Productivity Hack: Taking E-Mail from Foe to Friend

Being in a deadline driven and client centric profession your time is not always your own, so figuring how to make time for “deep work” has been a near maniacal obsession of mine for quite some time, in earnest at least the last 4 years. The funny thing is, when starting the business, to be my own boss, I immediately went from having just one boss, to more than 500 – and each one just as important as the next, with their own demands, deadlines, and ways of working – trying to customize how I worked to each specific client situation with different facts and circumstances quickly became a fool’s errand. However, there seemed to be nothing I could do about it – how can you find time to work smarter when you’re constantly under an email avalanche? It took (and takes) time. Building a team, implementing systemization and technology are all huge steps forward, but let’s focus on email as that is something we can all do unilaterally – regardless of our budgets and talent around us.

One problem with email is that it is an uneven investment of time. Mike Davidson put it like this:

“More so than any other medium probably in history, e-mail suffers from the worst time/value exchange. Meaning, you can spend 30 seconds writing me an e-mail which may take 15 minutes or more of actual typing to respond to. I can’t think of another medium like that. Not the phone, not text messaging, not in-person meetings, not even handwritten letters. All of those methods of communication require a roughly equal time commitment from each side.”

I suppose it was after that realization that he came up with “A Lo-Fi Solution to E-Mail Overload”, which felt like it was written to and for me. When faced with what appears to be an unclimbable wall of email, the solution that is proposed enables the responder a way forward. It’s quite simple really – keep all emails short. Just the understanding and confidence that comes from the recognition that the response to be sent will be short removes an element of dread and procrastination. The short email movement (if we can call it that), I feel, puts email back in its place – useful for short questions, answers, directions, delegation, or memorializing a previous conversation or responsibility – and encourages the more complicated and nuanced be handled in a more appropriate medium – whether that is video, in-person (when able), or just pick up the old-school phone – all of these are much better suited for planning, strategy and team building.

So, after subscribing to the ‘short email movement’ here are few positive take-aways I’ve noted:

  1. Setting of expectations – this is everything – if you can improve this skill set, you’ll be Aces.
  2. Forces both parties to get to the “why” or the “what are you trying to do” much more quickly. Often, we get a one-off question and simply answering that question (with “a” correct answer) misses the mark as we are absent the full context.
  3. Avoids email overload – the average office worker checks their email 36 times an hour and this occupies more than 25% of their workday. That’s gross, and a pretty significant waste of human resources.
  4. Better client interaction. By being concise, we can remove the asymmetric form of conversation flow and unnecessary back and forth. By enabling a way to change the medium (via phone, video, in-person) we can better work with our clients, we can partner with them to accomplish their objectives – this is where a scheduling app comes in handy – we use Microsoft Bookings.

Email isn’t going away anytime soon; it will continue to reign supreme in the business hierarchy of communication for quite some time, so we must find a way to make it work for us, rather than dictate our work. For me, when working with my clients, email is a great place to start a conversation. By encouraging a clear outlaying of the facts and circumstances the appropriate method and depth of required answer can be gauged and delivered efficiently. That’s a resolution we can all be happy about.

If you have any email tips and tricks, I’d love to hear them – I’m a sucker for any type of productivity hack!

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