Within MS Outlook, it seems that the electronic age has limited our abilities compared to what we had in the pre-computer era. Before the days of email, memos could be filed in folders of different colors, and we could add post-it notes or little notes in the margin to help with filing and adding context to the email. Further, our carbon copies were color coded to add some information about the purpose of the CC.
Here are my top three ways that we could improve productivity and make email communication more efficient, and effective by taking a step backwards in time.
1) Allow people to choose the color of or image representing each folder in the folder tree on the left. (colored file folders have been around for decades)
Doing this will give people the ability to associate people/places/things with the contents of the emails contained within. For example, if one were organizing a whitewater rafting trip with one’s friends, one might use a picture of a raft instead of a manila folder. Or, what about using color coding to indicate urgency of the emails within? For example, you could have a red folder for important/urgent emails that need action and a yellow folder for less important/urgent things.
2) Allow hash tagging (put a sticky note on a memo before you file it)
Speed up searching and categorizing of emails by allowing the sender AND the receiver to apply a hash tag to each of the emails. Hash tags added to the body of the email should travel with the email. Hash tags added elsewhere (by individual users) should only be associated with that particular email and should not travel with the email. Also, allow us to set up rules based on those hash tags.
3) Add custom address fields (color code the carbon copies)
To: and CC: are the only options we have? Really? Carbon Copy is the extend of our capabilities? We can’t even add color coding to the carbon copies – like Pink copy goes to shipping, or yellow goes to billing dept? Imagine how much easier it would be to manage the incredible volume of email that a typical manager gets if there were more than just To and CC. Imagine how much more productive we could be if we weren’t spending hours and hours every week reading emails that were intended for someone else, but we were copied on because… well… who knows why. Here are just some suggestions for optional addressing fields:
To: CC: FYI: Action Required (AR): Response Required (RR): Input Appreciated (IA): Feedback needed (FN): CYA: Looping You In (LYI):
Then, your email to the project manager could look like this…
To: Cindy ProjectManager
CC: Tom ProjectManagerAssistant
FYI: Bill MyBoss; EmailGroupFromMeetingInvite
IA: Dave FinanceDirector
AR: Cindy ProjectManager
FN: Alan ComputerProgrammer; Steve WebDeveloper
Subject: ProjectName – Let’s talk about something
I think we should have a separate conference call to discuss the topics that came up in today’s weekly meeting. I think Alan and Steve might have some good ideas on how we might overcome any obstacles. Specifically, they can speak directly to the web site’s current capabilities and any security issues. We’ll have to keep the budget in mind though! This one is getting close to the target cost already. I know Dave was keeping an eye on this one.
Please provide a detailed list of enhancements that you’d like to see and schedule a meeting.
#ProjectName #BillingNo00123456 #WeeklyMeeting #NewIdeas #SecurityIssues #WebDevelopment #InterfaceDesign #UserExperience #FutureDevelopments
Then, everyone can have rules set up to give the email the appropriate amount of attention. Since Bill was only in the FYI Line, he probably won’t need to read it and he can just file it away. Ditto that for everyone else on the original meeting invite group. Later, if he needs to get up to speed, the email is available to him but it hasn’t taken up any of his time before then.
Dave can review the project’s remaining budget and comment if he thinks he should.
Alan and Steve know that they need to reply with some meaningful feedback.
Tom knows that he probably needs this information at the same level as Cindy, but isn’t officially accountable for it (unless Cindy says so of course).
Cindy knows that her action is required on this.
Everyone can file this away in the folder color/style of their choosing.
Each can add their own private has tag to it and save it away with those tags.