Email – some days (maybe most) it’s like a faucet you just can’t turn off. The relentlessness of email is the most common complaint I get from people, both in the workplace and at home. As helpless as you may feel, there are some things you can do to stop the assault:
Send fewer emails. Every email you send provides the opportunity for at least one more email to show up in your inbox when your recipient responds. There certainly are instances where sending an email is appropriate, but make sure a phone call or some other means of communication wouldn’t make more sense. This can be especially true when you’re trying to set up a meeting time – the back-and-forth of picking a date can often be eliminated with a quick call in real time.
Don’t automatically “Reply All.” As noted above, every email you send invites an email response. Do yourself and everyone on the distribution list a favor and only reply to people who need to know. They’d be much happier getting one fewer email than being party to your clever yet irrelevant response.
Respond thoroughly. Make sure you respond to each issue raised by the sender. A partial reply will require a second email (or maybe a phone call) to clarify issues that weren’t addressed in your original response. For example, I recently received a reply to an email in which I asked the recipient whether she’d rather go biking or kayaking and which dates work best for her. She replied that she’d rather go kayaking, but I had to send a second email to firm up the date. Yes, a phone call might have been a better option.
Send concise but thorough messages. Emails aren’t typically meant to be works of literary genius – the point is to convey information as clearly as possible and, in some cases, elicit a response. I try to make my subject line the entire message whenever possible. If more detail is required, I use bullet points so each idea stands out, rather than being buried in prose. I also write with the intent of telling the recipient exactly what I want them to do – I use phrases like “please tell me,” “let me know,” and “is it ok with you?” There’s less ambiguity and therefore less back-and-forth when you use direct language.
Check email less often. I’ve previously written about how disruptive it can be to be constantly checking email. Establish pre-determined times to check for new messages and thoroughly process each one as you read it. It’s better to be methodical and thorough in each response than to have a bunch of read but unprocessed emails that you’ll have to go back and re-read later.
Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,