Market musings

5 Business Communication Experts on Taming the Email Monster

by Sasha Viasasha
July 7, 2017

Did you know that people are sending and receiving around 212 billion emails every day? That’s two emails for every single cell in your brain. Some days it feels like all of them wound up in your inbox

On average, workers check for a new messages about 36 times an hour, about once every other minute. Combine that fact with the knowledge that it takes people around average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds on average to get back on task after an interruption, and you can see why productivity is going nowhere fast.

As so often happens, technology that was meant to make our lives better has broken loose to become a rampaging monster, like a digital Jurassic Park. 

Don’t panic. Email can only see you when you run. Several experts in better business communication have found ways to turn the email monster back into a workhorse.

Here are their recommendations:

1. Change your relationship to email

David Finkle, co-author of  'Scale: Seven Proven Principles to Grow Your Business and Get Your Life Back” favored the “Send Less to Get Less” strategy, especially when there is a developing misunderstanding.

“If you're involved in a frustrating back-and-forth conversation by e-mail due to hazy understanding on either side, just pick up the phone or speak in person. E-mails are not good as a nuanced conversation tool and it shouldn't replace all conversations. If you think the topic may be a sensitive one, or that the reader may be upset or offended by your e-mail, don't send it. Talk with them instead (even if you then send a summary or confirming e-mail after). One of the most important functions you perform as a leader of your company is to reduce the "FUD" factor--the fear, uncertainty and doubt. So consider talking with the other person versus shooting off yet another email.”

2. Be the master of your own interruptions

Joanne Cantor, in her book “Conquer CyberOverload: Get More Done, Boost Your Creativity, and Reduce Stress” described her own recovery from cyber-addiction. “Being overwhelmed by email interferes with your brain’s ability to think and hampers your creativity, as well as increasing stress.”

Her way back to productivity went through setting hard time limits. "You own your gadgets. They don't own you. They're like newborn babies always clamoring for your attention…. Don't be on call for everyone 24/7. Don't let yourself be an all-day receptionist. You can Twitter your life away if you respond every time a response comes in.”  For example, you can try establishing an email response time of just 15 minutes, twice a day.

3. Don’t let others set your timetable

Jocelyn K. Glei, author of “Unsubscribe: How to Kill Email Anxiety, Avoid Distractions, and Get Real Work Done” said that productive people take pressure off themselves by setting expectations for their reply times.

“One of the challenges is that everyone who emails you feels that their message is the most important thing. It’s very urgent to them but they have no concept of all the other things you have to do. Maybe someone emailed you this morning and expects you to get back to them in five minutes. You can email them back and say “I’m stuck in meetings all day and I’ll get back to you at the end of the day or tomorrow morning, but this is important to me and it’s on my to-do list.” To situate that request within some context for them is important and allows you to let that anxiety go.” 

4. Write proactive progress reports

Kevan Lee. Director of Marketing at Buffer, shared a pair of email templates that shortened the template creator’s workweek by 20 hours. The first email on Monday lists goals for the upcoming week. 

“Set the expectation for the week ahead and give a supervisor a clear understanding of what you’re working on. Then, on Friday, send a second email, summarizing what you completed during the week and noting any open items that need further attention or follow-up from colleagues.”

These two emails alone can eliminate countless back and forth emails about priorities, workload levels and progress reports.

5. Check email less to live longer

A workplace health study conducted by the University of California Irvine and the US Army looked at how stress levels were impacted when they remove email entirely from the workplace equation. The control group used email normally and the test group were not allowed to check email for 5 business days.

Researchers found that, “The subjects who used email switched windows an average of 37 times an hour, while the email-less workers switched an average of 18.) And all the screen-switching had definitive health effects, too: The frenetic emailers stayed in a steady "high alert" state, with their heart rates reflecting that. Those who abstained from email, on the other hand, "experienced more natural, variable heart rates."

Furthermore: Those with no email reported feeling more productive and better able to stay focused on their jobs' tasks. They also reported experiencing, as compared to their connected colleagues, fewer "stressful and time-wasting interruptions."

Take charge of business communication

Your email will only become a monster if you neglect it. Treat it with mastery, optimize business communication channels and you never need fear it again.  Learn other ways to do more work with the tools you already have in the Productivity Hacker's Guide link below.

The Productivity Hacker's Guide to Virtual Team Communication
The Productivity Hacker's Guide to Virtual Team Communication