It’s Sunday evening when a torrent of emails from your eager colleagues or workaholic boss has been disrupting your leisure time, making you and those around you feeling somehow unnerved.
It’s Monday morning and you’re on your way to the office anxiously thinking about all the emails waiting for you to be read and actioned.
Sounds familiar? Even with the arrival of a countless alternatives aiming to help us with more flawless communicating, the use of ‘the good old email’ is still highly popular and mostly abused.
Over the years, I was able to develop some practical techniques enabling me to manage my inbox more effectively. I hope you find some of them useful.
Maya Angelou, Benjamin Franklin and Sigmund Freud were very strict with their daily routines. It worked for them, it works for me and it can certainly work for you.
So here’s my routine: I wake up at 6am every day (7am on the weekend), and spend the first 30 minutes mindfully preparing for the day ahead. Next, I check my calendar and scan through my messages, deleting all the junk and responding to all the ‘yes/no’ emails right away. This allows me to enjoy my breakfast, catch up on day’s news and choose things to think about on my way to the gym.
I am a ‘lark’ and prefer to deal with the most time and energy consuming activities in the morning, thus I tend to check my emails first thing when I start my working day, then before my lunch break and lastly towards the end of the day when I’m starting to feel tired. My email manager (Outlook/Gmail) is open all day, but I keep the pop-up window turned off as I find it too distracting (this applies to my laptop/mobile).
Once at home, I will sporadically check my inbox on my mobile while watching tv, but try to keep this to a minimum, making sure my brain remains in the ‘relax and unwind’ zone.
I find this routine very useful and when I stick to it, my inbox is very manageable.
You’ve Got Mail!
Do you remember the 1998 American romantic comedy-drama staring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan hugely featuring the AOL online mail service? Well, nowadays we’re not required to sit for hours on end waiting for a message to arrive, and then thinking about responding to it. Quite the opposite, our inboxes are busier than the Los Angeles International, London Heathrow and Singapore Changi airports put all together.
And just as with the airport arrival board informing your of a plain landing, I take my time to acknowledge receiving a message by letting the sender know I have read it (whenever appropriate, of course). I keep my responses short — thanks, got it, makes sense, let’s chat when I’m in — they never fail.
Email Filing Cabinet.
Being naturally organised and structured helps me to stay on top of my workload in general, but the same goes for my emails.
I’ve seen so many email filing cabinets over the years, from the very small ones (essentially with very little or no sub-folders at all) to the enormously complicated constructions (and probably needing some manuals to navigate between the folders). Each to their own. I’m somewhere in the middle.
Messages left in my inbox require taking action — simple as that. I sometimes flag them up or mark as unread, which helps me with prioritising and making an orderly action plan.
Once they are dealt with, they move to their relevant folders (e.g. home bills, invoices, training, family and friends, and so on).
There is so much interesting and useful information that people regularly share with each other via email, which is truly great. My schedule does not always permit me to get familiar with them when they arrive, hence they travel to my ‘reading’ folder, which I often visit during my weekends.
Email. Text. Messenger.
The golden rule here is this: if you want to receive less email, send less email. Simple.
I used to be a massive email abuser but since the arrival of Facebook messenger, WhatsApp, Yammer and Skype, I select my medium carefully before hitting the send button. Long gone are the days where having your mobile device on your desk was frowned upon. Technology is present and isn’t going anywhere, let’s embrace it.
During my years with ?What If! Innovation, (still) the biggest global independent innovation consultancy in the world, I could receive over 30 ‘fun emails’ on any given day of the week, often started by a funny anecdote, photo or a comment. You can imagine how much of the precious time people where wasting having to deal with these email trails. Having fun along the way, for certain, yet, becoming less productive themselves. We’d installed Yammer and moved the casual chatter onto the platform, which was a bold and correct move.
I am not afraid to move the conversation from an email to a messenger, or a chat over a cuppa, if I feel it will reposition the train on a faster and less crowded tracks. You too can do it, don’t be afraid, people will not get angry with you for as long as you keep the benefit of the task ahead in mind.
I keep writing emails to an absolute minimum. End result — fewer emails and far less time spent on navigating my inbox.
To: Cc: Bcc: ***
I try to keep the volume of conversations to a necessary minimum, and think hard about whom to invite to participate. Here’s how I look at it:
To: I need you to acknowledge/respond to me (unless I say FYI only)
Cc: Purely for your information — I don’t need you to participate in the conversation
Bcc: I send an email to a large group of people and don’t want them all to see each other’s email addresses (I will tell you if I need you to respond to me)
*** I NEED TO TALK TO YOU *** written in the subject line means there is no content in the body of the message, you don’t need to open it
Keep it short.
Okay, so I need to send en email. I keep it short, writing and rewriting it whenever I can to keep it as concise and straight to the point as possible.
We all have stacks of books ever growing on our bedside tables that we want to read, and receiving elaborately written emails certainly won’t help with that.
Clearly written emails (facts — action points — specific questions) help to avoid ambiguity and misinterpretation. There is no room for ‘email Chinese whispers’ in the workplace. It just isn’t.
Press Send. No, hold on!
I’ve experienced the ghastly anxiety feeling of receiving an important email from a client or a boss at 10pm, and I bet you have too. Terribly disturbing. That is why I never send emails after 7pm (unless absolutely necessary).
Our workweeks are extremely hectic, and I appreciate that our weekends are for unwinding, relaxing and reconnecting with our nearest and dearest.
That does not mean that sometime we don’t feel like working or capturing that great idea that has suddenly popped up in our heads — we do. I can honestly say that I do for sure. If there is anything I want to share with a colleague, I will simply draft my message and send it out on Monday morning (or set up a rule in my email manager to send the message automatically at a precise time in the future).
These are some of the practices that have worked for me and helped me to stay on top of my emails. Life happens and a certain level of flexibility is required, but the more I stick to them, the more effective I become when managing my business communication.
These are mine, and some of them may work for you, others most likely won’t. That’s alright. I’d like to invite you to share your practices and techniques on here so that we all — including myself — can become wizards when it comes down to communicating in the context of business environment.