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Dones - Do you reply 'Done' and delete the original email?

Last updated by Marni Lefebvre SSW on 01 Apr 2021 05:53 am (about 1 month ago) See History

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.

Only say "Done" when the work is completed.

  • If you have added the email to your backlog or to-do list, then say "Added to backlog – URL is XXX". You should still reply "Done" when you complete the task.
  • For tasks that will take time to be completely done (E.g. Producing a long video), you may send a "work in progress" email. This way you avoid giving the perception that no action was in relation to the task. You should still reply "Done" when you complete the task.

Alternatives to classic "Done" emails

  • If the task is already done, then reply "Already done - the reason is XXX"
  • 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 (some "Done" and some "Not Done"), reply to each item individually "Done" or "Not Done"
  • If the task can't be 100% completed at the time, you may reply "Partially done - the reason is XXX"
  • If you have already sent a "Done", then the client asks you to undo the change, reply "Undone"

Figure: Good Example - "Not Done" email

Tips for your "Done" emails

Tip 1: Say "Done" first

For clarity, "Done" (or "Not done" / "Already Done" / "Partially Done") should be the first word(s) so the reader knows the status straight away.

Tip 2: Provide details in your "Done"

In any reply, include relevant information, such as URLs, screenshots, and pieces of code/text that have been updated. This allows others to check what was done straight away.

Extra tips:

Figure: Bad Example - "Done" email lacks details

Figure: Good Example - "Done" email has a link and a screenshot

Tip 3: Replying "Done" to multiple tasks

It is important that you clearly reply to each of the multiple tasks.

Figure: Original email with the client request

Figure: Bad Example – It is not clear which tasks have been done and which haven’t

Figure: Good Example – You can see which tasks have been done and which haven’t (Note: you have to scroll to the original email to know what the tasks were)

Figure: Bad Example – It is clear which tasks have been done, however, replying inline sucks

Figure: Good Example – It is very clear which tasks have been done and which haven’t. Quoting the original task is only necessary when some tasks are done and some are not

Extra Tip:

What do you do with the "Not Done" tasks?

If there are multiple items of work in an email and you can't do them all at once, reply to each item individually ("Done" and "Not Done"). With the "Not Dones" you should add a plan to action: a. Put yourself in the "To:" if you are going to do the remaining items later. b. Add another person if you are reassigning. c. Give a reason if it won't be done.

Figure: Good example – If multiple tasks are 'done', then only the URL is needed. This is clear that all tasks have been done and they can read the history of the requests below

Tip 4: Replying "Done" to huge tasks

Ideally, all PBI's should be done in less than 2 days. If you are given a task that is going to more than that, then split it by following breaking up monster tasks.

Tip 5: Don't consolidate emails

If you get multiple emails or tasks, don't consolidate them. Reply to each email individually as you go. This way the person requesting the work hasn't lost the email history and can understand what the work is done relates to. It also means that testing and/or feedback can come in as soon as possible after the 1st completed task.

Tip 6: Delete "Done" emails - Aim for 0 inbox

There is no point in 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 7: When appropriate, use text instead of images

Figure: Good example - This "Done" uses text instead of an image so it is easier to search; to copy and paste; and to reply with a modification

Tip 8: Handle an email once

Follow a tip from Adam Cogan:

“During my accounting days we had large physical in-trays and you were always picking up papers, 
looking at them, deciding it’s ‘too hard to do right now’, and then picking up another piece of paper...
I learnt that a sign of an efficient person is that they handle a piece of paper once". 

Likewise, 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. In the same vein, when you complete all tasks in an email, delete everything in that thread.

Tip 9: Consider alternatives in a team environment

In a development team environment, it is better to move emails to tracking systems. E.g.:

  1. Azure DevOps Work Items
  2. GitHub

Tip 10: Include a video when appropriate

See how to record a quick and dirty "Done Video".

Tip 11: Remember to thank people - don't be too brief and icy

When replying 'Done' to a bug or issue someone reported, remember to thank the person for taking the time to send it. A short "Thank you for reporting this" helps to make your 'Done' warmer.

Adam CoganAdam Cogan
Cameron ShawCameron Shaw
Ulysses MaclarenUlysses Maclaren

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