5 ways to tame the inbox beast. It’s not about too much email; it’s about too little decision-making authority
How many times has an important client or colleague called you to ask if you’ve received their email? They’re not really asking about the status of your server or IP, of course. What they’re asking is, “Why haven’t you responded?” That’s like sending a follow up postcard to someone you’ve just express mailed with a note like this: “Hey, did you get my Fedex?”
For the past several years, we’ve helped our clients in the trade association profession conduct a comprehensive communication benchmarking study in which more than 700 association executives participate. Year after year their No.1 communication challenge remains the same: “Information Overload/Cutting Through the Clutter.”
Jenna Wortham wrote a thought-provoking piece in yesterday’s New York Time about the deluge of email we’re struggling to manage. She laments how “stagnant the format of email has remained, while the rest of communication and social networking has surged light years ahead.”
Technology consultant and blogger, Joshua Lyman, who was quoted in Wortham’s article observed that humans only have a finite amount of “processing power” before they start to feel overloaded. Interestingly, Lyman argued that it’s not the volume of email; it’s the email that requires us think carefully before we react—i.e. “slow down, find the file, compose a great email back.”
Wortham reviewed a variety of in-box management tools and Lyman suggested taking charge of the information overload problem by putting a Twitter-like character limit on our emails and finding better ways to collaborate so we don’t need “10 back-and-forth exchanges” in order to organize an outing or lunch. All good suggestions, but even Wortham predicted that no amount of sorting software or folders will stop “overzealous emailers who insist on hitting REPLY ALL on group messaging.” And we’ve all worked at organizations in which even the most minute of communications must be CC’d to half the company by an insecure or backstabbing colleague.
Suggestions for taming the email beast
Here are some email management techniques that we use internally which have also worked well for our clients:
1. Think before you send. Have you checked your subject line carefully? If it doesn’t correspondent closely to the message that’s within, then it’s not going to make it to anyone’s “Must read” list. That goes for marketing email as well as internal communication with subject lines such as: “Touching base”, “RE: RE: Weekly Status” or the title of a thread started two months ago or even worse just a blank, or just the words “FWD or Re:”
2. No Forward/ CC Day. Have one day each week in which nobody at your organization can send an email to more than one person. Watch how fast your email volume goes down when only the single most important decision maker is targeted. If that’s still not helping, then start reviewing your management team and structure. Might be time to start weeding the passive aggressives off your payroll—i.e. the people empowered to say “No” quickly but who aren’t empowered to say “Yes”--ever.
3. Block the BCC. For heaven’s sake, do whatever it takes to prevent people from using the Blind Carbon Copy option unless it’s absolutely necessary for legal, compliance or client confidentiality reasons. BCC’ing can be even worse than overzealous forwarding and CC’ing.
4. Limit email to 3 sessions per day. That’s right. We said 3 times per day. Wean yourself of the instant message/instant response mentality. You’re not teenagers anymore. Have the discipline to limit your email sessions to three times per day: (a) when you first get to work; (b) when you return from lunch and (c) before you go home. It’s OK to check email at night, weekends and on vacation. It’s good to know ahead of time what fires you’ll have to put out the next day. But for heaven sake, DON’T RESPOND immediately. You’ll just get you into an endless loop of micro-messages, CC’s and forward’s. It’ll keep you up at night worrying and you won’t spend any quality time with your friends, family or significant other.
5. Empowerment. Finally, empower your people to make real decisions. That will eliminate 90 percent of the extraneous CC’ing, forwarding and superfluous cell phone calls: “Hey did you get me email?”
Email is one of the most powerful and most cost-effective communication tools ever invented both for B2B marketing purposes and for communication with your clients and colleagues. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the most abused. Sure there are several promising inbox management tools on the market. But, technology isn’t the solution. People are the solution. The better we can be about sending out relevant communication that really matters, and about empowering our managers to make real decisions with authority, the less overwhelming our email will be on whichever device we choose to consume it.
TAGS: email overload, communication benchmarking study, Jenna Wortham, Joshua Lyman