How to Master Your Email (Rather than have it Master You) Posted on 19 Aug 11:24 , 0 comments

How to Master Your Email (Rather than let it master you)

Remember the Sony hack?

Besides costing the organisation millions of dollars, it saw the resignation of the Head of Sony Pictures at the time, Amy Pascal.

Pascal and her colleagues learned something that I’ve always been taught… never put anything in writing that you don’t want published on the front page of the newspaper (or, worse, uploaded to WikiLeaks).

I won’t make any comment on the emails in question, as the real point of this story is that email is a powerful business tool as long as you know the rules and approach its use strategically. 

Here four rules on email use which may have helped Pascal:

  1. You should never send emails when you’re emotional;
  2. You should never put anything in writing that you wouldn’t want published on the front page of the National Newspaper (as mentioned);
  3. You should avoid sending work related emails to colleagues after hours; and
  4. Pick up the phone when the subject matter is contentious. 

Email as a productivity tool

As an introvert, I’m still pretty fond of the functionality email provides me.  I can communicate a well-considered message in a timely fashion, and I can think through an answer to a query before committing to a response in writing.  As a decision maker, I prefer to have all the detail provided to me in writing, so that I can review it thoroughly before proceeding on big decisions. 

As an influencing tool, email doesn’t work for everyone.  My colleague, who is an extreme extrovert, is my opposite.  She’s never off the phone, and if you want her to make a decision you are better off chatting her through the highlights, benefits and risks than sending her anything in writing or bogging her down in unnecessary detail.  She is best when she gets to bounce her ideas off you and talk things through.

The trend away from email has already started.  There are a handful of companies that have already banned email in the work place.  I applaud them- although I’m not really sure how to reach out to them to do so… perhaps I’ll write them a letter…

Many of us find email stressful.  We feel like slaves to our inbox, smart phone and/or tablet.  We may even be addicted to our email. 

When I run Productivity Workshops or give Keynote Speeches I’m often asked how to manage email effectively. I could spend a full day showing you how to design your workflow, get the best out of your technology and change your email habits. 

Today though, I want to talk you through three key strategies to help you master email as a productivity tool for your business. 

Our 2015 Productivity Research found that the average worker:

  • Checks and responds to email too often (i.e. as they come in or every 15 minutes);
  • Has trouble keeping track of information and tasks, and spends too much time trying to locate it later and work out priorities (up to 2 hours per day); and
  • Feels stress as a result of email overload, often leading to a sense of being paralysed.

Here are the strategies that will help you the most:

1. Start batching already

I know.  You’ve heard it before, but have you actually tried it?  When you do you will realise that it is life changing.

Unless your job is checking and responding to email, none of your customers expect an immediate reply.  They do however expect a reply within a few hours.  Determine how long is a reasonable wait to expect a reply and check your email within these intervals.  Usually this will be between two and three times per day. 

During your batching time you should respond to anything which will take less than five minutes to respond, and diarise anything that needs more time and attention prior to the deadline.

Why does this work?  You will be more focussed both on your high value tasks and when you are responding to email, each time returning your inbox to a zero-inbox. Further, you won’t multi-handle emails by trying to work out what you haven’t actioned every time you look at your inbox; you’ll meet your deadlines on reactive tasks because you’ll put time aside to action them; and you’ll communicate your message mindfully, which will cut down on e-communication errors and misunderstandings.

How to do it.  Turn off your email notifications (ask google how). Then, determine how often and when you should check your email based on your role and put appointments in your diary to prompt you to do so.  Develop the habit of never responding to email outside of batching times (note that I say responding, as you develop the habit you’ll still check them, but don’t respond unless absolutely necessary).  Keep reminding yourself that the quality and efficiency of your work will improve to fight off the temptation to just reply quickly because you can.

2. Make your communications clear

One of the benefits of email batching is that you’ll have more time to provide a well-considered response because you’ll be present and focused when reading, actioning and responding to email.

Why does this work?  Most of us fall into a pattern of communicating a message based on how we prefer to be communicated to, and by doing so we dis-engage 75% of our audience who focus in on other things.  You will improve your ability to influence (i.e. get things done when you need them done by) if you cover all bases.

How to do it.  Make sure you’ve covered the what, how, why, when and what else aspects of your message in every communication.  That is;

  • What you need from the person you’re emailing;
  • How you need your request actioned or how you will action anything required from you;
  • Why you need what you need (preferably targeted to the needs of your reader/s);
  • When you need what you need (this is a big one that is too often forgotten!);
  • What else may need to be considered?

3. Think about your audience

Before emailing anyone consider whether you should be emailing your audience at all.  Ask yourself, is an email the right tool to get the outcome I need?

Why does this work?  Let’s face it, most people struggle to keep on top of their email, which is one of the reasons why email just isn’t an effective way to reach everyone.

If you work in a large organisation, you will probably have experienced the trauma of having someone call out a mistake you’ve made and cc’d in the whole world.  I have to admit I’ve even done it in the past thinking that it would get the person to finally action something.  The problem with this technique is that it impacts on our personal brand.

If you are running a large business and need to communicate a message, you’ll find that email is one of the tools which will help you reach some of your team.  It shouldn’t be relied upon as the only tool though.  Some people simply do not digest information via email.  They need to hear the information in a company update, or even attend training before a key organisational message is received.

At an individual level there are some people who should avoid emailing all together.  Usually it’s because they are so rushed (i.e. they don’t batch so aren’t on top of their email).  These are the people who you need to phone or visit to achieve an outcome.

How to do it.  Consider your audience carefully before deciding whether email is the best approach to achieve an outcome.  Perhaps the audience doesn’t respond to email or the message is a little too emotional to afford room for misinterpretation. Think about what has worked in the past.  You’ll realise that there are people who are responsive and will always come back to you, and then there are others who you need to pick up the phone for. Don’t waste your time complaining about people not getting back to you/not reading your communications.  Use a multi-channel approach (phone/email/in-person/conference etc.)

If you have discretion over how you manage your day to achieve your results and would like to find out how we can help you achieve your goals and maintain work-life balance, call me for a free consultation at +61 3 96029890 or email me.