The Importance of Written Communication

The last article that I wrote talked about how as an architect I spend most of my time developing budgets and drafting proposals, rather than actually designing and drawing. What I neglected to say was that I really spend most of my time these days on written communication. Sometimes it takes the form of budgets and proposals, but oftentimes it is just email.

I dont know how many emails I receive and send each day, but it probably numbers in the dozens rather than the hundreds. Thats probably because these are usually about specific opportunities that Im tracking, or projects that Im managing (as opposed to wide broadcast marketing type messages). As Ive gotten older (and my short term memory has gotten shorter) Ive come to rely on the information contained in these items to serve as a record of events that have transpired, actions that are required, and the status of any outstanding issues.

Remember when we used to (or were at least supposed) to keep a phone log on our desk to jot down notes from every telephone conversation we had over the course of a day? About the best I ever did with those was to make some cryptic marks in my calendar so I knew something had happened re: a particular job, on a particular day. However the combination of my awful handwriting and lack of space to elaborate in detail made it nearly impossible to figure out what I was trying to say, even just a few weeks later.

I used to do a lot of construction administration then and the need for clear record keeping was even more important at that time, as we were constantly battling over he said / she said issues (often with serious monetary considerations) months or even years later. I really appreciated the method of meeting minute taking we used though, one in which open action items were kept together, and the history of activity on them recorded at each meeting and kept as a running commentary on the issue until it was resolved.

I tend to approach opportunity and project related emails in the same manner. Because I hate when my personal Inbox is so full I cant find anything I diligently try to keep it as cleaned out as possible. The key is to use a series of public project folders. These have shared access so anyone in the office can get to the information contained, even if they werent a party to the communication originally. Just like our network project folders they are organized by client.

Whenever a new opportunity comes in one of the first things I do is set up these email and network project folders. Then all of the emails get filed away in their respective folder as soon as theyve been dealt with. Every time I send an email I move it from my Sent items to my Inbox, and keep there the most current version of anything that has a thread of conversation going on, and then only if it requires any action. If Ive dealt with it I file it away for future review and or retrieval if necessary. Any attachments received or sent as part of these emails go in the network folders though (to avoid the need to look through emails to find documents, drawings, or the like).

Later when a question or issue comes up its easy to sort the emails within that project folder either by date, sender, subject matter, or other filter to quickly find the information I need to refresh my memory of what and how things transpired. By keeping the running commentary going in the messages I can easily follow the timeline of activity. You just have to be careful to create new messages when the subject matter changes significantly (and be descriptive in your subject headings) to make later sorting easier.

Im far from a huge technology buff (I still use an old flip-type cell phone that doesnt have Internet access, and it can sometimes take me several minutes to text a simple reply sentence in conversation with my kids), but I am very fond of email.

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