How to Assign Tasks in Emails (using the 3Ws)

Hassan Osman
A free video tutorial from Hassan Osman
Virtual Teams & PM Expert; Bestselling Author; Leader @Cisco
4.5 instructor rating • 7 courses • 169,946 students

Lecture description

In this video, we’ll discuss how to assign tasks in emails so they’re crystal clear to the person on the receiving end. I’ll also go over what I call the “Three W’s” and how to use them strategically so that your team members will follow through on your task assignments. I’ll also share some best practices so that you reduce any potential miscommunication with your team.

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Write Better Emails: Tactics for Smarter Team Communication

How to improve your email writing skills to save time & improve communication with your team; easy business writing tips

01:34:14 of on-demand video • Updated January 2021

  • Improve your email writing skills in simple steps
  • Learn proper email etiquette and business writing techniques that get you results
  • Avoid common errors in email messages that confuse people
  • The #1 Udemy bestselling course about email communication in teams
  • Improve communication within teams
  • Save time in writing and responding to emails
  • Write clear email messages that explain exactly what you want
  • Get higher response rates from teammates
English [Auto] One of the main reasons why tasks don't get done after being assigned in an email is because the people who wrote the email were not very clear on what should be done. In this video. We'll discuss how to assign tasks and emails so they're crystal clear to the person on the receiving end. I'll also go over what I call the three W's and how to use them strategically so that your team members will follow through on your task assignments. I'll also share some best practices so that you could use any potential miscommunication with your team. So let's start with a quick overview of what those three W's mean. The first as the who. The second is the what? And the third is the one. And whenever you assign tasks in an email to someone, those three W's are mandatory. If you miss out on any one of them, you'll drastically increase the chance that humans communicate on what needs to be done. And in the next few minutes, I'll give a description of each W along with examples to help explain what they mean. So let's start with the first W and that's the WHO, and this is basically the name of the person who you want to complete a task for you. And when you're assigning tasks in an email, you should start the ask using the name of a single person and not a group of people. And that's because if you say something like all or team, which is how sometimes emails start, you'll trigger what's called the bystander effect. And that's a phenomenon where everyone will assume someone else would pick up the task, yet no one ever does. So let me give you a bad example of the use of the WHO in an email. So let's say I'm sending an email to six people, Robert, Susan, Carla, Maria, Sam, Michael and James and I'm using some dummy text here with a blah, blah, blah is just so that I can focus on the stuff that matters. And let's say within the email, I started that by saying, team, I need you to do the following task for me. And the problem with this e-mail is that it starts with the words team and the issue here is that no one from those six people is going to understand who this is directed at. And what will happen is that no one will pick up the task or follow through on completing it. So this is a bad example of what to do. A better example or a good example of what to do in that case is to write an email that starts with something like, Sam, I need you to do the following task for me. And this is a much better example, because you know for sure that Sam will be very clear on who this email is directed at and we'll pick up on accomplishing that task. So this is a much better way of sending an email using the WHO is an example. Now, you might ask, well, what happens if you actually want more than one? People copy that an email to work on a task. So let's say, for example, you have Sam, James and Carla and you want to have all three of them work on a task. So let me give you a bad example of how not to do that. So typically you'll see something like this. Sam, James, Carla, I need you to do the following task for me. Now, the problem here is that even though it's a little bit better than the previous example which started with team, what's going to happen here is that the bystander effect is going to kick in among those three individuals. So Sam, for example, might think that James or Carla are going to pick up our lead on the task, whereas Carla might think that Sam or James are going to do that tasks themselves. So, again, this is another bad example of what not to do in an email. And a better way of doing that is to assign the primary responsibility to Sam and say something like, I need you to do the following tasks for me and James and Carla can help out if necessary. So what you did here was that you're very clear on Sam being the primary leader or a person who needs to accomplish that task and that James and Carla are there to help him out if necessary. And that way you will assign a task to three people indirectly, but you do have a primary person responsible for that. So I do have a quick note on the who, and that is there are obviously times when you have to direct the message to the entire team, such as when you need all your team members to take the required training class for compliance purposes, for example. And in those cases, it is totally OK to address emails using team or. All right. So we're not talking about those particular cases. However, when the task requires only one person to work on it or one person to lead on it, then you want to be very specific about who that person is. All right, let's move on to the second W, and that is the what and this is a description of the exact task you need someone to do. You don't want to be ambiguous and you want to avoid making any assumptions. The idea behind the what is to be very clear about what needs to get done. So let me give you a bad example of the use of what in an email. Let's say I want to send Susan an email to ask her to please update the attachment and send it back to me. Well, the problem is that the word update, the attachment is not very clear. Right. So I'm not exactly sure that Susan is going to understand what update the attachment means. It could be a 50 page attachment, and she's not very clear on what needs to be done. So this is a bad example of what not to do when you're assigning a task, using the what a better example would be to actually say something like this. Susan, please update slides four and five of the attached PowerPoint presentation using the tables and data we agreed to on last week's call and send me the revised version. So as you can see here, what I'm being is very descriptive about what needs to be done. I'm asking her to update slides four and five of the attached PowerPoint presentations. Are there multiple attachments? She knows where to go. And then I'm giving giving a little bit of color about what she needs to do based on some previous conversation we had about the tables of the data and then to send me the revised version. So in this case, it's a lot more clear and it's specific about what the exact task that needs to be accomplished is about. The third and final W is the one, and this refers to the exact time and dates a task needs to be completed by, which means a specific deadline that are crystal clear on. And you should always, always, always use it, that line, even if it's fake, because it gives your recipient both a clear goal and an incentive to get the task done. So let me give you a bad example of using the when in an email. So that's why I'm sending an email to Michael saying, Michael, I need this in the next few days. Now, the problem here is that a few days is ambiguous, right? Does that mean three days or does that mean 15 days? To me, it might mean three. To Michael, it might mean 15. And that's where the communication kind of breaks down. So, again, this is a bad example of how to use the win. And a better way of doing it is to say something like, Michael, I need the sent back to me by Thursday, July 16th, at 1:00 p.m. U.S. Eastern Standard Time. And in this situation, I'm basically saying exactly what the date is. I'm giving Michael the time. And I'm also saying when that time zone is and this helps a lot when you're working in teams that are working in different time zones. So this is a much better example of how you can be specific with the when of your task assignment. So let's wrap up with a quick summary of what we discovered. Use the three W's, which are the who, the what and the when, with every task assignment in your emails, the WHO is about the name of a specific person and not a group. The what is an explicit description without any assumptions and the when is an exact date and time with a very clear deadline. And here's an example of all three working together. Jessica, please send me the updated status report by Monday, November twenty third at three p.m. Eastern Time. So I've got a very clear who. I've got a very clear what which is the updated status report, and then I have a very clear when, which is Monday, November 3rd at three p.m. Eastern Time. That's it, thank you so much for watching. And in the next video, we'll talk about how to create the perfect subject line.