Monthly Archives: September 2013

My inbox will not be the boss of me!

Email is used too much where I work. I’m guilty of over-use myself (hypocrite alert).

Remember before email: there was just ‘mail’. How quaint. It came in the morning and perhaps in the afternoon too. Businesses used memos for internal communication (which often arrived with the mail), but for daily internal dealings the tool used was ‘speech’.

So here are a few of my personal gripes with email.

The ‘water cooler’ effect
Ever get pulled into a conversation that doesn’t interest you? Copying me on an email is ok if:

  • you already spoke to me about the subject and I agreed to be party to the conversation; or
  • there’s a note in there specifically addressed to me (as long as it’s correctly addressed to me).

It is NOT ok if:

  • you’re just adding my name for credibility without even knowing whether I would back you up; or
  • there’s no apparent reason, so I am left confused as to what I am missing.

“Did you see that email I copied you in on?”
“Yes, but WHY!!!”

For your irritation
What about the long email chain you suddenly get forwarded sometimes with only an “FYI” from the sender. Or maybe they want your opinion but haven’t summarized the issues and don’t even refer to a specific email in the chain or highlight key phrases.

I don’t mind so much if it’s an “FYI as discussed” assuming that discussion included me agreeing that I need to read your story.

Urgent
I would argue that there’s no such thing as an urgent email as a standalone communication anymore, because our inboxes are flooded with such a variety of messages that we can no longer tell shit from Shinola without combing through the shit first.

An urgent requirement might be best explained in writing, and email equals instant delivery, but any urgent matter requires direct verbal contact too. You seriously don’t think that I’m sitting around just waiting for emails to drop into my inbox?  Emails do not necessarily have the same immediacy as an old-fashioned memo. Talk to me.

Thanks, but no thanks
A personal email that just says ‘thanks’ is nice if you’ve really put yourself out for that person (and they know it), but a little superfluous when you’re just doing your job.

image

Actual compliments are, of course, happily accepted.

(Thanks to Jay Lebo for his excellent tweet.)

My solutions

Rules
Email rules are quite handy – many circulars (internal and external) are automatically deleted without ever reaching my eye. As are the automatic “Thank you for your email” responses which confirm nothing except that the email server is functioning. (I think some of my colleagues might believe it’s a real person sending that email, and their email is already being actioned.)

I’m not here
Typically, only your first email gets a standard out of office response, allowing you to forget I’m not here and get upset that your later emails don’t produce any response.

I’ve used rules to send an out of office auto-reply every time you email me. This can annoy the sender, the solution being: STOP SENDING ME EMAILS!!!

The auto-reply is also a handy tool to tell people you are just too busy to answer emails, and suggest where else to send them. I have a team mailbox.

And finally, don’t forget that any auto-reply should suggest the sender recalls their email and sends it to [insert name]. I refer people to my team mailbox.

FIFI – file it, forget it
The best place to ‘file’ something you intend to forget… can you guess? Your computer has a FIFI button, although it’s actually labelled “Delete”.

This method is a fallback for those random emails you just cannot predict via rules.

Get somebody else to answer it
I will do this when I get personally emailed about something that could be dealt with by my team. I’m not convinced though that many people pick up on this, but combining it with the next method means they may get slower service by emailing me personally.

5-6-7-8, always pays to make ’em wait
How often do you check your email? I became an email slave, obsessively checking many different email boxes for new email at the expense of whatever I was supposed to be working on.

I’m working on resolving my obsession. I have an alarm on my phone reminding me to check my email every two hours. This is not because I might forget, but as part of a process of “I will not look at my email until the alarm sounds”. It’s early days. To help me not look at all the incoming emails, they are filtered away to a sub-folder of my inbox by a rule. Another rule leaves emails in my inbox if I’ve hidden a secret code in the body – so I can focus on the emails I want to see without getting distracted by every other email.

The two hour reminder is a trial – I’m hoping to increase this time to get back to the idea of morning and afternoon mail.

Won’t you join me in deliberately not checking email constantly? My hope is that once people realize that their emails don’t produce a quick reaction, they will stop sending them and make a quick call instead. I’m hoping for a call one day from someone saying “Did you read the email I sent you three hours ago?” so I can say “Sorry, I don’t constantly monitor my email, but I’ll be checking again in the morning, and will get back to you then.”