Top tips from Mesmo Consultancy (and Associates) on how to save time and improve business and personal performance by ‘Taking Control of your Inbox’ and using proper business email etiquette.
It takes leadership to make people do brave things. But does it take leadership to reduce email overload? Motivating them to take risks, to stand up to formidable odds, to storm an enemy fortification, to jump out of an airplane – that is where a leader can have an impact for sure. By contrast, it hardly takes leadership to make a person do something that is neither brave nor difficult, and is in the person’s selfish interest: nobody requires a leader to lead them to eat strawberry ice cream, or to enjoy a weekend with their children, or to take a pleasant nap in the warm afternoon sun. Why would they? It’s all upside, after all – what’s not to like?!
So here is a bizarre exception, a situation where a great deal of leadership is necessary to make people do what is inarguably in their selfish interest. When it comes to email overload in an organization, leadership is practically a necessary condition for solving the problem.
The problem is ubiquitous and widely recognized: employees and managers in every organization on the planet suffer from a horrible overdose of incoming emails, text messages, WhatsApp alerts, Facebook updates, and so on ad nauseam. The outcomes are dire indeed, as this problem decimates people’s productivity, quality of work, creativity, effectiveness and quality of life. Everyone complains about it… yet very few seem able to do something serious to eliminate the problem on their own.
Not that it’s all that difficult: after all, email overload is the result of a frenzy of activity that is in large part unnecessary and useless. Much of the email inundating people’s inboxes is generated by their coworkers (and vice versa) for no good reason, and it would be in everyone’s interest to simply send less of it, restoring the tool to its original purpose from the 1980s: send important, useful messages required to perform the job at hand. It would also be in everyone’s interest to calm down and stop reacting to every incoming message alert as though it were a fire alarm.
And yet nobody sends less, nobody calms down, nobody cuts back. Not on their own they don’t.
The reasons for this are deep, and have to do with undercurrents of the organizational culture that involve mistrust, missing norms, over-competitiveness, and so on. Put simply, it’s a prisoner’s dilemma: if I send less email to my coworkers they will certainly benefit, but will I? What if they keep sending out more mail – will they get noticed and rewarded, while my altruism condemns me to obscurity?
And this is why in this domain, leadership is crucial. Consider the prisoner’s dilemma again: the only way to make people cooperate in this game is by changing the payoff table. If cooperation – sending less email – is rewarded, then people will send less of it. If sending silly pictures of cats to a large distribution list will get you a reprimand in your annual performance review, you will find better use for your time, and your recipients’. But only the group’s manager, who sits in the hierarchy above all the senders, can effect such a change in payoffs. Employees are very finely attuned to sense their boss’s desires, and if the boss makes the switch and truly believes in an email reduction program, they will react instantly.
Furthermore, the higher that boss in the organization, the wider the scope of his or her impact. A department manager can affect the mailing behavior within the department, but other departments will continue unaffected, impacting the first manager’s employees too. For a complete improvement, the general manger or CEO must be on board; that affects everybody inside the company. This is why the late W. Edwards Deming, the originator of Total Quality Management, used to refuse to consult at a corporation unless the CEO invited him in person; he knew that the culture change he was promoting would be certain to fail without top level leadership.
Once we accept that email overload is a cultural problem, it follows that you want to have senior management sponsorship for the solution program. You can still do a lot without it – teaching people how to process their inbox more efficiently, for one thing – but for a true transformation you want to recruit managers as high up as you can. Not an easy task, but well worth the effort!
Nathan Zeldes is a globally recognized thought leader in the search for improved knowledge worker productivity. After a 26 year career as a manager and principal engineer at Intel Corporation, he now helps organizations solve core problems at the intersection of information technology and human behavior.
How much do you reveal in your Out-of-Office message and what is the risk from it of a cyber attack and breaching GDPR. Out of Office messages are the easy back door for a cyber attack. Many burglars troll out of office messages. It would not take a cyber criminal ten minutes to find out where you live and bingo – burglary. Moreover too much detail and you risk breaching the GDPR.
Of the 135 recent Out-of-Office Message only half were safe and secure and limited the risk of an email generated cyber attack.
The remaining 49% of messages were secure and limited the scope for either an email borne cyber attack or breach of confidentiality and hence GDPR.
What makes a good safe and secure Out-of-Office message? Indeed why bother to pay attention to what your message says?
A simple message is best. ‘Simply’ states that you are not in the office and gives one point of contact in the event of an emergency.
Any more (eg you are on holiday, other projects you are handling etc) and you leave yourself and the organisation open to a breach of security and confidentiality.
Every email from you conveys and creates an image about you in the recipient’s mind. A careless, frivolous message can convey a sloppy, unprofessional image of you and a sloppy organisation.
Does your organisation provide adequate guidelines on the use of Out-of-Office messages? If so what?
Whosoever desires constant success must change his conduct with the times. Niccolo Machiavelli
By changing your email behaviour during the week, hopefully you have reduced the email overload, have a clean inbox . In addition you should have saved time. In the long term this will allow you to continue to reduce the email related stress and improved your productivity and well-being.
Now the trick is to keep a clean inbox and keep it under control. This means nudging and encouraging others to change their email behaviour.
Email addiction is one of the major causes of email overload. It’s the feeling that you must constantly check your inbox no matter where you are, what you are doing or what the time of day. Moreover, we often default to email when of course there are a myriad of other ways to communicate. Try Mesmo Consultancy’s PNDP framework to help you choose when an alternative niche be more effective such as WhatsApp, IM, etc.
