During a film shoot in Tucson, Arizona for a new Internet project, I woke up at 4am unable to sleep. So as millions do when our sleep is interrupted, I got up and started wading through my cluttered email inbox. Email consumes enormous amounts of time (some studies indicate that 40% of a typical employee’s day is spent sending and receiving email). Yet we rarely think about strategies to use it more effectively. In addition, research shows that a significant amount of email is misinterpreted, leading to embarrassment and sometimes being fired. A few simple guidelines can keep you from wasting enormous time, and protect you from humiliation, frustration, and even legal issues. So try out these ideas and see if you can begin to gain some ground in the daily email war:
1. Never say anything in an email that you wouldn’t want known publicly. Once you hit the “send” button, you’ve lost control and you never know who will see it. A single inappropriate email can haunt you for years to come. So never criticize anyone – especially clients, customers, or associates through email. If you must be explicit with someone or evaluate their performance, do it in person or on the phone. In person is always best method for serious conversations.
2. Copy the right people – especially when communicating to clients or on business. Cc’ing shows the clients you are working as a team. Also, people can’t do an “end run” on an issue when they see others have already read it. Copying the right people keeps everyone in the loop and updated – plus, saves having to send multiple messages.
3. Don’t over email. Make sure you actually need to respond so you don’t clutter up your mailboxes with unnecessary fluff. For instance, stop sending messages that just say “thanks.” People assume you received it. And whatever you do, please don’t forward all those cute stories, inspirational moments, or jokes. They waste enormous time, distract us, and bog down our day.
4. Be very clear, concise, and to the point. That’s what I love about email. You don’t have to endure the pleasantries of phone conversation: “How’s the family?” “How’s business?” Just get to the point and move on.
5. A good policy is not to check your email first thing in the morning. When you first sit down at your desk, do the most important thing you have to do that day. Get it out of the way, or at least get it started. THEN, check your email. Your productivity will shoot up.
6. Don’t over check your email. Turn off the reminders that tell you when a new message comes in, and instead, set aside times during the day to deal with it. If you’re not careful, over-checking can consume your entire day. Don’t forget that the phone is often more efficient in dealing with something important. Also, train people that you don’t necessarily respond to emails right away. If it’s critical, they should call.
7. Lastly – when it comes to mobile devices, learn to put it down. Remember how annoyed you get at the store with the clerk makes you stand there waiting while she talks to someone on the phone? That’s the way others feel when you’re constantly checking your mobile device. In my opinion, the most valuable commodity of the 21st century will be “undivided attention.” Want to share an incredible gift with a loved one, business associate, co-worker or friend? Give them your undivided attention. Trust me – in today’s distracted culture, it will transform your relationships.