hurtful, and we can just let it go. Sometimes it’s plain that there are much bigger issues connected with the situation that should really be addressed before this issue can properly be dealt with. 

What to do if you hit ‘Send’ prematurely.

I think there’s really only one thing to do when you realize you’ve said things that were best left unsaid. Find a way to apologize and ask for forgiveness. This means you:

  • Humbly confess what you did.
    “I sent that email when I was still processing what was said, and I wasn’t really thinking straight.”
  • Acknowledge what you said that was inappropriate.
    “I said some things in that email that were inappropriate, defensive and disrespectful.” 
  • Sometimes you might even point out specific things said as well.
    “…like when I told you ‘That was stupid.'”
  • Ask for forgiveness.
    Would you be willing to forgive me for my hasty words and bad attitude?

And of course, when you are asking forgiveness of the other party, it’s usually not wise to begin defending or explaining yourself – and certainly you shouldn’t start expounding on what the other person(s) did wrong. That should be left for another time.

Check out my other posts regarding confrontation. I particularly recommend: “Four Steps in Healthy Confrontations

How to use Skype for Online Meetings

Skype LogoSkype recently announced that we can now make group calls for free. This is a big deal to those of us who are Skype users – or perhaps Skype wannabe users. We can already do group video chats with Google+, but with Skype Group Calls, we now have a choice over which online meeting platform we want to use. Since I’m a regular Skype user, I thought I’d share a few steps you can take to setup Skype on your computer for the first time and use it for 1 on 1 or group calls.

Simply follow through these steps, in order, and you should be all set! If you have problems, check out the help section on the Skype website. Note: I recommend you also check out my post entitled, ‘Skype Tips’ right here.

1. Does your computer already have Skype installed?

YESNO

Go to the next step.

Follow these instructions:

  • Browse to the following website: www.skype.com.
  • Click ‘Get Skype’ or download Skype from the downloads page.
  • Install Skype by running the installation program from your computer – follow the prompts to install.
    • I don’t recommend you set Skype to run when windows starts.
    • I also don’t recommend you install ‘Skype Click to Call’ unless you know what that is and intend to use it.
    • Uncheck options to install other programs or change your defaults (like making Bing your search engine.)
  • Finish the Skype installation process.
  • Go to the next step.

2. Open Skype.

3. Do you already have a Skype account?

YESNO

Login to your Skype account and go to the next step. If you lost your login information, select the link ‘Can’t access your account?’

Follow these instructions:

  • Select the ‘Create an Account’ link/button on the Skype welcome screen. This will take you to the Skype website where you can create your account.
  • Follow the steps to create an account. If you already have a Google or Facebook account then you can quickly create an account by using your existing accounts with them.
  • Once your account is setup, login to your Skype account and go to the next step.

4. Check for the latest version of Skype.

It’s always best to run the latest version of Skype to ensure everyone has the best possible experience. To quickly check for the latest version, browse to ‘Help/Check for Updates’ from the Skype menu.

5. Test audio & video settings.

  • Browse to Tools/Options in your Skype menu.
  • Select Audio settings.
  • Ensure your preferred microphone is selected in the Microphone option near the top of the screen. 
    (Note: I recommend you purchase a standalone webcam rather than use a built-in webcam that comes with your laptop. The quality and user experience for others will almost always be better.)
  • Test the audio by speaking out loud and observing the volume bar just below the microphone setting. You should see green bars moving up and down while you speak. This indicates your microphone is picking up your voice.
  • If you do not see a green bar, your microphone is not functioning and nobody will be able to hear you. Ensure the microphone is hooked up properly. Visit the Skype support page to diagnose and fix your problem.
  • Select Video settings.
  • Ensure your preferred webcam is selected in the Webcam options.
  • Test your video settings. You should see yourself in the video preview window. If you don’t see yourself, visit the Skype support page to diagnose and fix your problem.

