Take A Break From Email

While I am not what I consider to be old, I do remember a time when we communicated with phones and faxes instead of texts and tweets. When I started my career, there was no such thing as email or LinkedIn. When we needed to communicate with someone, we picked up the phone. If someone was two offices down the hall, we walked to their office and had a face-to-face conversation. If you had to give a customer bad news about a delivery, you couldn’t hide behind an email.

I suppose I look back on those times with nostalgia, though now I know I’d struggle to get by without my smart phone. Today, instead of interacting with people, we’ve become addicted to the chirp of our smart phone. We stop interacting with others to see what latest bit of information the technological wonder in our hand had brought us.

Doesn’t this seem a little backwards? By becoming so reliant on email, we have become lazy and disconnected. We’ve lost our soft skills of communication that are so important. We struggle to communicate, listen, and engage — and not just in our professional communication, but also in our personal communications as well!

Over the last 20 years email has transformed the way we communicate. Mobile devices have torn down the traditional barriers between our work and home lives and, as a result, we are drowning. We have been sold on the narrative that we can multitask in all aspects of our lives, and we’ve bought it in the name of efficiency without stopping to ask what it really costs us.

How many times have you responded to a text or email too quickly and said the wrong thing because you were inattentive, distracted, or trying to “multitask?” I get how easy it is in our time crunched world to fire off an email, but how much of human feeling and emotion gets sacrificed in the name of speed on top of the mistakes we’re also making? If email is here to make communication better, maybe we need to re-evaluate how we use it.

Emails also make it more difficult for your audience to remember your message. It is said that “we retain… 10 percent of what we read, 20 percent of what we hear, 30 percent of what we see, 50 percent of what we see and hear, 70 percent of what we discuss with others, 80 percent of what we experience, and 95 percent of what we teach to someone else.” Just think of how much you retain of the emails you read and it should become clear that email, as a form of communication, has reached a point of diminishing returns

Yes, email is a powerful communication tool that helps bring the world closer together. However, when used inappropriately it also hinders productivity and creativity. We need to be the ones in control of our lives — not our phones! Here are five strategies to help you manage your email and stop it from managing you:

Delete first.
Start by deleting unnecessary emails before you waste time opening them. Delete auto-alerts and any email you can tell from the subject line does not require your action. Do not hang on to emails you are not going to act on. You should be able to delete at least 10% of your emails this way.

Don’t use email to avoid unpleasant tasks.
Many times email is used to deliver bad news, a late order, a failed quote, or a difficult request. No one likes confrontation and hiding behind email can look like the easy way out. Next time you have a difficult situation, pick up the phone or walk down the hall and have a conversation. This will prevent the endless email chains that in the end do not solve a problem.

Take action immediately.
When you receive an email, respond promptly. Do not let important emails languish for hours. If you are unable to respond immediately, reply and let the sender know when you will respond in full. If you need additional information to respond, let the sender know what you specifically need to be able to make a decision.

Don’t constantly check for new messages.
Email is addictive and it needs to be recognized as such. Taking even a “quick” scan of your inbox can take far longer than you expect, recognize this and resist the urge. To help, consider taking a “time out” from checking your inbox for designated periods of time or checking emails at only specific times of day. Remember, each time you stop work to check your email you are distracting yourself. Some researchers believe that it can take longer than five minutes to regain complete focus after such a distraction. Doing this should help you remain more productive throughout the day.

Review and edit before sending.
How many times have you received an email with poor grammar, misspellings, or incorrect facts because someone did not take the time to review the email before hitting send? Check to make sure you are answering the question that was asked and you have all of the details that are required. Doing this important step will help limit the endless and time-consuming email reply chain.

To Sum it all up…
Consider taking a break at some point each week from email. Doing so will give you greater opportunity to develop and deepen relationships with your coworkers and your customers. It will also require you to routinely practice your real-time communication and listening skills.

Since Fridays are casual days in many business, why not take Fridays off from email as well? Instead of hitting send to reply, get out of your chair, walk down the hall and have a face to face conversation with coworkers and customers on Fridays. If they are outside the office, then pick up the phone. In the end it may actually save time on top of the other benefits.

Business is initiated and conducted based on relationships, and relationships do not exist without human connection. Email-free Fridays are a great time to practice the skills used to make such connections. Doing so will aid in strengthening relationships, your team, and your bonds with the customer.

Try it — give up email for the day and see the results!