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The Write Question is a weekly video podcast all about writing. Today’s question focuses on how to stop editing email. If you have a question you’d like me to answer, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, tweet me @pubcoach, or leave a message for me at the Skype account, The Write Question.
Welcome to The Write Question, I’m Daphne Gray-Grant. Today we’re talking about editing email.
I’m answering a question from Emily Agnew in Rochester, New York. Here’s what she asked.
[recording] Hi Daphne, this is Emily with a question for you. I can’t believe this but I noticed I even edit my emails while I’m writing them. And I wondered if you have any suggestions about that. I want to be very responsive to clients — current ones and prospective ones — but it just feels like open season. And even though some of the emails are deserving of my attention —they’re sensitive and they’re important — it still feels as though I’m spending way too long on them. Do you have any suggestions for me?
Thanks for the question, Emily. But, oh my goodness, judging by the email I receive — and, to be honest, the email I sometimes send — MORE people need to edit their email. Email is often filled with typos, grammatical errors, factual mistakes and all around sloppy writing.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with editing email, particularly if the email is as sensitive and important as you describe.
I wonder if the problem is that you treat all email in a similar fashion. By that I mean, are you spending exactly the same amount of time on your garden-variety emails as you are on the sensitive and important ones?
Here are some tips on how to better manage your email:
Don’t let your email stream in all day. The ding you might hear when an email arrives is intensely distracting. And, even if you’ve turned the sound off, the little red number, showing how many unread emails you have is also a problem. Instead, collect your email manually, when it’s convenient for you and only when you have the time to respond.
Have one place to process your email and do it in the order in which it arrives. Don’t cherry-pick only the most interesting ones and leaves others to collect dust in your inbox.
I always try to keep my inbox mostly empty. Several times a day, I answer as many emails as possible right away. Then I file them. If it’s going to take me more than a couple of minutes to write an answer — and I don’t have that time right then — I put a note on my daily ‘to do’ list so I don’t forget about the email.
I like to deal with emails when I have a clock ticking. This is part of the Pomodoro method. I’ve included a link below. The sound of a ticking clock is a reminder to me that time is limited. It keeps me moving quickly.
But let’s return to your question about sensitive and important emails. I really support your desire to treat them carefully. Here’s the main thing to remember: the secret to good writing is good editing. And the secret to good editing is some distance.
Instead of spending more time writing or even editing those emails I suggest you take more time away from them before you send them. Do some other work for several hours and then you’ll be able to return to those important, sensitive emails with fresh eyes. When you do that, you’ll likely notice all sorts of ways in which you can make them better.
I call this time away from our writing the incubation period. I’ve talked about this before, and you can find a link in the description to find out more.
The main thing is not to lose track of the emails and this is why that note on your daily to-do list becomes so important. It allows you to keep track of what you need to do.
The important thing about dealing with email is to not let it control you. Answer it when you have time, and don’t let it take over your life.
For even more terrific ideas on how to handle email effectively, I highly recommend you get yourself a copy of the book the Email Warrior. Details are in the link below.
Finally, let me wrap up with a quote from the author of that book, Ann Gomez: “If we allow ourselves to work from a random assortment of messages in our inbox, we will always be scrambling according to others’ priorities and timelines.”
Thanks for your question, Emily. I hope this video helps you develop a new relationship with your email.
The Email Warrior by Ann Gomez