6. Get connected with your friends & colleagues.

You can’t make a call to people until you’ve added them into your Skype contacts and they’ve done the same for you. This isn’t hard to do, but a necessary step before you make your first call. Follow these steps to add contacts to your Skype account:

  • First, you’ll want to find the button on your Skype application that’s labelled ‘Add Contact’ or simply browse to Contacts/Add Contact in your Skype menu.
  • Next, you will need to find the person(s) you want in your contacts. The simplest way to add people into your contact list is to ask them what their Skype username is beforehand and search specifically for that username. You can also search by name or email.
  • Once you’ve identified the correct person(s), select their name from the list and then press the ‘Add to Contacts’ button. This will send that person a request to allow you to add them into your list.
  • You can also make your call right from the search listing without adding them into your Contact list, assuming they are online.

7. Are you calling an Individual or a Group?

I'm Calling a GroupI'm Calling an Individual

Go to the next step.

Follow these instructions:

  • Find the individual by either searching for them using Step 6 above or selecting them from your contact list. 
  • Check to ensure the individual is logged into Skype and available. You can tell by looking for a small check mark next to their name in the list.
  • After you select them, you’ll be given the option to either ‘Call’ or ‘Video Call’. If the ‘Video Call’ is not enabled they may not be online or have video call capabilities. Press ‘Video Call’ or ‘Call’ and wait for them to answer.

7. Are you making the Group Call?

YESNO

Check out this youtube clip.

If you are not making the group call, then you won’t be able to join the group call until you’ve been added to the group.

You’ll know you’ve been added when you receive an invitation. At the beginning of the group meeting, the Group Call organizer will call the group and your Skype app will ring, notifying you that the call is being placed. All you have to do is answer with Video.

If you’re running late or miss the initial call, you can still join the Group Call by simply clicking the ‘Join Call’ button on your Skype display.

I hope you found this short tutorial helpful. Happy Skyping!

Everybody Say ‘asana’!

I sort of consider myself a productivity nut, meaning I like to learn about and find new/better ways to be more productive. Last year I discovered an online task management system that was helping me manage my to do’s, projects, etc. (www.nozbe.com) It had been working well for me, but there’s also a decent learning curve, making it hard for someone who’s not a nut like me to figure it out – this is especially true because for it to be truly useful you had to understand how to use tags properly.

Well, a few weeks ago, my friend, Bob Kniley (another nut), told me he thought he had found a new online task management system (with a great price – FREE) and suggested I check it out. I fell in love with it within 10 minutes of reviewing it. I have now transferred all of my tasks to asana.

What makes it a very effective system is the fact that:

  • It’s very user friendly (easy to learn for the non-nuts).
  • It allows for layered tasks (nut language for, ‘it lets you have a big category of tasks, with a ton of projects in that category, and a ton of tasks for each project, with as many steps as needed for each task’).
  • It emails you your upcoming, due, or overdue tasks if you want it to.
  • It lets you email tasks into your task list from your mail client without going to the site.
  • It allows you to collaborate by assigning tasks to other people – and it’ll keep you informed of their progress if you want it to.
  • Did I mention it’s free (note – it’s free if you have less than 30 people included in any given workspace).

I recommend you check it out! You’ve got nothing to lose and perhaps a lot to gain!

Skype Tips

Skype LogoI use Skype several times a week to communicate with the various pastors/leaders I provide ongoing coaching to. Once we work out the logistics it is almost always a great way to meet together without the expense and extra time necessary for travel, food and lodging. I highly recommend it. In fact, in the past year I have successfully utilized Skype not only for 1 on 1 coaching, but also for team coaching (2-10 individuals) and workshops for as many as 15 people.

That said, I’ve also discovered a few things that new Skype users should consider and look into before setting up Skype appointments. Feel free to email me with any further questions you may have.

Skype Tips:

