When it comes to email, Microsoft Outlook has pretty much got it covered.
Sending, receiving, organising, and archiving messages is easy.
That’s the ‘admin’ side of email. There is much more to it than that, of course.
Every message and piece of communication we send should count. It should have a clear purpose – and be clear in what it says.
Despite all the tools and apps available, email remains a popular way for people in business to talk.
If you are a VA you might also be building an email list. And if you are using your list to stay in touch and market your services, your ability to write good emails is important. Here are 10 tips to improve your results.
Tip #1 – Use a Strong Subject Line
The subject line in your email is like the headline on a sales page. It’s what you use to grab the reader’s attention.
Putting news, an offer or curiosity in your subject line can improve your chances of your email being opened.
Keep the copy short and consider personalising it, using merge tags.
Tip #2 – Have a Clear Purpose
Each email you send should have a purpose behind it. If you’re only going to send one out ‘for the sake of it’ or to meet some kind of target for numbers sent, think again.
What is your email aiming to do? It could be to share some news, inform, entertain or provide an update. It should always be of value to the recipient. If you don’t know why you are about to send an email, don’t send it.
Tip #3 – Get to the Point
Early on in your message, you want to say why the person should keep reading. Tell them. Even if you are writing a longer email, it’s a good idea to give the reader a reason to continue to the end.
People tend to want to know “What’s in it for me?” – so make sure you tell them. And don’t leave it too late (otherwise they might not get to that part before moving onto the next item in their inbox).
Tip #4 – Add Variety to the Mix
If all your emails look and sound ‘the same’, it’s not going to be as interesting for your reader. Try some short messages. Try some longer messages. Test them out. See what your audience likes best.
Remember, the longer your email, the better your writing needs to be – to keep people reading on down the page or screen.
Tip #5 – Be Clear
The most important thing with any message is to be clear. Take a look at your email before you send it. Are you saying what you want to say succinctly?
Is there room for misinterpretation of the information, tone, invitation, request or call to action?
If you’re not sure, ask a trusted friend or colleague to take a look and give you feedback.
Tip #6 – Use Simple Words
It doesn’t matter whether you are writing to a CEO or a team leader. Stick to using simple words in your copy. It makes the message easier to read.
Avoid jargon and clichés. If you are going to use ‘technical’ terms, consider whether the recipient will understand them. If “Yes, easily”, you can keep them in. If not, you may need to explain a little more. Just to be clear.
Tip #7 – Use Shorter Sentences
This helps the reader to get through your mail and to understand what you are saying.
You can also use it to adjust the pacing of your message, especially if it is a longer email or a sales email.
Tip #8 – Use Story
When you share relevant stories, they can help people to know more about you, your values, your principles and the way you do business.
Great stories are memorable and allow the reader to take away what they want from the message. Remember the one about the Tortoise and the Hare?
Tip #9 – Be assertive with the Call to Action
This is for those emails where you require the recipient to do something or would like them to take a specific action. This could be from sending you some data to complete a task, to inviting the reader to book a call with you.
Make it clear what you want people to do. And give them every encouragement to do so. This is not the time to be vague or woolly. Be clear. Be straight. What do they need to do? And by when?
Tip #10 – Double Check BEFORE You hit ‘Send’
Finally, before you hit send just do one thing. Take another look at your email.
Does it say what you want it to say succinctly? Is the message clear? Are there any spelling errors? Have you used simple words and short sentences? Is your request, invitation or call to action clear?
Only when you’re happy with it should you hit ‘Send’.
If you get my Productivity Newsletter, then you will know that I provide tips and how to guides on doing things with Microsoft Office. Recently I have been focused on Microsoft Outlook and have written about using all sorts of tools around meetings. It was natural then to do some research and find out how to hold effective meetings.
The tips in this post are a distillation of several blog posts that I consulted for the best way to have an effective meeting.
One – Meeting Objective
What is the point of the meeting?
Setting a meeting objective will help you to decide if the meeting is in fact necessary and will inform the next decision. See point two.
Two – Invite the right people
I know that this appears to be obvious, but how many times have you attended a meeting that in reality you did not need to be at? It sometimes feels as if the meeting organiser has invited everyone along because they were not sure whether this person or that really needs to be there. This is counterproductive.
It can lead to a waste of time and money. For each person at your one-hour meeting, that is an hour of other productive work that is not getting done. Plus, a person at the meeting who feels that they are wasting their time, may become disruptive and then when they do need to be at a meeting in the future they will decline.
Three – Have an Agenda
Circulate the Agenda well before the meeting. Make it part of the meeting invitation – that way people know exactly what will be covered.
