Email is a fabulous tool.
And, it is the biggest destroyer of productivity,creator of mis- understandings, irritant, distractor, time-waster and builder of extra work currently available to us in the workplace.
Many of us are buried in email, and yet, we find it difficult to resist the temptation to open, read, and respond immediately.
What follows are some suggestions I hope may help - “how” and “when” to use email, and other ideas to cut back the flow.
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"Information used by permission of the author, Cynthia Burnham. Original text can be found on her website or blog, at www.cynthiaburnham.com"
Email is like a little gift waiting to be opened – will it be a good one, or a bad one?
It represents a fire to be put out, a need to be filled, an obligation to meet.
When you open and respond, you get the immediate thrill of productive activity -- without, in many cases, that productivity being in any way real, important, or mission critical.
A lot of email is like conversation at a big, loud party. It might be enjoyable, it might be boring, and many times the excess noise covers up items of real interest.
Email is like someone tapping you on the shoulder all the time.
Just like any other temptation – shopping, gambling, drinking, eating – or parties! - we have to decide to be disciplined in how we resist it, use it to our benefit, or be controlled by it.
NOTE: I recognize that some of these may be unrealistic, given company expectations and different cultures. And, if you can use one or two - or even more of them, it will change things for you.
Email is communication without body language or tone of voice. People will always tend to read in the most negative intentions into your email.
Therefore, care must be taken in style, and in when you use email, and what you use email for.
Adding extra positive language, punctuation, and even (as appropriate) emoticons to positive and neutral things will increase the likelihood that they will be "heard" as you intend. Avoid negative emails altogether - except as follow-up - as a best practice, as they will virtually always be misconstrued.
If you have a question about the language, or the format, get in the habit of saving things in a "draft" folder to look at later.
They may be interesting and/or funny….and you don’t want to reward yourself for checking email, at least in the beginning!
Some email programs allow you to color-code your incoming email. Redline important or critical names so you can scan quickly
If you have an EA, a secretary, or a trusted subordinate, consider letting them review your email – especially if you’ve color-coded it.
Give them guidelines about things they can respond to, and/or delete (such as jokes).
Review email on it only at pre-decided times! Just because it’s not your computer doesn’t mean it isn’t email!
Don’t force them – work to come to an agreed schedule, format and set of behaviors.
If, for example, all agree to look at email at roughly the same time, then fewer meetings and other activities will be impacted.
o If you wait a couple of hours, many email problems will resolve themselves.
o Even if they don’t, you will be able to read the whole chain in one email, then simply delete the previous correspondence after checking that you’ve seen it – much faster!
o If you say you are limiting your review time, do so. DO NOT ANSWER EMAILS OUTSIDE OF THESE TIMES!
o If you get an extra few minutes to review email – go ahead - and then put the responses in your “draft” folder til one of your review times!
o DON’T DELAY RESPONDING MUCH PAST YOUR “DUE TO REVIEW” TIME IF YOU CAN HELP IT, at least at the beginning.
This may require some temporary extra work. People must believe you will respond even though you aren’t 100% available.
"The Hamster Revolution," by Mike Song, Vicki Halsey & Tim Burress
Copyright Cynthia Burnham 2007 All rights reserved.