  • Make sure you have the latest version of Skype.
    This is important. Skype works hard at fixing call difficulties with every upgrade. If you’re running an older version of Skype, you risk having more difficulties during your call. To check your version, select Help/Check for Update.
  • If possible, don’t use a laptop webcam.
    Laptop webcam’s are traditionally difficult to use for a myriad of reasons. The main reason I don’t recommend laptop webcam’s is the mobility issue. It can be difficult to get your image centered properly for the other skype caller as well as have the picture on the screen where you want it so you can see well. Also, often the microphone on laptop’s can be difficult to work with and will sometimes create feedback for the other user.Webcams are pretty cheap now ($30-$50) and it’s well worth the cost for even just a couple of Skype calls. Your standard webcam will come bundled with a microphone so you’re getting a quality upgrade for both audio and video at the same time.
  • Check Audio/Video settings before your Skype call.
    Go into Tools/Options before each Skype session and ensure your Audio Settings and Video Settings are set to the right webcam.
  • Make sure your computer isn’t doing stuff or using the internet during your call.
    Often, the reason a Skype call is interrupted is because your computer is trying to use the internet or doing other tasks in the background. Make sure these background tasks have been paused during the call. For example, I have both Dropbox and Carbonite backup on my computer. I make sure they are both either paused or closed so they don’t try to sync during the Skype call. Common background tasks to look for include virus scans, Microsoft Security Essentials scans, security update downloads, online backups, and synchronization services like Dropbox, Outlook sync, etc.Finally, close unnecessary programs and browser windows during your phone call. I use Microsoft Outlook a lot and will often close it down during the call so it doesn’t start looking for mail and downloading attachments during the call – taking up internet bandwidth and computer capacity.
  • If possible, don’t use wireless internet during the call.
    You won’t always have this as an option, but if it’s easy to plug in a wired internet connection during your Skype call, do so. 
  • Check your internet plan.
    If you consistently have problems with Skype calls it could be that your internet plan with your service provider needs to be upgraded. Call your Internet provider and find out what your upload/download speeds are and ensure they are fast enough for video calls.
  • If you have echo problems, check the speaker settings.
    Sometimes I’ll experience a problem with echo’s, where I can hear myself through the other user’s speakers or they can hear themselves through my speakers. Often, this is because there are several options for speakers and you must select the appropriate one for Skype to work. For instance, if you have laptop speakers but are also using separate speakers plugged into your laptop or connected to an external monitor. In these scenario’s go into Tools/Options and check Speakers in the Audio Settings.Also, sound problems can be dealt with by ensuring you are in a quiet location. Additionally, the closer your microphone is to your mouth and the further your microphone is from the speakers the better.
  • Spend the first two minutes of your call checking voice/video.
    When you first start the call, ask your caller if the can hear you and see you well. Check the quality on your end as well. If there are problems, check some of your settings on each end. You may want to quickly exchange phone numbers if there seems to be difficulties so you can call each other if the call gets dropped. On occasion, call problems can be fixed by dropping the call and making the call again.
  • Check out the short troubleshooting video’s on the Skype website.
    Skype is committed to helping it’s customers have a positive experience. Check out this page on their website to see if you can learn other tips to ensure your Skype calls work well.
Hope that helps. Happy Skyping!

 

Tactical Tip: Backup Your Files!

You’ve heard the horror stories – maybe you even have one of your own. A computer crashes and everything stored on it gets wiped out. Lost forever. In fact, this story rings true for me very recently. This past year my laptop hard-drive got corrupted and by the time I got things up and running again I discovered that my whole hard drive had been wiped clean. Thankfully, the only stress I carried was the loss of time and energy – I had a solid backup of everything.

I have a very easy, cheap suggestion for you to backup your files. And once you’ve set it up, you’ll never think about it (unless you need it). Before I share my solution for you, I thought you might appreciate this fairly relevant and humorous clip about a time when Pixar almost lost ‘Woody’ during the creation of their hit movie “Toy Story”.

If you can’t see this video, try clicking this link.
Trust me. You don’t want to be caught in this scenario. I’ve discovered a great solution, but it’ll cost you $59/year. That said, the peace of mind you will receive at that cost is well worth it. I’ve successfully restored all of my files this past year alone. I’ve also been able to grab files I accidentally deleted. Even better, there have been a couple occasions when I needed to get a copy of a file from a couple ‘versions’ back – this solution even took care of that!
 
If you balk at the cost, just consider how much time you have spent pulling together the various files you have on that computer. How much would it be worth to you to keep them safe?
 
It’s very simple. You install a program that runs in your computer in the background all the time. You select the files you want backed up – there’s no space limit. It automatically keeps your files backed up all the time.
 
Here’s the solution – I recommend you look into it today (Note: I’m endorsing this company solely because I believe in them, not for any personal gain). Go ahead – give it a try (click the below image).
 

Image compliments of David Castillo Dominici on freedigitalphotos.net.

