It happens every morning to the best of us, and most times, it's worse on Mondays. The dreaded email flood. For many people, the flood of emails continues throughout the day, and with so many notifications popping up on multiple screens and programmed sound alerts, it's a wonder we get anything done.
I have been to networking events where there are a handful of people who are hovering at the edge of the room, eyes cast downward, face lit up by the glow of an email on their smartphone screen. I often wonder: What is the point? What is the point of trying to accomplish anything when we are so accustomed to dropping everything at the drop of a hat for an email notification -- because it just might be important.
Don't get me wrong, email is both a blessing and a curse, but it needs to be used thoughtfully, in the same way that you wouldn't barge into a conversation in progress and blurt out the first thing that comes to mind. It can quickly shift the conversation off-course and simply be off-putting. An email can interrupt in the same way, so you want to use it intelligently.
Here are eight ways to makes sure that email doesn't kill productivity for you and those around you:
Turn off email alerts: Unless your job is to respond to emails all day, there is no reason for you to have your alerts turned on. Focus on what you are doing and schedule your email response windows into your day. This will ensure you can give your full attention to the task at hand, and it also means that you won't be distracted while in meetings or on a phone call.
Learn to prioritize your emails: Not every email is urgent. If you had to step out to a meeting in 10 minutes and you only have time to respond to two emails, which two would you choose? Respond to the others in your scheduled email times. We are so used to instant gratification whether it's through social media communications or fast food that we often forget that not everything needs to be done ten minutes ago.
Respond quickly when necessary -- close the loop: Similar to prioritizing, if an email comes in that covers timely requests or urgent requests, send a quick acknowledgment email and let the recipient know you are working on it. Otherwise, they may be left wondering whether you even received the email in the first place.
Write well-thought out emails: This means you need to read the email that came to you in its entirety and make sure you address all issues in your response. Also remember that firing off a rapid succession of emails to a colleague when an idea pops into your head is not only disturbing to them, but it makes it hard to track any important or useful points you are trying to make. And don't forget to review your email before you send it to make sure there are no glaring factual errors or typos.
Keep it short and sweet: Keep your responses succinct. In a face-to-face conversation, you don't want to be the person that goes on and on. So, why would you be verbose in an email? If you feel the need to write a lengthy email to go over all issues and cover all bases, then chances are you would do better with a face-to-face meeting or phone call.
Use other communications channels: Don't default to email; not everything warrants sending an email. If your colleague is a couple of offices down, take a stroll over to see if they can chat.
Copy people only when necessary: We have all received emails that we are copied on only to leave us with the feeling of "why did I get this?" We have also seen emails sent in anger or defiance that CC company management when an issue could and should be dealt with at a lower level. Only CC the recipients that need to be involved in the conversation. You may have CC'd senior management because you wanted to make the other person look bad, but this can harm your credibility more than the other person's.
Leave your phone in your pocket: If you are at a social or business gathering, leave technology out of it and be fully present with others in the room. As communications shift increasingly to the digital side, and workplaces become more remote, cherish the time you have with people face to face. Your email messages will still be there at the end of the event and you can respond without being rude to those in your company.
Email is a communications tool that, when used efficiently, can make everyone's lives a lot easier. However, it can easily get out of control when we delete the fundamentals of communication and personal engagement.
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