Day five is about taking stock, checking you are not suffering from email addiction and making plans to keep your inbox out of the email overload zone. Here is our three step plan for the last day.
Use Mesmo Consultancy’s free Email Addiction self-assessment tool. Identify your strengths and weaknesses and if necessary seek advice about how to control the urge to have another email fix.
In the coming days and weeks as you are about either to Reply/Forward or even ‘Send’ pause and ask yourself would an alternative be more efficient (eg talking, a discussion group on something like SharePoint, instant message etc)?
Look back to Day 1 and how much time you were losing. Now re-calibrate using our Cost of Email Misuse Calculator. Where do you still need to make some changes?
How will you keep your inbox slim and control the email overload in the coming weeks? Don’t let email rule your day. Don’t feel you must check your email either first thing in the morning or every five minutes. Rather try to disconnect from time to time. The most productive people are those who prioritise their time and stay focused on the task in hand.
Do you have colleagues who would benefit from managing their email more effectively as you have now done? Yes, then call us now to ask about our Smart Email Management master classes. Otherwise how about giving them a copy of either ‘Brilliant Email’ or ‘Taking Control of Your Inbox’?
Share your progress; Email; Facebook: Twitter (using #cleaninbox) There is a prize (a copy of ‘Brilliant Email‘) for the person who has made the most outstanding progress. For instance, had five days of empty inboxes, reduced the number of rounds of email ping-pong by improving their email etiquette etc.
Follow me on Twitter using #cleaninbox.
Join our Facebook page.
Thank you for joining us for this the 10th International Clean Out Your Inbox Week. Feedback on how we can improve this event for next year is always appreciated.
I can feel the twinkle of his eyes in his handshake. Helen Keller
Good business email etiquette is one of the quickest ways to stop email overload. Proper business email etiquette enables you to convey the right message, right first time. This reduces the chance of a misunderstanding and hence email war and endless rounds of email ping-pong. will help. You have less than five seconds before the recipient has formed an opinion of you for better or worse. Poor email etiquette can damage your reputation in a nanosecond. Proper business email etiquette grabs their attention substantially increases the likely-hood of a timely response.
Based on using brilliant email etiquette, here are today’s four steps to reduce even further the level of email overload and hence keep the inbox clean and empty.
Use our special free email Business Etiquette Check List to benchmark your email etiquette. Where and how can you improve?
Are there any email chains which could have been prevented if you had either communicated more clearly or planned ahead? What lessons can you learn from these?
Ask yourself, what image am I conveying of myself? How clear and concise is my email based in the checklist at Step 1.
Did you include an adequate greeting and closure to entice the recipient to respond properly? For more tips on how email etiquette can help you achieve an empty inbox and reduce email overload see Brilliant Email chapter 12 and ‘Taking Control of Your Inbox‘ chapter 11.
Be bold. If you receive an email you cannot understand on the first reading, ask the sender what they are trying to say. Send them a link to our Email Etiquette Checklist.
Tomorrow we look at how to reduce the volume of email traffic through your inbox.
Share your progress; Email; Facebook: Twitter (using #cleaninbox) There is prize for the person with the best way of keeping track of emails on which you defer action (copy of ‘Brilliant Email’ or ‘Taking Control of Your Inbox’).
Follow me on Twitter using #cleaninbox.
Join our Facebook page.
Develop an uncanny ability to be selectively ignorant. Timothy Ferriss.
Stressed by business email overload? What is the effect of email overload on your mental health? Studies show its profound. During day three of clean inbox week, we use email management techniques to reduce the the business email overload so that and you continue to enjoy a clean inbox. Deleting simply is not an option. You have be proactive and keep all unwanted emails out of your inbox and reduce the number of times you check for new email.
How many of the emails you receive do you really need? Triage your emails as you deal with them. Ask yourself ‘Do I really need this email?’ ‘How useful is this to me?’ For more guidance on prioritising see Brilliant Email chapter 3 and ‘Taking Control of Your Inbox” if you are a PA or EA.
For all those low priority emails, either get yourself off the sender’s list or automatically move them out of your inbox so they don’t distract you from the really important ones. Your inbox should be your ‘work in hand’ just like an old fashioned in-tray. Ways to reduce the incoming email traffic and hence email overload are:
Click here to see how to write rules that allow you see only the important emails (and not waste time on email distractions dealing with the lower priority ones).
How often do you currently check for new emails? When was the last time you received an email which would mean a catastrophe if you did not respond for about an hour? Give yourself a break from the inbox to allow yourself to focus on the task in-hand for at least 30 minutes and preferably one hour. Try not deal with your email too late into the night as that can seriously effect your quality of sleep and your work-life balance.
Share your progress; Email; Facebook: Twitter (using #cleaninbox) There are two prizes today. One for the person who has made the best progress reducing the number of times they check their email and one for the person who has reduced the volume of email they receive most substantially (a copy of ‘Brilliant Email‘ and ‘Taking Control of Your Inbox’ written especially for PAs, EAs and VAs).
Follow me on Twitter using #cleaninbox.
Join our Facebook page.
Do you feel others colleagues would benefit from help cleaning out their inboxes? Why not either join them up to this week’s programme or ask MesmoConsultancy to run one of our Brilliant Email Management master classes?