Tactical Tip: Return Emails Within 24 Hours

Recently, I sent an email to a leader in my life asking a question and making a suggestion I thought he might appreciate. I didn’t hear back from him for more than two weeks. After the first couple of days I started to wonder if perhaps I didn’t actually send it, so I double-checked. A few days later I started to wonder if I had somehow offended him. Every day thereafter I discovered a pattern whereby I would battle with imagined stories in my head regarding why my friend never responded. I didn’t really want to email or bring it up again simply because I didn’t want to be a pest. Finally, I got the anticipated response. He answered my question and expressed gratitude for my suggestion, which he had already acted on. Needless to say, I put myself through a lot of emotional trauma for no reason at all. This could very easily have been prevented by my friend. 

I’m sure we’re all guilty of this at some point or another. Our Inbox gets inundated with every sort of email imaginable. You know some emails can be deleted, many can be dealt with in just a few seconds, a handful will only take a minute or two of your time, and then there’s the rest. Those emails will require some sort of follow up, action, research, or a lengthy response. That last category of email are the ones that will sometimes sit in the Inbox for days – even weeks.

Today’s Tactical Tip is simply to get into the habit of returning every email within 24 hours.

This is so simple to do, it’s actually embarrassing. Obviously, we can’t control what others might think about us on the other end, but we certainly can minimize the chance that they tell the kinds of ‘stories’ I was guilty of telling myself! Here are three simple steps that will help you build this new habit into your email ridden life.

  1. Read or scan the email and determine what you need to do (and when) in order to properly respond.
  2. Place a task in your Task List or Calendar which includes a deadline on when you believe you can reasonably respond.
  3. Reply to the email author and let them know you have received their question/request and how long it will take for you to get back to them.
Perhaps this scripted response might help:

Jim,

Thanks for sending me this email. I just looked it over and realize that I won’t be able to respond to you the way I really want to right away. I’d like to take some time to process and think it through. I’m also right in the middle of a couple other projects that take precedence right now. I’ll do my best to get back to you on this in about five days.

Thanks for your patience! 

Wayne 

OK. You’ve officially been armed with an easy to do challenge. Get back to everyone who emails you within 24 hours. I’m confident people will be glad you do!

Image compliments of Salvatore Vuono on freedigitalphotos.net.

Time Management 101: Get Meeting Happy

 

I have a recommendation for you. FILL UP YOUR CALENDAR WITH MEETINGS! That’s right. I believe this can be a very powerful tool to help you stay focused, use your time wisely and get things done. Since I’m sure you don’t want to be stuck in any more meetings than I do, I guess I better explain myself. The point of this basic time management principle isn’t to get more busy, but LESS busy, by ensuring you schedule out your week and days in advance.

Here are the different kinds of meetings you should fill your calendar with:

  • Team Meetings.
    A team meeting is any meeting that includes more than two people. It’s important you connect with the team(s) you work with. That doesn’t mean you should be in team meetings all day, every day. Limit team meetings as much as possible so that you have the time/energy in your week to process and get done what you’ve been dreaming and talking about in team meetings. I also recommend you clarify the type of team meetings you participate in. I lay out the three basic kinds of meetings in the post: The Seats of the Bus.
  • One on One Meetings.
    One on One meetings include any meeting between just you and one other person. If you manage people (staff or volunteers) you should be holding 1on1 meetings with various people in order to encourage, evaluate, and equip them for ongoing ministry. If you have a boss (or direct report), hopefully you are invited to similar meetings with him or her (if not, I encourage you to setup a 1on1 with them to talk about it). Finally, 1on1 meetings will include counselling sessions, lunch appointments, time with key staff to connect or troubleshoot problems, etc. Check out Tactical Tip: Moving to Eye Level.
  • Self-Appointments.
    The rest of your calendar should be filled in with self-appointments. These are blocks of time that you have dedicated to getting things done. Most people don’t fill their calendar in with self-appointment time. As a result, the tyranny of the urgent rules the day. Long term projects, study time, prayer time, and admin time get squeezed in wherever it will fit in – and often it doesn’t fit in. I recommend you protect self-appointments like you would 1on1 and team meetings. That doesn’t mean you become legalistic about it, just protective. For example, you might create a weekly self appointment on Mondays for 1-2 hour slot that is specifically set aside for reading or study; or perhaps a 5 hour chunk for sermon prep on Tuesdays. You could slot off a 2 hour chunk on a Thursday to work on a long term project or something that is coming up later this month. I often create self-appointments prior to 1on1 and team meetings so I can prepare for them properly.
Additional Suggestions:
Here are a few more random suggestions in regards to filling your calendar with meetings.
  • Schedule ‘Off Time’ Too.
    It’s just an idea, consider scheduling what your off hours (that means hours you don’t work – for those of you who keep hours like that) look like too? This is where you would include the obvious, like Doctor appointments and kids games. But it could also include specific time with the whole family or individual family members, down time, TV time, exercise, and more.
  • Block Flexible Hours.
    If you are a pastor, you know that any given week you need to be available to meet with people, even if those meetings aren’t setup today. Block the hours and days you will be available for 1on1 meetings. If you don’t have meetings during that block of time, work on other things. The key is to keep most of your meetings within those blocked times and protect the rest of your week’s self-appointments.

