Remember back when we thought email was going to be a breakthrough for effective communication at the office?
Today, we’re more likely to view email as a major annoyance and, worse, a distraction from the meaningful work we really should be doing.
Writing for Huffpost Business, etiquette consultant Jodi R.R. Smith has compiled a roundup of tips from a variety of experts to help you with “taming the tide of emails so you have time to actually be productive.”
Here’s my blurb in the article:
Compile and Communicate: Maura Thomas, founder of Regain Your Time, takes face-to-face to the next level. “Rather than emailing every time you think of something, create a Talk-To list for that person. As you think of things you need to communicate, create a list along with whatever you need to say.” Doing so avoids multiple pesky emails as well as establishes an efficient agenda for your time together.
You’ll find other good ideas in this article as well. A couple of my favorites are checking emails during specified times only and setting policies and best practices for how your team uses email.
Your mileage may vary, of course, but I can’t recommend some of the other tips.
One tip I don’t agree with is flagging emails that you’ve opened but that still require your attention. Reading the same message twice wastes time, and flagging it just creates stress, because now you know only that there is “something” that needs to be done. You don’t know what it is, how important it is in relation to your other tasks or how long it will take. You might be doing this because you are checking your email at a time when you don’t really have time to be checking your email. Email is work. So you need to set aside time to actually deal with your messages. If you give every message a few minutes of your time and attention (or until it’s handled, whichever comes first), you’ll find that most can be dispatched pretty quickly. For any that are left, instead of flagging them, take the extra few seconds to add it to your task list, being specific about the action you need to take, adding the appropriate task category, due date and a reminder.
I’m not a fan of auto-filing emails, either. Instead of one folder (your inbox) that has all your unread messages, you now have several. Multiple sources of unread messages = multiple sources of stress.
Using instant messenger does help avoid long email chains, but it also gives the impression of immediacy, creating a constant flow of interruptions for users who often don’t feel comfortable setting their status to “away.” An internal app that stores history (such as Slack or Hipchat) is better for effective communication, but any new channel should be installed in tandem with communication policies and training on proper use. Installing a new channel without the proper preparation will just shift excessive communication from one channel to two, therefore increasing the burden on employees.
More Email Advice
You can always enlist a little help in managing your email, too. One of my favorite email tools is Spamdrain. It gets rid of messages that don’t need to reach you in the first place, making your inbox a tidier and less-overwhelming place to manage. Another powerful tool that I love is Throttle, which (among other features) allows you to block senders’ access to your inbox and to combine your mass mailings like newsletters and social media alerts into digests that you read when you choose, not when the emails hit your inbox and clamor for your attention.
And if you’re ready to take a deeper look at your office’s email culture and whether it enables or prevents effective communication, check out two of my articles for HBR.org: “Your Late Night Emails Are Hurting Your Team” and “Fixing Our Unhealthy Obsession With Work Email.”