by Wayne Turmel
If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you use email to communicate with your remote team. A lot…probably way too much. Email is often identified as both the most commonly used tool to communicate AND the number one productivity killer. If email falls into the latter category for you, the problem isn’t with email. It’s that you’re probably doing several things that end up making it more of a barrier to success than a conduit. If you’re doing these things, you need to stop right now.
Stop responding like Pavlov’s Dog
The biggest complaint about email is that we have to stop whatever we’re doing and respond to it. No, you don’t. We do it, but we don’t always have to. Email doesn’t disintegrate and go away if we wait a few minutes to finish what we’re doing at the moment.
If you have trouble avoiding your incoming email, try turning off the notifications so you won’t be distracted from what you’re doing, or try setting the refresh rate for every 30 minutes so you don’t see every email the second it comes in. Unless you are in an emergency situation that requires instant response, the pressure to react right away is probably self-imposed. That leads us to….
Stop using email as an immediate response tool. That’s not how it’s built.
Email is designed to be an asynchronous tool, a lightning fast equivalent to sending a letter. If you need to respond and get answers right away, that’s what Instant Messaging (Slack, Yammer, Skype for Business, etc.) is for. It’s easy to make the right choice: one has the word “instant” in its name. Time spent waiting by your inbox for that response is time wasted.
Topics change in email threads. Don’t keep using the same subject line.
It is easy and convenient to hit the “reply” button when you’re in a hurry. But what if your message doesn’t have anything to do with the original message. If your critical request is in an email marked “re: Happy Birthday,” there’s a reasonable chance it won’t be given the priority you expect, and it may get lost or deleted by accident. Subject lines should reflect the topic, priority and appropriate response to your message.
Stop creating email threads that require a lot of scrolling.
Long email threads are sometimes unavoidable, but they don’t have to be so hard to navigate. Consider cutting and pasting relevant information from earlier in the conversation into your message so people know what it is you’re responding to without having to waste a lot of time. Not only is it annoying, but you increase the chance of misunderstanding which only creates more email and stress.
If email isn’t getting your messages across, stop using it as your channel of communication.
One of the problems with email is that it’s often not the right form of communication to start with. If your message is complex, or you can tell by the back and forth that the other person isn’t really understanding you, stop writing and talk. Get on the phone, fire up the webcam. You obviously need a “richer” form of communication than the one you’ve chosen. Email is only fast if it gets the job done and doesn’t make your blood pressure go through the roof.
Like any tool, email is great if it’s used well and for the right reasons. If it’s used badly you can drive yourself and the other person crazy at the speed of light. Knock it off.
If you want to learn how to use email better and more efficiently, consider our Writing & Managing Email course. We can even train your entire team or organization to utilize email to it’s fullest potential.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager
Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in Management-Issues.com.