Posted on | May 13, 2013 | 13 Comments
The nice thing about being in the Eastern Hemisphere while your corporate office is in the Western one is you have few interruptions during the day. Why? Everyone back home is sleeping.
The bad thing? Your email inbox gets bombarded while you’re sleeping; waking to a flood of email is overwhelming.
I was reminded of this during a recent trip to China. Walking into the day’s first meeting with one of my fellow USA-based colleagues, she grumbled, “This day’s shot before it’s even begun. Last night I got 250 emails.”
“I hear ya,” was my feeble reply.
Then like an angel from the heavens, my colleague and I heard a voice. “250 emails last night?” the voice asked. “I got seven.”
“Wait a minute. Did you just say seven??”
This was all the more meaningful because that angel’s voice was actually the Chief Operating Officer of a multi-million dollar company with operations in 80 countries. Rupert is a business partner and friend, a senior executive with far more responsibility and accountability than most.
“Rupert, how is that possible?” I stammered. “How can you successfully run your business while fielding 97% fewer emails than the rest of us?”
Well, friends, Rupert was kind enough to share his insights with us. I’m only two weeks into following his advice and already my email volume is down 50%+. More importantly, my time wasted – er, I mean devoted to email – is down an equal amount.
Thank you, Rupert, for sharing your insight with RideWithBen’s readers and me!
So here it is, team. Rupert’s carefully written Manifesto for Escaping Your Inbox.
A Manifesto for Escaping your Inbox
We all spend way too much time trudging through email, the vast majority of which we could easily survive without. Let’s be honest: this is a complete waste of everyone’s time. The result is that we fill our days reacting rather than driving towards our own proactive goals.
It doesn’t have to be this way…
1. Short & Sweet
As the message sender, the onus is on you to minimize the time your email will take to process. Your goal is to communicate a point as clearly and succinctly as possible. If the message has to be longer than a 5-6 sentences, break it into bullets or numbered points. If you’re responding to such an email, insert your comments after each point with your initials at the start of each comment (i.e. RH: Agreed).
2. Use the subject line
Make sure the subject line clearly labels the topic and don’t be afraid to change it or start a new thread as the subject evolves. A good subject line tells you exactly what it’s about without having to open the message.
3. A couple of acronyms
There are a few handy acronyms that can be a wonderful act of generosity. FYI (for your information) means that a message requires no response. Alternatively, NNTR (no need to respond) can be added to the end of a message. Many acronyms confuse as much as help, but these two are golden and deserve wide adoption. . If your email message can be expressed in half a dozen words, just put it in the subject line, followed by EOM (= End of Message). This saves the recipient having to actually open the message.
4. Always take action
When you finish reading an email you should always take action: file it if there’s nothing further required of you, respond there and then if it’s going to take less than 2 minutes (and then file it), or flag it / add it to your task list if more extensive work is required. The key is to ensure you never waste time reading an email more than once: Read it, act on it, file it.
When to cut…
5. Cut the notifications
Your efficiency depends on how well you can concentrate. Every time you are interrupted by the notification of a new email, connecting Skype contact or system update, you are momentarily distracted and lose important momentum in what you are doing. Turn them all off and check your inbox when you decide it’s the best time.
6. Cut the CC’s
cc’s are like mating bunnies. For every recipient you add, you are dramatically multiplying total amount of time you’re wasting. Try to avoid hitting ‘Reply All’ and, if you do, don’t be afraid to remove those you think can live without the email string. And remember ‘to’ generally means someone needs to take action, while ‘cc’ is just an FYI so they know what’s happening.
7. Cut the Ps & Qs
If you ever find yourself writing an email saying ‘thanks’ or ‘great’, stop! There’s plenty of time for Ps and Qs when you’re face-to-face or on the phone. With an email saying ‘thanks’ you’ve just cost someone another 30 seconds.
8. Cut the newsletters
How much time do you waste wading through newsletters and service updates you could live without? Unsubscribe to newsletters you don’t read and change your mail settings on your online services (like LinkedIn, airlines, Box, hotels etc.) so you only get the essential stuff.
***Sidenote from Ben: Dare I say, this includes my RideWithBen blog! Honestly, if you are not getting value from it, delete me from your email list, too. Be brutally honest with yourself about what subscription and email notifications are truly valuable to you.
9. Cut the thread
Some emails depend for their meaning on context. Which means it’s usually right to include the thread of previous emails. But if there is more than 2-3 emails in the thread, summarize the situation and cut the thread. You’ll make a lot of new friends.
10. Cut the attachments
Avoid using graphics files in your email signatures as they often appear as attachments. Some of your recipients will waste time trying to see if there’s something to open. Even worse is sending text as an attachment. If it’s simple text, copy and paste it into the body of the email.
When to walk away…
11. Brainstorm offline
Having a creative discussion over email invariably leads to tediously extended exchanges that often last days and rarely produces good results. If there’s a complex problem that needs solving or a creative initiative that requires the opinions of a large group, arrange a conference call or send out a meeting invite.
12. Don’t mail emotion
I’ve seen email make countless difficult situations much, much worse. Try reading an email with an angry tone, a compassionate tone, or a sarcastic tone, and you’ll see how easily the intended tone of an email can be misread and rapidly escalate to an avoidable conflict. When a situation gets emotionally charged, pick up the phone or go round and talk with someone.
Inspired by the The Email Charter from Chris Anderson, Curator at TED.