How to be More Productive by Emailing Less
Let’s talk about emails.
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Productivity experts get more questions about how to handle email than almost any other topic. That’s because most people rely on it way too much for their business correspondence, especially within remote teams. In many ways, it’s becoming the Pony Express of business communications — meaning it’s about as efficient as sending people on horseback to deliver your messages!
Your virtual team should rely on online messaging systems to easily follow conversations, engage groups of people, and find information.
Here’s what email is NOT — a way to instantly contact someone. But that’s the way most use it. They send one out and then anxiously drum their fingers on their desks waiting for a response. Meanwhile, the recipient is busily working away on their computer, completely unaware anything is sitting in their inbox. You get mad while they get things done.
Here’s another thing email is NOT — a way to have an extended conversation. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have the time to scroll through an endless stream of email back-and-forth, looking for that one pertinent fact or comment that’s buried somewhere in that mile-long string of messages. Continuing our Old West theme, that’s about as easy as panning for gold in a stream. You might get that nugget at some point, but it’s going to take a long while.
And here’s one final thing email is NOT — a place
where you can safely make mistakes. If you accidentally leave in a rude comment you meant to delete or left a dangling thought underneath your main message that makes no sense but was part of your writing process, there are no take backs. Once you hit the “send” button, you’re usually helpless to get it back. Worse yet, that problematic email can be forwarded to others, including your boss. And God help you if you had a minor hissy fit and sent it out into cyberspace before you had a chance to cool down.
So, considering all that email is NOT, my advice is to avoid it as much as possible. Instead, your virtual team should rely on online messaging systems like MS Teams, Webex Teams, or Slack, because they let you easily follow conversations, engage groups of people and find the nuggets of info you need much more efficiently.
These kinds of collaboration systems also let you retract messages, which can save you a lot of grief. Even if they see it before you can delete it, you can still delete it later and deny it in a future lawsuit (a Perry Mason moment averted!). I’ve seen how switching out collaboration tools for email can cut down problems by 50% or more—simply because any heat-of-the-moment “zingers” can go away with a click.
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When to Use Email…and HOW to Use It
If you must use email, use all of its potential.
If you’re wondering, yes, I still use email, but very sparingly. To me, it’s only really needed when you need to document things in writing with a timestamp (e.g. legal or tax or government message). Also, the person on the other end might insist on email or it just might be company policy. Finally, if a message is unavoidably complex, email is a good choice for laying everything out in detail (just don’t use it if you’re looking for an immediate response).
Whatever the case, if you must use email, use all of its potential. The subject heading and first three lines of an email are like the Park Place and Boardwalk killer combo in Monopoly, so don’t waste them. You have maybe three seconds to grab your recipient’s attention long enough to convey the vital information. And those three seconds may happen while the other person is doing two or three other things at once. Be direct and concise.
If you need a response, an action to be taken, or if the email is just plain urgent, make this clear in the subject line. Use asterisks and big font headings to spell out what you want the reader to pay attention to. Better yet, send a message or a text that you need them to respond to your email.
Keeping Your Team Off Email
You might have noticed from this blog that email is far from my favorite mode of communication. If you don’t care for it either, here’s how I “trained” a co-worker out of using it.
We had hired someone new who had never worked remotely before—and she drove me CRAZY with all the emails she sent. I kept asking her to communicate through chat because I only check email a couple of times a day, but I’m on messaging systems all day long, so…I kept missing information I needed! I finally decided that, when she emailed me, I would simply copy and paste its content into a chat message and replied that way. She got the idea—and fast!