I didn’t post a blog last week because i was catching up on my e-mail. I try to stay on top of it, but the truth is it starts to just get away from me. This week was no different. After all, most of my work isn’t about e-mail, it’s about actually talking to people, either in workshop groups I facilitate or in one-on-one coaching conversations. What’s YOUR work? If you don’t get paid just to send and respond to e-mails, it might be the right time to get a handle on dealing with them.
There are lots of reasons I’m calling it “scream-mail” from now on since it makes me want to scream. Here are a few of them:
- Expectations of immediate response. Contrary to popular belief, I do not wear Google Glass or have a smartphone embedded in the palm of my hand. There are times (lots of them) when I am not checking my e-mail. But some people don’t get that … they send me a follow-up an hour after the first e-mail to see if I got the first one.
- Complicated messages. Some things are just too complicated to talk about through e-mail. For example, when I develop training programs for an organization that has a specific issue to address, I’ve had executives try to explain the situation through e-mail. This isn’t good enough – I need to be able to engage in active listening and ask questions to understand the root cause and I can’t do that by reading about it.
- Too much stuff. As a consultant, I subscribe to a lot of e-newsletters and updates, because that’s what keeps me on the cutting edge of what’s going on in different industries and on general business and economic issues. But I don’t need to be distracted every 15 minutes by the “bing” my Outlook sends me every time I get a new e-mail.
So what’s an overloaded person to do? Here are some solutions I’ve implemented:
- Set up a “READ” folder and rules. I don’t know about other e-mail programs, but in Outlook I can set rules that send certain e-mail into a specific folder without even notifying me. While they still come through on my smartphone, I’m not distracted by them when I’m working on a project on my laptop. Okay, granted I now have about 1,076 e-mails in that folder, but it’s my choice when I read them.
- Set up an “auto-responder.” While most of us know to do that when we’re going to be away from our offices, we don’t typically do it when we need the time to complete other stuff. When I have projects that I have to finish, I put my auto-responder on to let people know I WON’T be responding to them immediately and, if it’s that important, I give them my number to call. This clearly sets expectations of when they’ll hear from me.
- If something takes more than 3 e-mails, pick up the phone. One of my biggest pet peeves is setting up meetings by e-mail. Sometimes I’m lucky and the time I suggest works out for both of us. But a LOT of time, someone will go back and forth trying to pick a time that suits both of us. If, by the third attempt we can’t figure out a time, I pick up the phone and hash it out that way. A five-minute phone call can save an hour of back-and-forth by e-mail.
- Take time off. We can’t – and shouldn’t – be on our e-mail all the time. I know that many people see all those e-mails as bolstering their importance. I see them as a kind of disrespect – if they want a quick response, the person sending one to me late at night or on weekends is silently telling me that they’re more important than I am. Why, thank you! My Sundays are pretty much my time … for family, friends, golf, gardening, or just about anything I like doing for myself. Please don’t bother me then – but if you do, understand that I’m not likely to respond.
I know setting rules for e-mail is tough. And I don’t always follow my own rules – there are always some exceptions. But if you can do it and stick to it as much as possible, your life is going to get a lot easier and much less stressful.
Yes, dear readers, you are important to me … but not important enough for me to blow the winning putt at the 18th hole in order to respond to you.