Tuesday, March 28, 2006

E-mail yourself?

Often, the purpose of an e-mail message is to ask someone else to do something. The ball is not in the other person’s court, but we still have the obligation to follow-up and be sure the other person delivers.

A simple technique for follow-up is to send yourself a copy of the message. Every e-mail program has in addition to the “to” and “cc” lines a line called “bcc,” which stands for “blind courtesy copy.” The difference between the “cc” and “bcc” is significant. When you put an address in the “cc” line, all other recipients can see that this person received a copy. When you put an address in the “bcc” line, the person receives copy of the message, but no other recipient will know it.

When I delegate a task to someone else via e-mail, I put myself in the “bcc” line. The next time I check my e-mail, a copy of that e-mail arrives in my inbox and serves as a reminder to follow-up.

What do you do with that reminder? I use Outlook synced to my Palm as a means of organizing my life. I simply drag the e-mail over the task icon (which automatically creates a new task in Outlook with all of the appropriate information filled in. I assign a due date, assign a category of “Delegated” and save. I then delete the e-mail message. Now, a reminder to follow-up on the task appears with other “delegated” items on my task list.

For those who do not use all of the features of Outlook, leaving the e-mail in your inbox is an option. Since the message shows you as the sender, you will know that it was a delegated item. After a reasonable period of time has passed, you may simply forward the message to the person again or pick up the phone to follow-up that way. When the other person completes the assignment, you simply delete the e-mail.