If someone asks you to perform a task by email, don't reply "OK, I will do that" or fail to reply at all. Instead, do the task and reply "Done" when the task has been completed, and then delete the email. This way the person requesting the task knows that it has been done, and doesn't waste time following you up.
Read "Definition of Done
" for more information about the steps that need to be finished before replying to a done email.
- If the task is already done, then reply "ALREADY DONE".
- If you don't agree with the task or are unable to complete the task, reply "NOT DONE - the reason is XXX".
- If there are multiple tasks that are DONE and NOT DONE then, reply with "PARTIAL DONE - See below." at the top of the email.
Note: Only say done when the work is done. If you have added the email to your backlog or todo list then instead of ‘Done’, say ‘Added to backlog – url is xxx’.
- Figure: Not Done Email
Tip 1: Provide Detail in your "Done"
In any reply, include relevant information, such as the URL and the code or text that has been updated, which allows the person requesting the work to check what was done and allows for offline reading.
Use SnagIt with Balloons in screenshots.
- Figure: Bad Example of a "Done" email.
- Figure: Good Example of a "Done" email as it has both the link and the changed text.
If you find that you have already sent a "Done", and then the client asks you to undo the change, reply "Undone".
Tip 2: Reply "Done" to multiple tasks
It is important that you reply correctly to emails with multiple tasks.
As per our conversation:
- Change the logo on the SSW website to our new logo
- Take a photo of you standing on your head
BobFigure: Original Email.
I couldn’t find a camera so I haven’t done it all.
DamianFigure: Bad Example – It’s not clear which tasks have been done and which haven’t.
>Change the logo on the SSW website to our new logo
Done. See www.ssw.com.au
>Take a photo of you standing on your head
Not Done. I couldn’t find a camera.
DamianFigure: Good Example – It’s very clear which tasks have been done and which haven’t.
Not Done - We don't have a camera
DamianFigure: Good Example – It’s clear which tasks have been done and which haven’t.
I've replied inline in
As per our conversation:
- Change the logo on the SSW website to our new logo. Done - see www.ssw.com.au
- Take a photo of you standing on your head. Not Done - We don't have a camera
BobFigure: OK Example – It’s clear which tasks have been done, but we prefer not to reply inline
www.ssw.com.au for the new logo.
DamianFigure: Good example – It’s still clear that all tasks have been done.
Tip 3: Reply "Done" if you have a task that is > 4 hours
Ideally all tasks should be less than 4 hours. If you are given a task that is going to take days, then split it following the
4 hours rule.
Q: What if you can do 8 out of 9 items? Can I reply "Done"?
A: Yes. If there are multiple items of work in an email and you can't do them all at once (in say 4 hours), reply "Done" to each item individually, and put yourself in the TO: so you can go back and do the remaining items.
(See rule "To Myself")
Done - 8 out of 9 tasks.
Tip 4: Don't consolidate emails
If you get multiple emails or tasks, don't consolidate. It is still best to reply to each email individually as you go, rather than compile the information into one email. This way the person requesting the work hasn't
lost the email history and can understand what the work done relates to. It also means that testing and/or feedback can come in as soon as possible after the 1st completed task.
Tip 5: Now Delete your email - Aim for 0 inbox.
There is no point keeping emails that just clutter your Inbox. You don't need to keep the original email because after you have replied "Done", there is a copy in Sent Items. If you must keep an email, then move to your "Saved Items" folder.
Tip 6: Include URLs in screen captures
- Screen captures should always include the:
* Top left - so you can see what browser it is eg. Internet Explorer or FireFox
Tip 7: When appropriate use text instead of an image
Subject: RE: BUG on Product.aspx
Figure: Good example - Most of time screens need images. However this "DONE" uses text instead of an image. It is easier to search and easy to reply with a modification
DONE - There was a problem with the SQL. I added the line on
ProdName = CASE WHEN Download.ProdCategoryID <> ''
ELSE Download.ProdName END,
Downloads = (SELECT Count(*) FROM ClientDiary
WHERE ClientDiary.DownloadID = Download.DownloadID
AND ClientDiary.CategoryID = 'DOWN'
AND ClientDiary.DateCreated > '01/01/2000'
AND ClientDiary.DateCreated < '01/01/2003')
LEFT JOIN ProdCategory ON Download.ProdCategoryID=ProdCategory.CategoryID
ORDER By Downloads DESC
Tip 8: Handle an email once
Follow a tip I got from my accounting days... "A sign of an efficient person is they handle a piece of paper once". When you get an email - don't just open it have a quick look and close it with the idea that you will go back to it later. Read it, make a decision and do the action. Delete as many emails as you can on the first go.
Tip 9: Use an Email tool for Outlook
We use a program called Team Companion that you can use to reply "Done" to tasks in TFS. See more information on this at
Tip 10: Consider alternatives in a team environment
In a developer team environment, it is better to move emails to bug tracking systems e.g.:
TFS Work Items
Tip 11: Include a video when appropriate
Record a quick and dirty "Done Video"
VIDEO - Top 10+ Rules to Better Email Communication with Ulysses Maclaren