Avoid e-mail overload and still keep everyone informed

Have you ever come back from vacation, or from a business trip of more than a few days, to find an overstuffed e-mailbox containing a blow-by-blow account of everything that happened while you were away? E-mail overload at its worst!

You know the kind of thing I mean: long e-mail threads with contributions from everyone in the department, each copying everyone else and many leading off into side threads and involving even more people. You have to read the whole thing just to know what’s going on, and to see whether there’s something you need to do.

This is a common problem, and one that comes up often in my consulting and training engagements. So I’m recommending a new way of keeping everyone in the loop — without deluging them with e-mail.

The answer is a departmental blog. Now don’t stop reading — I know it may seem a bit radical, but bear with me and you’ll see how this can be hugely effective in the situation I just described.

Most teams or departments routinely deal with a number of projects or processes.

A Sales team, for example, might have

• three new major accounts they are pursuing

• information for the monthly sales report

• a new sales training program.

A Human Resources group might have

• three new training programs under construction

• several job postings

• some competitive proposals to handle the pension plan.

Customer Relationship people might have

• several promotional programs

• a new software rollout.

Fill in your own details as appropriate.

Everyone in the group needs to be kept up to date on at least some projects. Instead of a chaotic storm of e-mail, the team blog becomes the central repository for all the information on the various topics. Information can be searched and viewed by topic or by date. Let’s see how that would work.

The free WordPress blog platform offers something called “categories”, which are typically shown as links down the right side of the blog page, while the messages, or “posts”, take up most of the space to the left.

Using one of the examples above, my categories might be:

• Presentation Skills Course

• Sales Training Program

• New Employee Orientation Program

• Job Posting: Senior Mailroom Clerk

• Job Posting: Assistant to Marketing Manager

• Pension plan proposals.

Each of these would be a category, shown as a link down the side.

If you reviewed the draft manual for the Presentation Skills course and have some comments on it, you’d want to report your findings to the rest of the group. Using the traditional e-mail method, that might elicit replies from three colleagues, with the potential to multiply into the usual “e-maelstrom”.

Using the blog, though, the process becomes not only simpler but more effective. You simply post a short report on what you did and any recommendation you might have, and put it in the Presentation Skills Course category. People can comment on your post, or add their own posts as appropriate. These are also added to the Presentation Skills category.

The result is the whole story to date on this topic, with everyone’s posts listed neatly in order and with nothing intervening. Everyone can see at a glance the status of the project and what, if anything, they have to do. The posts will remain on the blog unless and until you remove them, so it can also serve as a permanent record when appropriate.

When you make a post, you send an e-mail to everyone, but it doesn’t need any message at all in the body. All you need is a descriptive subject line such as “My recommendation on Presentation Skills course posted today.” Those interested in the topic can go and read your post, while those not interested don’t need to be drowning in unwanted e-mail.

Now picture yourself coming back from your vacation. You simply go to the blog, click on the category links that are of interest to you and update yourself quickly and easily. Much better than the “e-maelstrom”, isn’t it?

Don’t be put off by the idea of blogging if you haven’t worked with it. Blogs are mainstream communication tools now, and this is one use for them that can drastically slash the amount of unwanted e-mail we all receive.