Better Living Through (Better) Email

Virtually everyone I know in the working world believes there are too many emails and too many meetings.  Yes, I know, this isn’t exactly breaking news.

I’m fascinated by our love/hate relationship with emails.  We all get too many emails, and yet we inevitably send them out and contribute to the clogged up boxes of our colleagues. I’m exhibit A in that regard.  While I fume at times about the quality (or lack of quality) and the volume of emails, I send out an email to my colleagues like clockwork on Monday morning.*

How can we use email more effectively to make our lives easier?

First, to state the obvious the only effective email is one that is read.  Thankfully, the internet is full of great suggestions as to how to tailor your email messages to be effective. When I’m writing I try—but don’t always succeed—in getting to the point, in making good use of the subject line, and in trying not to overcommunicate.  I think how we write is important.

But how we manage our email is just as important to keeping this communication tool in perspective. Here are a few thoughts on how I tackle email management that may be helpful to you:

  • If you are looking at your emails in the morning before you have your calendar and work prioritized, stop.  Don’t waste your most valuable time looking at what others have thrown in your in-box.  Be proactive.  Be in charge of your life.
  • You may find that you work best on the weekend, or need that time to catch up.  Fine.  But don’t assume that your colleagues want to hear from you outside of the business week. Unless your job requires that you be accessible, work hard to honor your colleagues’ personal time.  Learn how to delay delivery (under “Options” in Microsoft Outlook) so all those wonderful messages you’ve written over the weekend start showing up only after the start of the business week.  Especially if you are in management, try and model good email behavior and etiquette.  If you are sending the signal that personal time is not as valuable as work time, then those who work with and for you will follow your cues.
  • Understand the basic rules of email:  1) 99% of the time when you are listed in the copy (cc) line of an email, you don’t need to respond.  You are not the recipient. This is just for your information.  Resist the urge to jump into someone else’s conversation.  2) Learn the appropriate way to respond to emails. HINT: “Reply all” is often not the appropriate response. 3) Stay away from blind carbon copies (bcc’s) unless you will never be embarrassed when someone you blind copied responds to all the recipients.  4) There is an appropriate time to use bcc’s however. When you have a number of recipients (like the board or everyone in the division), consider putting them into the bcc line and just put your own name in the TO line.  That way, if someone uses “reply all” they will only be responding to you.

Finally, I feel the need to say in this day and age of rude language and poor manners at the highest levels of our civic life, being polite goes a long way. I like receiving an email that begins with my name, or even “Dear David.”  Closing out an email with “Regards” or “All the best” also shows that you are still thinking of your manners after writing your message.  When I begin each email with a nice greeting, I find myself calming down even as I was preparing to fire off a hot salvo about some perceived slight or bad screw-up.  This fits with direction I received from my grandmother, who told us to “always say please and thank you.”

As in many things in life, look around at the people you admire.  Who is using email effectively?  How can you emulate them?  Digital communication is here to stay, but it will continue to evolve.  Think of how you can evolve along with it.

Typewriter Exhibit

Typewriter exhibition from the Exploratorium in San Francisco…as a reminder that communications evolve.

Have a good week.

More to come…

DJB

*I do, however, give staff permission to delete them without opening and without hurting my feelings.

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