Four – Stick to the Agenda
I know this may seem obvious, but how many times have you been at a meeting that has gone off topic? You sit there thinking – what on earth has this go to do with the Agenda and why am I here, it has nothing to do with me….
Five – Keep to time
Arrive on time – if you are attending. Being on time shows respect to the organiser and all the other people who are there. If you are late it can be interpreted as if you value your own time above everyone else.
End on Time – if you are the organiser or the facilitator of the meeting, keep the flow and make sure to end on time. Bear in mind that those attending may well have other meetings to attend or other deadlines to meet.
Six – Be Prepared
When you call a meeting, it is because there is something or somethings important to be discussed and get done. Do your homework. Make sure you are prepared to host the meeting and if there is information that the attendees need to have access to – so that they can prepare too, make sure that you distribute the information in good time. Anything from two days to two weeks before the meeting.
If there is a lot of work to be done before the meeting by the participants, you may want to remind them a few days beforehand.
Seven – Allow time for creativity
It is one thing to be ruthless about moving the agenda along, however time needs to be made for free-flowing discussion and creativity. Brainstorming, talking around a topic and making sure that everyone is heard.
Eight – Q&A
Make sure that you have time for a Question and Answer session built in to your agenda. People will have questions and possibly need clarification of points agreed.
Nine – Summing up
Make sure that everyone knows what they are doing after the meeting, and when they need to have their part of the work done by. Don’t assume that everyone took detailed notes. Make sure that you have a note of what each person is expected to do post meeting.
Ten- Follow up
Have a system to follow up your meeting. Send out the minutes and keep track of tasks allocated.
Can Microsoft Outlook help with Meetings and tasks?
Microsoft Outlook can help with meeting organisation, if you are inviting several people who work for your organisation, then you can use the Outlook Meeting Scheduler to find the best time for your people.
After you have sent a meeting invite out, you can also use the Tracking element of the meeting in Outlook to keep track of the responses to your meeting request. See who has accepted or declined or has not responded. This will allow you to know exactly who you need to remind.
Use Outlook tasks to allocate and assign tasks to people and to receive updates on their progress.
Sign up for the Productivity Newsletter – in tomorrow’s bulletin I share how to use Outlook Scheduling Assistant to help with meetings and tracking attendees.
Outlook also works with OneNote
Microsoft Outlook also works with OneNote, you can add meetings to a OneNote notebook and take notes right inside your OneNote Notebook. Then email your meeting notes from the OneNote Notebook to all the attendees. Tasks noted during the meeting can be sent directly to your Outlook task folder and then assigned to the correct person.
Microsoft Office really does help with productivity
When you know how to use all the different parts of Microsoft Office and understand how they talk to each other, you really can up your productivity and save loads of time.
To learn more about how Microsoft Outlook can help you work more efficiently, sign up for the Microsoft Outlook course waiting list – the new Microsoft Outlook Email course will be released by the end of March 2019 and following on from that the next instalment is all about Calendar People and Tasks.
When I am recording a new course, I need to make sure that I am not distracted by all the notifications and sounds that can intrude and cause distractions when Outlook is open on my machine!
Distractions are caused by:
Pop up notifications
Sounds on the Computer every time an email arrives
Sounds on Windows every time a notification arrives
Floating boxes that face at the bottom of the screen
The little yellow envelope that appears in the system tray and on the Outlook
Any other programs you have open that also give you notifications
Notification sounds on your mobile phone!
Why are they so distracting?
Did you know that each time you leave what you are doing and move your focus to read the new email notification, you can lose up to 20 minutes of productivity?
Firstly, you are in the zone working on a project. A sound or banner pop in and you are distracted. Now that you have been distracted, you follow the little envelope and head over to your Inbox to see what it was. Then you read the email all the while, losing the complete focus you had. Then you go answer the email which means that you are now focused on the content of the email and not your project. Next as you are already in your Inbox, well you may as well see what else is there. Before you know it half an hour has gone by!
Then when you finally get back to the project, you have to get back in the zone.
What is the Solution?
Turn off all those distracting notes, icons, sounds and banners.
When you start to work on a project whatever it may be if it demands your full attention then give it your full attention.
Here are some things to help.
Close down Outlook – yes close it altogether that way you won’t be tempted to peek.
Turn off the sound on your phone – this will stop the notification sounds from disturbing you
Turn your phone off! – not always possible I know but at least put it on silent and set up a rule that allows calls from that important client to get through – you really would not want to miss that one!
Set up your computer so that banners, popups and sounds do not intrude.
To find out how to block out the notification in Outlook get on the wait list for my latest course – all about Outlook. You can sign up for it here.