5 essential elements of a good email memo

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Simple changes, big results

Imagine if you could make simple changes to your email that would help organize your team.

Imagine if you could make these changes easily, starting with your very next message to the team.

Now imagine that you not only clear some email clutter with these change but you also help everyone to work more efficiently.

I’m going to tell you that you can, because some simple format changes are all that you need.

Following are 5 essentials for an email memo following a team meeting that will keep everyone on track.

Organize now. Right now.

Good old-fashioned clear, thoughtful, and organized writing can help your message survive and thrive in today’s cluttered digital world.

That’s how we wrote things in the days of yesteryear when things were less frenzied. The problem is that we’ve become sloppy as we’ve become busier.

I know I’ve fallen off the wagon in the past, always with detrimental results.

When I’ve gone back to tried and true methods, however, I’ve had tremendously positive results.

Fortunately for you and me, these changes are not complex. They are simple and take just a little bit more time up front to provide huge benefits to everyone. Because you’re helping to keep everyone a little better organized. Don’t forget, they all live in the frenzied world of work too.

The 5 Essential Elements

Follow a simple format to be sure that you are heard, and that your plan stays on track. Here is the simple five-point list.

1. Name names – List the people who attended the meeting, and/or are engaged in this communication.

Type that out right there at the top of the email. Different email programs display names differently. That can be inconsistent and messy.

Instead, type out each person’s name and role. Include company name for teams that include vendors and consultants. This makes it crystal clear and easy for everyone to instantly know who was there at the meeting.

It also shows that you’ve taken the time to make sure this is clear. You are paying attention. It’s clear that each person is on the hook for whatever the team is working on.

2. Narrative – Provide a sharp, concise summary.

Tell the story, but edit it down to the essential elements only. We met to discuss this project with the intent of uncovering issues in this area and making these decisions. Some agenda items were tabled, and maybe a new item was added.

Cover the basic facts, but also include some color commentary. Saying that we had a lengthy and intense discussion on issue X helps to better represent more accurately what happened than an overly sanitized version of just simple facts.

3. The to-do list – Separate action items into a bulleted list in its own section.

Make no exceptions here. Do not embed action items in the narrative or anywhere except in a bulleted list (or if they must also reside in the narrative, repeat them in this bulleted list). You need to make it clear and convenient for everyone to see exactly what the next steps are.

Beside each item should be the person responsible for owning that item and the date it is to be completed.

4. Open questions – Create a bulleted list of the questions that remain open, specifically the larger questions related to the scope and definition of the project. Include names where someone specific is responsible for an answer.

These are just like action items, but a little different. These questions are research oriented and may be more complex to answer. They will likely take more time and it may be hard to immediately designate an owner. Put these stickier or bigger questions on their own list. And put your name next to them. If you’re the project manager, these are the sorts of things you’ll need to chase down.

5. Summary and Next Steps – A couple of lines to wrap up your thoughts and tie things back to larger goals and a broader context. Be specific about what is expected to happen next and when (date and time of next meeting or checkpoint, for example).

Now as the discussion progresses, you’ve got a good structure to leverage for easy reference. It’s immediately clear who is on the hook for which action items and which questions remain outstanding. Periodically update and re-distribute it as needed, including of course after each meeting.

Oh yeah, and forget about getting fancy with fonts and formatting – just focus on a good basic structure. Whatever you do, don’t put this in an attachment! That just slows things down and makes it cumbersome for everyone.

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