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

A free video tutorial from Hassan Osman
Tech Leader & Bestselling Author focused on Future of Work
Rating: 4.5 out of 5Instructor rating
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348,724 students
How to Assign Tasks in Emails (using the 3Ws)

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

01:35:45 of on-demand video • Updated September 2023

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 [CC]
Instructor: 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 Ws 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. So let's start with a quick overview of what those three Ws mean. The first is the who, the second is the what, and the third is the when. And whenever you assign tasks in an email to someone, those three Ws are mandatory. If you miss out on any one of them, you'll drastically increase the chance that you'll miscommunicate 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 will 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, Karla, Maria, Sam, Michael, and James, and I'm using some dummy text here with the blah blah blahs 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 email is that it starts with the word "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 will pick up on accomplishing that task. So this is a much better way of sending an email using the who as an example. Now, you might ask, "Well, what happens if you actually want more than one people copied on an email to work on a task?" So let's say, for example, you have Sam, James, and Karla, and you want to have all three of them work on a task. So lemme give you a bad example of how not to do that. So typically, you'll see something like this, "Sam/James/Karla, 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 gonna 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 Karla are gonna pick up or lead on the task, whereas Karla might think that Sam or James are gonna do that task 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 task for me, and James and Karla can help out if necessary." So what you did here was that you're very clear on Sam being the primary leader or person who needs to accomplish that task and that James and Karla 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 a message to the entire team, such as when you need all your team members to take an required training class, for compliance purposes, for example. And in those cases, it is totally okay 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 lemme 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. So I'm asking her to update slides four and five of the attached PowerPoint presentations, so there are multiple attachments, she knows where to go. And then I'm giving a little bit of color about what she needs to do based on some previous conversation we had about the tables and 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 when. And this refers to the exact time and date a task needs to be completed by, which means a specific deadline that you're crystal clear on. And you should always, always, always use a deadline, 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 let's say I'm sending an email to Michael, saying, "Michael, I need this in the next few days." Now the problem here is that "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 when and a better way of doing it is to say something like, "Michael, I need this sent back to me by Thursday, July 16th at 1:00 PM US Eastern Standard Time." And in this situation, I'm basically saying exactly what the date is, I'm giving Michael a 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 just covered. Use the three Ws, 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 23rd at 3:00 PM 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 23rd at 3:00 PM 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.