Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Email: how to cope with your addiction

Emails are a source of much stress in the modern workplace.  Technology was meant to make our life easier, yet most people become slaves to their inbox.  If you insist on using emails all the time, be aware of the following tips:

Remember the telephone: unless a written record is required, the telephone can give a personal touch which can have greater impact.

Set times: as a general rule, if you are checking your emails over 15 times a day...you are an addict!  Try to check your emails less than 10 times a day.

Turn off email notifications: if you are constantly being distracted by your computer informing you that you have an email, it is very difficult to work effectively.  Check your inbox after you have completed tasks or when you return from a break.

Be brief: sum up your emails in two sentences.  If you need to add more information, attach a report.

Summarise: precede a long email with a short summary. If you can't summarise in three/four sentences, you never will be able to clearly communicate your idea.  Call the person or have a meeting instead.

Use folders: establish folders where you can place emails to read at an appropriate time.

Use Auto-Preview: scan the first few lines of the email.  Either then read fully, file or delete.

If it is urgent: say so.  Write URGENT in the subject line.

Formality: match the formality or style of the sender to avoid offence. If unsure, err on the side of caution and address them quite formally.


Apply the ‘three times’ reply rule: if you have to reply to an email more than three times, choose another communication method.  Email hasn't solved the problem yet, so you have to change your approach to dealing with this person.

Use the subject line: place key information in the subject line to make it easier for the reader to refer to your email in the future.

Respond promptly: don’t leave email unread for more than two days.  If the email is long and you do not have time to respond to the entire email, send a brief email acknowledging its receipt and your intent to reply in more detail.

Errors: spelling and grammatical errors are unprofessional.  Proof read everything before sending. It is not cute to make spelling mistakes, it just makes you look stoopid.

Never send ‘flame mail’: this is the email that you send out to someone who has annoyed you and you immediately regret it.  If you are angry with someone, it is best to speak to them face to face.

CC: if you love to ‘cc’ or ‘bcc’ people – you have a problem.

Junk Mail: remove yourself from newsletters you don’t read or need. It may take a few extra seconds, but it can save you a lot of unnecessary emails in the future.

Final Thought: consider if the other person is a Reader or Listener

Management guru Peter Drucker suggests recognising someone as either a ‘reader’ or ‘listener’ as a way to help you get the best out of the person.  Readers learn and respond best to written messages; Listeners learn through oral communication.

If you sometimes find it difficult to communicate, or you just can’t understand each other, maybe you are writing to a listener or talking to reader.  Take this into account when trying to communicate with someone, and at the same time you should convey your preferred means of communication too.

So basically, if the person is quite chatty and enjoys talking to you (LISTENER), make sure that the emails you send them are quite brief and always follow up with a phone call.  If the person tends to look uncomfortable in meetings or has a tendency to write quite long emails (READER), highlight your ideas initially with a clear email.  Identifying people's preferences can help save you a lot of time (and emails).

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