A sure-fire way to have less email in your life is to stop sending any in the first place. Obvious isn’t it?
I know, I know – even though it’s obvious, I’m going to pick this apart a little, just because the relationship between what comes in and what I send out has been obsessing me for some time. And perhaps you need convincing… perhaps I too, still need a little convincing!
You see, for me, sending less emails is such a simple answer… it’s just not necessarily easy.
I have been doing some quasi-scientific research on this since Feb 2015 looking at my own email habits and I can now say that from my own experience, sending less emails, does mean that less and less emails have come into my life. There is definitely a correlation.
It is good.
There is an exponential benefit that’s described really well in this lovely little vid:
I think everyone is pretty familiar with the Email Tree situation and how one email, which seems so innocent, has the ability to multiply and reproduce many times over. The more recipients you have in your original email the more chance it has of generating more email trees.
And we all know about the emails that come out to huge circulation lists for ‘cascading’ through an organisational structure… euch! How many of those just get deleted, filed or at worst just sit in someone’s inbox forever – unread or ignored, taking up space.
There is a trend in organisational culture of people sending emails needlessly to multiple recipients, using BCC and CC fields and copying in way too many people – basically choosing email as the tool for all communication, when often it is completely the wrong method.
I often feel like email is sent with no compassion for the recipient at all. No love or respect for what they are doing, or even whether they are interested. We send email without thinking and without heart. No wonder the receiver gets an icky feeling when they open their inbox!
I think we send emails because we feel we ‘have to’ and because we’re too lazy to think of a better way of communicating.
There, I said it. We’re lazy. That laziness breeds a culture of doing the same thing over and over and getting the same results. Even further, we get into a habit of thinking that the results we get with email are OK. Even good!
This recent article quoted some research that found the following:
More than 85 percent of employees with access to social networks still used email hourly, and 83 percent considered it effective. Even 90 percent of gen X and gen Y professionals said they preferred email, whereas only 42 percent considered texting or instant messaging to be effective for communicating with team members.
Get that? 83% thought e-mail was effective. The fact that email is most certainly not effective (or at least as effective as other means) is worthy of a whole other blog post. I think for now, I just want to assume that you’re with me on this. You’d like to have less of it in your life… right? OK, I’ll carry on.
So… back to the “sending less email = receiving less email” formula.
The above are my real results up to the end of August 2015 (I’m going to share my most recent data in another post). You can see here that the trend of received emails in purple is starting to track downwards and that there is a direct correlation between that downward trend and the amount of emails I am sending (in red).
In later statistics this correlation is even more marked – I have a ‘spike’ month in September where I send a lot of emails and my received track up significantly following suit. When I send less in October, the received statistics come back down again.
Could it be the other way around? That I am ‘responding’ to the external influence of incoming emails? I think this could have been a theory to be tested in a previous role – but my current job is pretty much the other way around – I generate my own communications… I tend to be the one reaching out to others via email (if I have to).
So the big question is how do I actually manage to send less email? Especially in a culture where email is the expected default method of communication around the organisation.
It has not been easy – it has taken quite a lot of hard work and I have had to train myself to think differently at every communication point in the day. As I have practiced, it has become easier and I have started making alternatives to email my default communication methods. I have to think less and less.
These are my little practices:
- STOP: Every time I receive an email from someone else I don’t reply straight away. I stop. Every time. Even if it feels easy to reply and like it would be the fastest, most appropriate way to respond. I stop. And I think.
- TIMING: I then think about timing. Is it the right time to react to this incoming communication? Usually, I can think of a better time than right now. Answering right now would be reacting. What I want to do, is respond.
- OPPORTUNITY: I then think of all the opportunities I can around this communication. For example, do other people need to know? Is this a simple question or does it open up more questions that need to be answered? What could be the best possible outcome from communicating with this person?
- RISK: I then think of the risks of communicating and of not communicating. I think about who is ‘in and out’ of the loop with what’s been presented. I ask myself – what’s the worst thing that could happen if I just deleted this email? What’s the worst thing that could happen if I responded tomorrow, or next week…
- METHOD: Then I’m onto the method – how could I best meet the needs of this communication interaction. Is email it? Usually not. Phone call? yep – I’m making a lot more of those at the moment (and again that’s an assumption this will be inefficient but I can tell you it’s not). Instant Message? Text? Skype? Conference Call? Social Network? ESN?
- START: Then… and only then, I deliver what I think is best, at the time I think is best. And with compassion.
Does all that sound time consuming and laborious? Well, I guess it might. It felt incredibly clunky when I started doing it. But after a short time I realised how much more time I was creating for myself in my working day. As I sent less emails, I received less – and the quality of my communications with colleagues seemed to get better and better (from my perspective).
And from others’ perspective? Well – I didn’t hear any complaints. No one said I became unresponsive. No one complained. Work seemed to happen just as it did before. I didn’t miss any deadlines.
So, I’ve stopped sending emails saying “Thanks”.
If someone invites me to a meeting using their calendar app, I’ve stopped sending an auto reply if I Accept or Decline the meeting, unless that individual really needs to know my response.
So, for example if I get invited to something along with 20 other people, I just figure they don’t really want 20 emails coming into their inbox saying Accepted / Declined and they’ll just go to the calendar event tracker itself to follow up. Again, no one complained.
If people send me stuff that’s of interest I don’t get into email banter about it – I just look at it as and when is the right time for me.
It’s all about finding different things to do than choose email as the default – and it’s really interesting what comes up. I’ve found it fascinating how my work relationships have changed and blossomed when I looked up from the screen. I’m talking to a lot more people and I feel I understand them better and that they understand me.
So, simple – but not easy. If you want less email in your life – STOP SENDING EMAILS!