I can not recall a single manager of my acquaintance who at some time has not complained about the avalanche of email they confront at work almost daily. As a manager you can not simply ignore email entirely. Nor can you allow email to occupy an unreasonable amount of your time.
I have struggled with the email challenge — which to read, which to ignore, and the proper etiquette of writing and response — for years and have yet to devise the perfect strategy. Perhaps it is because their is none, since email management is very much a matter of personal choice. So below I offer a few suggestions that have worked for me — that is, they did not get me into serious trouble — for your consideration. If they work for you, great. If not, you will need to devise some strategies of your own.
Θ Consider setting aside a specific time of day where you will attend to email business. Perhaps at the start of your day, or at the end, or a little time in between. Do other things the rest of your day and stick to your schedule. No cheating during your occasional free moments.
Θ If your communication is of extreme importance, do not use email. Use the phone unless you get voicemail, or deliver it face to face; these are more reliable delivery methods for really important matters.
Θ If you need to have one of those critical conversations or feedback sessions with a colleague, subordinate, or superior, do it face to face as well, not via email.
Θ After careful thought, make a short mental list of those people you simply must respond to when they email you. In most organizations this is truly a shorter list than you may think.
Θ Make a short mental list of those few people you trust enough to always have something worth reading when they email you. Again, make this an honest and short list.
Θ Do not write epistles or short stories in response to emails. Keep your responses, when necessary, short and to the point. The more you write, the greater the chance that your intended message will get lost in the fog.
Θ Consider the SUBJECT of every email carefully — especially the information only emails — before you open them. If the topic does not interest you or directly concern you, why open it? Ignore and delete as many emails as you safely can — there will be plenty of them left to address. Above all, do not feel compelled to respond to all those you do open. That only gives others more to read. One crazy colleague of mine actually deleted most of the emails he received on the assumption that if any of them were truly important, they would be sent again; not, however, a strategy I would easily recommend.
Θ Do not use intemperate or angry language in an email. Such language inflames and increases the chance of obscuring or losing sight of the underlying issue. It is far easier to make intemperate or harmful comments in writing than it is to deliver them face to face. Emotions cloud the issue, they rarely help resolve it.
Θ Use caution when employing humor. Humor is subjective, varies with individuals, and is easily misinterpreted. Use it judiciously and with sensitivity. Do not allow it to become a defining characteristic of your professional email correspondence, as it easily can appear as a lack of seriousness.
Θ Never write anything in an email you would not wish to see discovered by others sometime in the future. Emails last forever; the delete button not withstanding. Just ask those who were fired or sent to prison for the ill-considered emails they authored. As a good rule of thumb, imagine how you would feel if what you have written in an email were to appear in a newspaper. If that horrifies you, do not send it.
Θ Use proper english, grammar, and punctuation in your emails. Your emails make a definite and lasting statement about your attitude, seriousness, and professionalism.
Θ Seriously consider ignoring the carbon copy emails you receive. These messages would probably have been addressed to you directly if they were really intended for your specific attention.
Θ If you love writing, use another outlet. Workplace emails take time away from your other critical management activities and burden the attention reserves of your recipients.
Θ Lastly, before you hit the SEND BUTTON, reread your email one last time for content, tone, message, and grammar. If anything bothers you, fix it before you hit send.
As a final thought for those of you who halted and shuddered at the notion above of ignoring any of your emails for fear of missing something important, consider the price you pay in time and attention if you do not have any discrimination rules. We know, deep down, from experience that not every email we receive is worthy of our attention. The key is to formulate a personal strategy for filtering that works for you. Perhaps some of my thoughts above will help.
Categories: Communicating Effectively, Self-Management
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