Email; on the face of it, is not the most riveting of topics yet such an important part of daily life. It comes up time and time again in group conversations about what stops people achieving their goals / change / results. Email requires thought and careful management to safeguard wellbeing and general quality of life. Hailed as a time saving nirvana in the ‘90s, it appears to since have become the scourge of the 21st century workplace. According to McKinsey, the average professional spends over a quarter of his or her time reading and answering email. Email is a potential saboteur of productivity, proactivity and mental wellness.
The Big Picture
Email addiction and, indeed, nomophobia (smartphone addiction), are a very real threat. The dopamine high of receiving a message causes people to seek out content stimulation. It’s already apparent that constantly and instantly responding to email and other electronic stimuli ‘trains’ people to take a reactive approach to work and other parts of their life. However, it’s essential that people are also able to switch between reactivity and proactivity i.e. take steps to anticipate the future, thinking about and actively influencing or controlling a situation rather than simply responding to it. Author Seth Godin’s productivity pyramid starts with basics such as working harder and getting things done at the bottom and peaks at the top with ‘finding better things to spend your time on’. People need to get out of constant response mode and take back control…
15 inbox busting tips:
1. Over-checking: This article from Forbes explains how to save hours every week by cutting down on the number of times you check your inbox. Apparently, on average, it’s done 15 times every day, yet some people allow it to constantly interrupt them. The majority of senders expect a response only within an hour, so make a rule to check email only every 60 minutes. Checking email too frequently could seriously affect productivity and performance.
2. Choice: Whether you decide to check email outside of working hours, or not, is up to you. Make sure people know what to expect from you. You also have a choice about the sort of culture you work in.
3. Notifications: Turn them off. Research indicates that it can take anything from 64 seconds to more than 20 minutes to refocus after an interruption so having to go ‘eyes right’ every few seconds is a distraction you could do without.
4. Inbox zero+10: The pursuit of a completely empty inbox is an endless task, so operate inbox zero+10 instead. Once a week set aside some time to for a conscious clear out of your inbox aside from a maximum of 10 live, actionable items. Do it, delegate it, file it or dump it. Psychologically you’ll feel more in control and far less stressed than being met by an overflowing inbox every hour. It will also stop you wasting time rereading emails.
5. Prioritise: Is it urgent and / or important?
High urgency, low importance – delegate, dump or say no
High urgency, high importance – deal with it
Low urgency, low importance – distractions; delete them
Low urgency, high importance – plan it
6. Purpose: Be clear in the subject line so you and your recipient can easily search for and retrieve the information. This also helps to ensure your email will be read instead of languishing in obscurity in the 5000 emails your recipient has in his or her inbox. It will also help you focus on ‘why’ you’re sending this in the first place. You could also add a category bracket after the subject, such as (information), (urgent), (social) etc.
7. Clarity: Think before your write. Follow the format system (start with ‘why’ then go on to what, how and what if). Write simply, briefly and succinctly in contemporary language, using bullet points as appropriate.
8. Professionalism: Check over your emails to ensure they make sense, are free of typos / grammatical errors and it’s clear who you are and what you need as a result of your email being read. Clear and creative signatures can help.
9. Write to aliens: Instead of assuming that your recipient knows what you’re talking about, imagine you’re explaining your point to an alien who would have no prior knowledge of the subject. Even if you believe you’ve mentioned the topic previously, remember that people delete and distort information that’s not of interest at the time or something they don’t like.
10. Reply to all: Acknowledge every email, even if it’s only to unsubscribe or to ask someone to take you off their database. If you can’t deal with the response within 24 hours, let the sender know when you’ll be able to respond fully.
11. Stop replying to all: Please halt the endless copying in of multiple recipients. Write only to those who need to know. If you do copy someone in, explain why. Most cc-ing is an unnecessary contributor to stress, time stealing and gratuitous arse covering. Stop it!
12. Positivity: Make this one a golden rule. If your proposed message is negative, never email it, talk instead, you’ll achieve a better result, it’s far more effective and it’s kinder. Never write when angry – keyboard warriors do untold damage; you can’t take it back.
13. Recipient last: Leave the ‘To’ field alone until you’ve perfected your message to avoid accidentally sending out an incomplete or error ridden communication. Similarly add any attachments first so you don’t forget and press ‘Send’ before attaching them.
14. Parity: If you’re in a position to do so, make sure your organisation / team have simple, clear guidelines in place so people know what to expect and can behave accordingly.
15. Be kind – it costs nothing and impacts everything.
Adopting the above will help stop people working for email rather than it working for them. Resolve today to take back control; before we all become stressed out ‘busy fools’…
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