Conduct a Communications Audit: An Excerpt from The Together Leader

Maia Heyck-Merlin, founder and CEO of The Together Group, is a consultant focused on training school, district, and nonprofit leaders on topics including time management and organization. Her previous book The Together Teacher was published by Jossey-Bass in 2012.

This excerpt from Maia Heyck-Merlin’s The Together Leader focuses on the engine of today’s workplace: email. Rather than placing hard and fast rules on email use, this section suggests useful tips and provides examples of what a healthy, happy inbox might look like. So rise to meet the challenge of your email — read on! 

Get Your In-box Set up Up for Success

Before you even get started in your quest for a life in which e-mail is simply a useful communication tool, not a burden or a stress, we have to make sure your systems are set up for success! In this section, I will discuss ways to get your in-box in line on the front end!

Declare Bankruptcy

If you have 10,000 e-mails in your in-box right now and dream of one day having enough time to sit around filing them, I need to gently burst your bubble. You will never have enough time to file the email. Ever. And if you did, I would advise you to find something more interesting to do! Right now, please turn on your computer and drag every single thing that’s older than one month over to a folder called “Bankruptcy.” It’s not deleted, so don’t panic, but it is out of your way.

Sync Successfully

We want to be sure you are not “double processing” your e-mail by checking it on your phone before meetings and then having to check again at your computer later in the day. If  you do check often on your phone, make sure that when you delete items, they also delete from your server. Get those gadgets on the same page.

Disable Pop-Ups, Beeps, and Buzzers

It happens to all of us. You are in a face-to-face meeting or on a conference call, and out of the corner of your eye, you see that floating bubble with a subject line dash across the bottom of your screen. Or the table buzzes. Or your pocket beeps. You get distracted and lose focus on the meeting. But you can’t respond to the e-mail, either. So you’re neither here nor there. Turn ‘em off.


Admit it. Do you cuddle up with your smart phone before bed? Is it the first thing you glance at in the morning as you rub sleep out of your eyes? As Nick Bilton (2014) explains in his New York Times blog post, “Sleep researchers say that looking at a blue light, which is produced by smartphone and tablet screens, sets off brain receptors that are designed to keep us awake and interferes with circadian sleep patterns.” (Bilton, 2014) Even if you only use your phone as an alarm clock, I suggest getting the phone out of your bedroom so that you can sleep better, set your own priorities, and be efficient. And for all the same reasons, consider resurrecting the watch. Many of us peek at our smartphones to check the time and inadvertently get distracted by incoming e-mails, texts, or Facebook alerts.

Set Up and Efficient Signature

How many times have you had to ask someone for the best phone number to reach them? Let’s get more efficient by ensuring your e-mail signature lists your phone number. Better yet, make your e-mail signature say, “For all phone calls, dial this phone number!” Or write, “Please refer to my e-mail signature for the best number to reach me.” Or provide the contact info for your assistant.

Jail the Junk

Ever order anything online? Sign up for e-mail alerts or digests? Consider setting up a separate account for the “junk” to funnel into. This means you will not have to dig through Paperless paperless Post post promotions, Gap sales, or reminders from your realtor when you’re trying to focus on your most important priorities.


Still getting fitness reminders from the gym you joined five years ago? Take a moment to unsubscribe.

Auto-Respond Wisely

A good out-of-office message can go a long way towards protecting your time and focus. In Figure figure 11.1, I like how Jon Schwartz, a vice president of finance at Achievement First, lets people know:

  •  The time frame he will be out of office
  • How to reach him in an emergency
  • Whom to contact in his absence

Spiro_High-Payoff StrategiesABOUT THE BOOK: The Together Leader is a practical handbook for the busy mission-driven leader. With an emphasis on time management, the book provides all of the tools, templates, and checklists necessary for leaders to stay organized and keep on top their responsibilities. Maia Heyck-Merlin describes step-by-step a set of habits and systems that help leaders to keep everything running smoothly and, most importantly, achieve their mission-driven goals. By learning how to plan for the predictable, leaders can face the unexpected head-on, going off-plan while keeping their eye on the objective. Education leaders will learn how to prioritize quickly and efficiently, and gain access to hands-on tools that take the turbulence out of their days, allowing them  to truly become a Together Leader.


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