Email – it’s something that is still part of daily business communication (eventually we’ll move to online platforms and instant messaging for a lot of this) and was originally meant to make life easier and facilitate more effective communication and productivity.
It does anything but this – in fact email is probably one of the main robbers of our productivity and because it’s all so fast, little thought or focus is given to how we are writing emails or even the impact on our day of receiving them. There’s no empathy in email.
First of all, we have an irresistible urge to check email and we will do this compulsively several times a day. The funny thing is that the more often we do this the stronger that urge becomes. You may start your work day with the best intentions – a healthy breakfast, that morning cup of coffee, chatting to colleagues, planning your day even – and then the inevitable happens: you log into your email and that’s it. This simple action has become automatic behaviour and takes up our attention and often at the best part of the day when we should be using that focus and attention for real work.
Alongside the LinkedIn update we need to get done and all the other instant messaging, Tweets, texts, updates and notifications competing for (and getting) our attention. It’s compulsive behaviour because it feeds into the dopamine loop, the reward system in our brains. We literally cannot help it. So we need to first of all control that dopamine loop by turning off cues and automatic notifications, training ourselves to have specific points in our day for checking email and becoming more aware of how speedily we respond to our phones. If we can learn to switch off our smartphones and check email only at designated points during the day this will have an immediate impact on the brain and immediately make us more effective. Ha! Easier said than done, I know….
We over communicate by email and not only that, for every email we send it’s possible to get 7 more that are required to clarify the original message or intent! Before you even begin writing an email ask yourself if it is necessary. Might a phone call or meeting just be more effective? The poorly written email is what often results in those extra 7 – using the phone or instant messaging may be a better way of handling questions or back and forth discussion rather than a long long email trail. Generally it’s best to avoid any personal or sensitive information in an email – don’t write anything that you would not be happy with the whole world seeing! You just can’t ever know who your emails get forwarded to. If you have something to convey that could be perceived as negative maybe it’s better to resolve whatever it is in person. This will help you communicate with empathy, compassion and understanding.
Simply – email works best for providing or confirming factual information that does not necessarily require an answer and it’s also great for sending requested documents or as a quick follow-up to a meeting or call. Cut down how much you use email – think you can’t? Think again! James Dyson only sends six emails a day. He bans staff from emailing internal memos and gives new recruits notebooks and pencils for meetings. He also encourages talking in the office. Yes, chat. “We’re creating things, working out how to sell them,” he has said. “You can’t do that on your own. You have to talk.”
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