Tactical Tips

I believe that small changes can often create a big impact. The Tactical Tip series is designed to give you ONE practical idea in each post that, if implemented, can help build positive momentum in your ministry and life. Enjoy.

Common Sense Tips:
  • Return Emails Within 24 Hours
    Basic email etiquette says that individuals should not have to wait for a response from you for more than a day. That’s not always practical if the email will require more time or information that you have at your immediate disposal. This Tactical Tip outlines a simple way to always respond to emails.
  • Teach Yourself To Smile
    You’d think smiling would be a natural skill that every leader possessed. Wrong answer. Many leaders aren’t even aware of the scowl and frown they wear every day. This tip explores simple ideas to build new habits that will bring people’s perception of you just a little bit closer to reality.
  • Moving to Eye Level
    I ‘get’ to hang out with some tall people sometimes, and I’m not short. I’ve discovered that communication goes so much better when I’m not looking down or up while talking. This tip will explore why this is important and ideas on how to make it happen in everyday life.
  • Say ‘Thanks’ In Your Email
    It can be so easy for us to get into ‘work’ mode and forget that the person on the other side of our emails has feelings too. It takes 3 seconds to type, but often we don’t even think about it. This tip is a great reminder to add value to the conversation with one little word.

Leveraging Technology:

  • Backup Your Files!I’ve learned over the years how important it is to backup computer files. I also know a lot of people don’t do it. I’ve discovered a great and simple way to ensure you’ll never lose your files again.
  • Build Momentum & Create Unity With A Blog
    As an avid blogger and blog reader, I’ve become convinced that a great blog can become a powerful communication tool. It may not be for everyone, but it certainly CAN be a game changer in certain situations. This tip is the beginning of several posts that will help you understand why a blog can make a difference as well as how to get started.
  • Email Signature
    There is absolutely no reason why I should ever have to wonder WHO just wrote this email or HOW I can get hold of him over the phone. This tip gives a few pointers on building a signature for your emails. 
  • Reminder Calendar
    Pastors and leaders in general can be notorious for forgetting things. Especially little details. I discovered a method by which a Google calendar can act as a reminder to me on things I don’t want to think about. This tip will show you how to leverage this idea for your purposes.
  • The Embedded Hyperlink
    Nobody likes to get a hyperlink in the email only to discover it doesn’t work. Additionally, we don’t really care about the actual address. We just want to know WHAT we are clicking on and we want to GET there. This tip will give practical advice on expanding your professionalism and honoring your reader with the embedded hyperlink.
  • Internet Passwords
    Nearly every month I hear about someone who got ‘hacked’. I finally did some research and came up with a system to better ensure I don’t become one of those statistics. This tip will walk you through a strategy that, once learned, can help your passwords be much more difficult to be hacked.
Building Great Systems:
  • Saying ‘Thank You’ Systematically
    Everyone knows it’s important to thank volunteers and leaders. Most people just don’t take the time to do it. We’re too busy. This tip will walk you through each step of a system whereby you will always thank the people you need to thank both systematically and consistently.
Check out my Resources Page to see other past series.
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