This post originally appeared on Inc.com, where Rocketrip's Dan Ruch has a regular column covering travel, tech, and entrepreneurship.
It's hard to imagine how we ever lived without email. But when you're buried in unread messages, it's even harder to imagine a way out. Email has a nasty tendency to pile up when you're out of the office on a business trip. Here's an easy system that Dan and the rest of Rocketrip team use to cut through the clutter.
There are few bigger time wasters at work than email. However, before you read any more of this article, it must be said, in the spirit of full disclosure, that surfing the internet is one of the few activities observed to hurt productivity more than sifting through emails.
If you're still reading, despite that gentle reminder, it suggests one of two possibilities:
- You're an inveterate time waster and can't stop yourself from reading articles online, even articles that begin by explicitly warning against reading articles online.
- You're drowning in emails and desperately hoping that this article, the one you really probably shouldn't be reading in the first place, contains some useful advice.
Either way, I'd like to offer some advice I hope you'll find to be as useful as it is counterintuitive: The way to cut down on the number of emails you have to deal with is to send just one more.
The Most Important Email of the Week
I'm not a nutritionist, so I really can't say whether breakfast is the most important meal of the day. But as a CEO, I know that the first email I send Monday morning is the most important one of my week.
I'm referring to the weekly update I send to everyone at my company, Rocketrip. I've sent hundreds of these emails, and each one follows the same template. It's simple, comprehensive, and highly adaptable.
I've seen versions of this template work for all types of companies and job functions. I'd encourage you to give it a shot too. When you find a format that works for you, stick with it: Establishing a consistent framework for your weekly status reports is the best way to see how you're actually progressing toward your goals.
Highlights--This is the fun part. But fun and important aren't mutually exclusive.
Developing a system for sharing success stories is tremendously beneficial for team building. Even at a small company, it's easy for employees to become siloed and lose sight of all the great work being done.
The highlights section of your update email is where you can list things such as deals closed, fundraising, product updates, and new hires. Whether the good news is big or small, the whole team benefits from being looped in.
Lowlights--This part is less fun but no less important. The "lowlights" section should contain more than bad news or a list of things that have gone wrong.
Consider this an opportunity for constructive self-assessment, a place to reflect on things that could have gone better. Focus on what to improve upon.
It's a great feeling when a lowlight from one week turns into a highlight the next.
Upcoming deliverables--This is the heart of the weekly update. By listing high-priority items from your to-do list, you'll be giving your colleagues a sense of what they can expect from you in the week ahead.
Past deliverables--If the upcoming deliverable section is the heart of the weekly update, then past deliverables are the lungs, or some other vital organ (in addition to not being a nutritionist, I'm not a doctor, so I really can't say whether that metaphor is anatomically sound).
On its own, a to-do list is just a collection of good intentions. A have-done list is necessary to hold yourself accountable. In each of your update emails, copy and paste last week's deliverables, along with a status update.
You'll catch incomplete tasks that have slipped through the cracks, and over time start to get a sense of whether you're taking on too much.
Quality, Not Quantity
It might take a fair amount of time to write your update. But the more thorough you are, especially with the deliverables sections, the more time you'll save over the course of the week.
All-staff weekly updates cut down significantly on internal emails. These threads become a central record of all the information your colleagues feel it's important to share, and the standardized format makes it easy to find in your inbox.
To paraphrase Winston Churchill's famous line on democracy, email is the worst way to communicate at work, except for all the others. By putting some thought into the first message you send every week, you'll be making your email routine just a little less worse.