The last 20 years of 'digital' in our society has brought so many great innovations...yet email is not one of them. Many of you will not argue this, and certainly those who know me are not surprised by my opinion. I used to think email was a great creation, but I changed my mind years ago after having watched years of 'user abuse' and witnessing a lot of damage in the form of lost productivity. (While I have certainly been implicated in the past regarding abuse, I am constantly attempting to reform and lead a good example.) Email confuses, drags things out, complicates communication, and otherwise reduces efficiencies in our work and lives. Until it doesn't...which takes thought and energy.
In moments when I day-dream for things I can't have, I close my eyes and urge God to issue an 11th Commandment requiring standardized testing to every individual who wants to use email. But alas, that's stupid...and folks aren't going to have to pass tests to have babies either.
Of late I've developed a new strategy pertaining to how I manage email - I don't. I don't manage email. This doesn't mean I neglect email, it means I don't actively think about managing it. My email boxes are just endless pits of white noise anyway, why attempt to control it?
So how should we think about our Email Problem? (In caps for emphasis!)
Simple. Don't consider 'email management' a real concept. If, like me, you want to be more productive and better at what you do, have more phone calls and face-to-face meetings and 'live less' through email.
I read a great post today on the HBR site from a guy named Anthony K. Tjan. Anthony is a highly credible venture capitalist, runs a successful firm called Cue Ball, has the brains, diplomas, etc., and he offers some really good tips about the subject that you may want to implement. Anthony would probably agree with me that we should acknowledge the counter-productive nature of email and how it hinders progress in the workplace.
The spirit of this post is to get us all thinking about utilizing tools - like email - in ways that help us become more productive, and not the other way around. This means we have to think hard about the way we work. And, to help those with whom we work to contemplate the process of work and what it means to be productive. For now, let's see if a few of these following ideas aren't helpful for you:
1. Turn your email off for specific blocks of time during each day and stay focused against the other work items which need your attention. (This means you're going to have to get very disciplined and organized with your time to focus on top priorities...you can do it!);
2. Instead of emailing someone, pick up the phone and make a call instead;
3. Use email as a utility device only ("are you free Thursday for lunch?");
4. Do not "converse" through email....never reply more than once to any email;
5. Activate an auto-response which says you prioritize phone calls and meetings over email: "Thanks for the note, call me at 917-207-5183 to get in touch with me right away as email is not the fastest way to reach me." (Or something like that.)
6. Turn your phone off when not working...better work-life balance can be attained this way which will only make you more productive while on the clock;
Hmmm, what else, what else??? There are probably tons more suggestions of ways we can make sure we stay productive without the email noose around our neck. I'm sure you have some ideas, too, so please send 'em along. This is an ongoing dialogue, of course, because email ain't going away, and God ain't issuing no test any time soon.
Michael Hess is the Founder/Principal of Core 6 Management Advisors. Drawing on almost 3 decades of experience in Sales and Management, Michael shares his thoughts and opinions here for you.