Email is a great work tool. But when did email become Instant Messenger? I thought email was a way to communicate and exchange documents and ideas, with the intent that the recipient can view and respond when they are able to check their inbox.
Email is the electronic form of mail. You have a mailbox, and mail is put in the box for a receiver. Once the receiver checks their mailbox, they can decide when/how to answer and/or discard the mail.
So why in an office setting are people sending emails, most of the time without full complete sentences or a subject line that explains what the email is about, then almost instantaneously asking that person (verbally) if they got their email?
Doesn’t this defeat the purpose of email?
Would you mail a letter to someone and call them up an hour later and ask if they got it and why they haven’t read it yet?
No, you wouldn’t.
I have read many articles about email organization and productivity, many advising to set aside specific times to check email during the day, and making a decision after each email. This means taking a specific action at the time the email is read, whether it be deleting it, responding to it, or moving it to a “later” task list and marked with a specific follow up date/action, etc.
Of course in a customer service type of setting, email is treated a bit differently, but generally doing the above helps to add more time to the workday to do productive things with complete focus.
Most people are less productive when they are constantly checking their inbox. Email alerts and notifications act as a constant distraction throughout the day. How can the brain focus on completing one task when it is constantly being forced to multitask and give attention to a completely different thing?
Eventually time gets diluted and nothing actually gets done.
In an office setting, if something needs direct attention, I urge people to walk over to the recipient’s desk and discuss it face to face. Don’t set up a meeting (meetings usually are a waste of time), just handle it face to face. Then a real discussion about priorities for the recipient can happen, a timeline can be made if necessary and both parties can agree on when the item should be tended to.
Now, if you approach it this way, I think you’ll find that most things people think are urgent and worth bothering and interrupting the receiver aren’t actually so when they think about taking a few seconds to physically get up from their desk and talk about it face to face.
So let email be email. And take some actual time to make emails make some sense. This means being precise but clear in the body of the email regarding its intent and any action items. It also means writing a proper subject line so the recipient has a good idea if they need to make that email a priority.
My belief is that no one should be writing an initial email communication (in a work setting) in less than 30 seconds. I guarantee that if this is done, something will be left out, and in the end more time is wasted communicating back and forth like Instant Messenger. Save the prolonged effort and put time in up front.
Oh, and get some sort of messaging system for the office. Then people can actually message when they need to and use email the way it should be used.
Do you agree? Disagree? Please comment!
I'm Kim. I like to work hard but not enough to stop having fun and enjoying life. I hope I never stop learning and exploring. Other people inspire me to be and do better every day. Read on for reflections on work and play.