There’s a reason people have started calling it Ejail. What started out as a speedier version of typing a letter and putting it in an envelope has become a 24/7 black hole of spam, jokes, love letters, advertising, special offers, reminders, updates, appointments and bills – all of it demanding attention and a response now.
Still, it’s email. It’s not a sentient being or alien life force. It can only control us if we let it. So let’s not.
• Don’t hide behind email. Using email for all communication makes about as much sense as hoping your doctor can make a diagnosis without ever seeing you. Unless you’re the Usain Bolts of typing, email is too time-consuming. Email is more easily misinterpreted because it doesn’t allow for give-and-take discussion and people aren’t guided by facial expressions and vocal intonations. And the more dependent you are on email, the more mysterious you become. Go down the hall, hang out in the lunchroom, or pick up the phone at least some of the time.
• Use email intelligently. Just because you can use email doesn’t mean you should. Limit your use to concise messages:
• Request, confirm, or change appointments.
• Remind people of deadlines.
• Make announcements (such as which days the office will be closed for holidays).
• Let people know when you’ll be out of the office (and how to reach you).
You can also use e-mail to forward documents that you expect people to file electronically for further reference, such as meeting minutes or budget reports.
Do not use email to
• Ruminate on strategy.
• Announce changes in strategy.
• Announce major changes (such as mergers, acquisitions, reorganizations, or downsizing).
• Announce major policy changes (such as vacation time or benefits coverage).
• Send information likely to generate questions.
• Don’t let email become a tennis match. We’ve all known email debates that have volleyed back and forth more times than a tennis ball at Wimbledon. If an email goes back and forth more than three times, and especially if the distribution list gets bigger, that’s a sure sign that the discussion is bigger than email. Call a halt and bring people together to resolve the issue.
• Think twice before you click send. Email will not protect you from yourself. Be careful that you are sending what you intended to send, and that you are sending it to the right person. One employee read a general email from the boss and found it insulting. In the heat of the moment, she typed an angry comment to her colleague that ended, “Does she think we’re stupid?” Imagine her red face when she received another email from the boss that said simply, “Yes, I do.” If you can’t email something nice . . .
• Use email controls. Most email programs, including Microsoft Outlook, include sophisticated control tools. Invest the time to use those tools and set up a system to manage your mail. For example, you can set up distribution groups (to make communicating with your whole team easier) or direct all email from specific senders into a pre-set folder. Not only does it make it easier to find what you need, it also makes it easier to screen out the junk.
• Avoid “reply all.” Of all there is to hate about email, the “reply all” function is the one we hear the most complaining about. Although it is (very) occasionally useful, it is ridiculously overused. Don’t use it just CYA, or for politicking (so that the known universe knows that you share in congratulating someone on her promotion), or out of laziness or carelessness.
• Keep it all business. Don’t use your business email for personal stuff. And don’t use your business email to forward jokes, cartoons, YouTube links, or anything else that isn’t directly business related. When you receive such material, delete, delete, delete.
• Establish an email policy. Without guidelines, every member of your team is likely to use e-mail differently, and some people may use it inappropriately. If your organization doesn’t have an email policy, draft one.