The Deadly Sins of Email
Email: heaven sent saint or time sapping sinner?
Do you remember the good old days when we actually spoke to the people we work with and posted letters using 'snail mail'?
These days, speed and simplicity is the new king of communication and acting as court jester is email. Email has revolutionised communication, making it both simpler and faster for businesses to communicate. We can now share documents, sales brochures and presentations whenever we feel like it – and best of all, it's free. When used 'properly' email dramatically boosts productivity and output.
But it's not all good news. The majority of workers have come to rely way too much on email. The typical worker now receives 100 emails a day with top executives receiving an average of 300 emails per day. If each email takes two minutes on average to read and process, then we are spending between three and nine hours a day on email before we even get started with our real work. Does that sound crazy to you? Email shouldn't be your job, it is just a small part of your job. However, the research shows that more and more workers are addicted to email, perhaps even 'inboxicated'...
Are you an email addict?
Do you check emails as soon as you wake up?
Do you check email every five to 10 minutes?
Do you respond to emails as soon as you receive them?
Do you constantly email people who work in close proximity to you?
Do you check emails just before you go to bed each night?
If you answered “yes” to any of the above questions, it's time to make some simple changes and stop abusing email. Let's break the seven deadly sins of email once and for all...
Deadly Sin #1: Pop-up Alert
Bing! What is the greatest killer of productivity and concentration to date? Easy - the email pop-up alert. Save time (and your mind) by switching off your email alert. This will help you to focus on one task at a time, especially when it requires thought and innovation. Check your emails at specific times throughout the day to enhance productivity and output. For example, only check emails at the start of your day (after you've done a daily plan), just before lunch and at the end of the day. One in five people fall into the category of “email dependant” and compulsively check email and panic when they can't get access.
Deadly Sin #2: Email Tennis
Ever had one of those email conversations that goes on like a Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal 5th set tiebreaker? Get out of the habit of playing long games of email tennis. Follow the two email rule – if you're still not sure what to do after two emails, revert to a really old fashioned way of communicating and pick up the phone, call the recipient and work out what needs to be done. Better still, if they work in the cubicle next to you, get off your backside and go and see them face-to-face.
Deadly Sin #3: The Email Emu
This involves sticking your head in the sand and using email (or any form of electronic communication) as a medium to shy away from face-to-face confrontation. Email is best suited to simple communications like scheduling meetings and circulating minutes or updates. It isn't a substitute for face-to-face or phone communications.
As RadioShack discovered in 2006 when they sacked 400 employees via staff email, not only is acting as an ‘email emu’ bad for the recipient, but it can (and should) warrant receiving a global blasting from media. While RadioShack were blasted worldwide, unfortunately some organisations didn't get the memo on abusing their corporate emails. Insurer Aviva accidentally emailed a dismissal notice to its investment unit in April 2012, causing press worldwide to go crazy. As a rule of thumb, stick to face-to-face conversations for sensitive information. Being made redundant is bad enough without adding insult to the injury and doing it virtually.
Deadly Sin #4: Writing a Thesis
We've all had to endure colleagues or clients who waffle on (and on and on and on and on) in emails. Simple solution? Get to the point and keep it brief. Email tends to be more like conversational speech and falls into a category between a short note and a memo, so it is unnecessary to spend hours composing a message with the formality and rigidity of a PhD thesis (although I can hear my high school English teacher snorting in disgust as I type this. Sorry Mr. Larkin).
Better yet, use bullet points to illustrate main topics and keep the majority of internal emails to five sentences or points.
Deadly Sin #5 Unprofessional Email Etiquette
Okay, let's take a moment to consider something. When you send your URGENT emails that need responses ASAP, is it really that crucial that you get a response immediately? Can you wait a little longer? Being on the receiving end of these emails isn't fun, so LOSE THE CAPITAL LETTERS, urgent missives, bold headings and 32 point text – it only makes you look rude and impatient.
And remember email in a work context should stay professional – limit LOL, smiley faces, “xx” and your funky street lingo to your friends, family and ya peeps...
Deadly Sin #6: Quick Draw McGraw
Did you realise that 70 per cent of emails are responded to within six seconds of arriving in the inbox and 85 per cent within three minutes? Stop the insanity and break the habit of reaching for the keyboard and firing away an automated response. Because email is quick and viewed as a less formal medium than letters or memos, people can be careless in their eagerness to reply. We've all seen this deadly sin in action and it can have devastating consequences. Like when a friend or colleague writes something about someone or something and accidentally copies in the entire distribution list... At the very least this will provide embarrassment; and at the worst jeopardise your career.
As a simple rule, if you are going to send an emotional or angry email, write it, store it in your draft folder, read it again a few hours later and then re-evaluate how you feel. Email may be convenient, but it's also easy to misinterpret, lacking the visual clues or changes in tonality of face-to-face communication.
Deadly Sin #7: Lack of Email Guidelines
I'm constantly amazed that a number of large companies we consult to (even in the top 50 ASX) have little to no formal policies around email. It seems that most organisations just 'do' email.
Email can be a blight on and an added source of workplace stress that nobody needs. Break the seven deadly sins with increased self-awareness and applying some discipline and email can live up to its promise of being a fast and efficient communications tool.
How do you or your organisation manage or abuse email?