(originally published in The
Jerusalem Post, March 2004)
Keeping on Track: Managing Communications
Even if your Web site designer’s office is right next-door,
an efficient site development process usually generates lots
of e-mail. Although you may sometimes exchange phone calls
-- or even meet face-to-face -- it’s best to keep a
written record of all ideas, decisions, timetables, deliverables,
etc. This eliminates “he said she said” misunderstandings,
and is also an easy way to double-check that all items of
business have been addressed.
But drowning in a sea of e-mails is counterproductive. Following
are some tips to make order of the chaos. While reading these
tips might make the process seem overly complicated at first,
this system is actually more complex to read than to implement.
You’ll catch on quickly -- I promise! -- and long-term
efficiency will make the short-term learning curve worthwhile.
(I’ll illustrate how to implement these ideas in Microsoft
Outlook Express; but all good programs have similar options,
which you can learn about in their “Help” files.)
- Filters. Especially now, when mailboxes
get filled with spam and bogus e-mails generated by viruses,
it’s necessary to ensure that important messages
don’t get tossed out with the trash. Take advantage
of your e-mail program’s filtering system to route
mail from your designer into a separate folder, where you’ll
save all project-related messages. In order to accomplish
this, follow the directions in the Help menu for “Managing
Large Numbers of Messages > Managing e-mail messages
with rules > Create a rule for e-mail messages.”
- Formatting e-mails. It’s best
to use plain text as your default for sending messages.
(Tools > Options > Send. Under the heading “Mail
Sending Format” select “Plain Text”.
Click OK.) When replying to a message, this option will
insert special characters like “>” in front
of quoted material, making it easier to differentiate your
new reply from the original message. When replying, delete
all unnecessary text. When you find a passage you want
to reply to, place your cursor at that point, insert an
extra empty line, and then write your response. Leave another
empty line before returning to the quoted material.
- Relevant subject titles. Having dozens
of messages all with the subject “Hi!” is not
going to help relocate the specific message dealing with
your question on how to check your site statistics. It
would be far better to send a message with the subject “Checking
site statistics”. And if, when replying to a message
with a title such as “Payment details”, you
also want to ask about updates to the News page, don’t
include that question in the same e-mail. Send a separate
message, titled “News updates.” Multiple, short,
aptly titled messages also make it easier to ensure that
each important message gets answered.
- Carbon copies. Do you access your mail
on more than one computer? It’s still possible to
keep accurate records. On your secondary computer, elect
to leave a copy of your messages on the server. (Tools > Accounts > Mail.
Select the correct account, then click Properties > Advanced.
At the bottom of the tab, under the heading “Delivery” check
the box “Leave a copy of message on server”.
Click OK. Click Close.) The messages will remain safely
on the server until you download them onto your primary
- Backup. Implementing the tips above
won’t help if your system crashes, taking all your
correspondence with it. Make sure to back up your email
folders regularly. (Locate folders ending in the extension “.dbx” and
burn them to a CD, or copy them onto a different physical
drive on your computer.)
All this unglamorous, nitty-gritty organizational groundwork
will pay off by helping your Web design project proceed smoothly
and on schedule.
Do you have any questions? Contact
me and I'll try to answer them in upcoming articles. Also,
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