I often hear people talk about how they are overwhelmed with email. They end up not responding to email or responding after the subject matter is no longer relevant for decision making or valuable input. It probably doesn’t surprise people that know me, but I try to abide by the 24 rule for email. I either respond, delete, acknowledge, or file a new email within 24 hours. I do not use my in-box as one big folder where email is sorted by name. Instead, the email in my in-box is sorted by date and generally kept to a page or less on the viewing screen.
Today I was thinking about another inefficiency of email. When people use email as their primary means for communication it not only compounds the amount of email they have to process but it also lengthens the amount of time required to complete tasks and reach decisions. As I think about it, this is only logical.
- Written communication is often misinterpreted and can require multiple messages to reach an agreement
- Email is often not responded to if the recipient(s) does not keep up with their email or has bad email habits. The risk of this is compounded as more recipients are added to the email.
- It can take weeks to determine the right person(s) needed for a decision or resolution. How many times have you received an email forwarded to you that contains a chain of email responses representing days or weeks of time?
- If a recipient is out of the office and forgets to set an out of office reminder, the sender could wait unnecessarily before reaching out to others to solve the task or reach a decision.
- Written communication often creates other questions from the recipient. Additional exchanges are required to answer the question(s).
So should we abandon the use of email? Of course not. Email does have purpose and can facilitate interactions if used properly. But for items in your work life that require timely decisions and resolution, pickup the phone and call or schedule a meeting. You’ll be more efficient, more likely to meet deadlines, and reduce the amount of emails in your in-box.