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Organizing e-mails by topic and using the inbox as a to-do list are two o the biggest mistakes people make.

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Take a look at your e-mail folders. You probably haven't given them much thought over the years. But marketing consultant Zach Hanlon says on Fast Company that you should reconsider your arrangement, and opt for five main folders.

That will help you avoid the two biggest mistakes people make: organizing e-mails into folders based on topics (unfortunately, e-mails rarely stay on track) and using the inbox as a to-do list.

Your five folders should be:

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  • Inbox: This is a holding pen and the e-mails should be transferred as soon as possible to another, more appropriate folder. The exception is when you respond immediately or are waiting for an immediate response.
  • Today: This covers everything that requires a response today.
  • This week: Everything needing to be handled before the end of the week is transferred here.
  • This month/quarter: This houses e-mails that need a longer-term response. For some roles, a monthly folder fits while for others a quarterly folder does the trick.
  • FYI: Most items Mr. Hanlon receives are informational and, if he thinks he may need to refer to the e-mail again, it goes in this folder.

"E-mail will quickly become your master if you don't take charge. So once you embrace this system, you need to adhere to it mercilessly – there are no half measures," he writes. "We tend to get more lax about newly adopted habits as their newness rubs off. But I've actually gotten better over time at sticking to my five-folder rule."

2. The emotional shorthand code you need to learn

Consultant Roy H. Williams says a simple shorthand code can avoid problems in your conversations. It could also reduce e-mail misunderstanding by assigning a number to the strength of your comments:

1: No emotional attachment.

2: I have an opinion.

3: I have feelings on this subject that cannot be changed so be very, very careful.

When two people know the code, at any point in the conversation, one party might say, "I'm at about 1.5 on this. Where are you?" The other party might respond, "I guess I'm at about 1.0."

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Translation: The first party was saying "I don't really have an opinion that I'm willing to defend. In fact, this whole subject doesn't really matter much to me at all. I'm just sharing some things that are popping into my head." And the second person – the one who is at 1.0 – essentially said, "I'm just trying to hold up my end of the conversation. In reality, I have no feelings on this subject whatsoever, so I'm fully prepared to let someone else make the decision."

They are less likely to get into a prolonged – or heated – conversation now that they understand neither care all that much.

"If both parties tell the truth, the system saves a lot of time and it helps to reduce misunderstandings," he writes in his Monday Morning Memo newsletter.

If someone indicates a 2, they are signalling you need to take this issue seriously and not just blow it off. They have an opinion and some feelings attached to it, but are still open to hearing your thoughts and further discussion.

In the 36 years since he first learned the code, nobody has cited an issue as a 3, because he says that would mean: "I have a loaded pistol aimed at your head with the hammer cocked. If you so much as blink, this relationship is over.

So if you care at all about remaining my friend, you won't say another word." But he has had people state they are at a 2.8 or 2.9, which has been helpful to underline he had entered an area in which feelings run very deep.

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3. Red flags job candidates should look for

Job interviews involve more than you being judged as a candidate. You also need to evaluate whether the workplace is actually somewhere you would want to wind up.

Besides seeing if the organization and culture meshes with your preference, Lifehacker writer Heather Yamada-Hosley highlights these signs that it's not actually a good fit:

  • Turnover rate: If everyone who talks to you has been at the company for a short time – a year or less – that suggests people don’t stick around long. If tenure is short and turnover rate high it could mean the work environment is tough or management lousy.
  • Overuse of jargon: If your interviewers overuse buzzwords and fancy, opaque phrasing to make the company seem impressive, they could actually be trying to cover something up. Or if you prefer directness, they simply may not be the colleagues for your future.
  • Overselling: Similarly, if the interviewers seem to be overselling the role, probe deeper to ensure there isn’t some hidden issue you need to be alert to.
  • Lack of clear career development: The hiring manager should be able to indicate what career growth options will be available. If not, maybe there won’t be much available.

On the Mental Floss Blog, Alvin Ward adds these warning signs in an infographic:

  • Job stays open: If this job keeps being advertised over and over, beware.
  • Hostile employees: When you get a chance to talk privately with employees without the boss present, ask them the best and worst things of working there. If the negatives scare you, run away.
  • Employees’ manner around the big boss: “How do the employees act around the boss when he speaks? If they are looking at the floor and act like they don’t want to be there then this says either he is domineering or an embarrassment of a leader,” the infographic says.

Study your future colleagues: In the same vein, watch people in the workplace to see their body language and expressions. Do they look like they want to be there? If not, probably you don't want to be either.

4. Quick hits

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  • Men seem to take the performance reviews harder than women, a new study by Adobe of 1,500 office workers has found: 25 per cent of men, compared with 8 per cent of women, have cried after a review from their manager. As well, more men than women looked for another job or quit after receiving a review.
  • True leaders believe dissent is an obligation, journalist Bill Taylor says. That obligation was enshrined in the McKinsey & Co. culture by its legendary head, Marvin Bower. One alumnus, Victor Ho, who went on to found a customer loyalty company, tells his staff the youngest, most junior person in any given meeting is the most capable to disagree with the most senior person in the room.
  • Changing the salesperson’s quotas to daily in a Swedish retail chain led to increased sales performance, mainly by low-performing salespeople, who no longer gave up at the end of a month when a monthly quota may have seemed out of reach.But high-performing salespeople are more likely to give up in the early days of the month under the change. However, even the highest-performing salespeople focus mainly on incremental sales, which hurts profit because they aren’t paying attention to higher-value-added products and higher-margin products.
  • If your investment in your board of directors is to pay off this year, Paul Winum of RHR International consulting says they need to spend time at this juncture considering: what the organization needs from them to maximize its success in 2017; what methods and metrics will be used; and what the role is of each director in advancing those ends.
  • Female managers foster pay equity between the genders more than men but only for low-ranking employees, a new study finds. Mabel Abraham of the Columbia University Business School looked at 120 branches of a large U.S. bank. Controlling for a host of relevant factors, female tellers in branches headed by women had base salaries that were about the same as those of male tellers while female tellers in branches headed by men had base salaries about 7.5 per cent less than male tellers. Women’s wages for all other positions ranged from 4 per cent to 13 per cent less than those of men holding the same job, regardless of whether the branch was headed by a man or a woman.

Harvey Schachter is a Kingston, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online column, Power Points. E-mail Harvey Schachter

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