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Entries in e-mail (7)


Humor For Your Friday Intermission

Tired of all the boring out-of-office auto responses you get when emailing other people? Here's a link to some humorous auto responses you might consider... maybe NOT if you want to keep your job, though.

On a serious note, don't just use auto-response to let others know you are out of the office or on vacation. Consider utilizing it when you want to be more fully focused on a major task or project that may consume your day. By setting up the auto-response they get an acknowledgment of your email but know you won't respond until a time given in the auto response.

If, however, you do respond to their email prior to the time you mentioned in the auto response, you have just trained that recipient to expect you to respond to their email anytime they send it-even if you have set up an auto response.


The 50 Word Rule

In our training programs so much discussion is generated around the mountain of e mail people get and how to better manage it. There are effective systems and procedures to handle it, but we won't spend time here trying to highlight them all. One proactive step you could take is to manage how you SEND email to other people. Your level of control is much greater here.

One guideline we use is the 50 word rule. If an email will require more than 50 words, choose to make a phone call-or schedule a phone call with someone (or meet with them face to face). In most e mails over 50 words there are multiple questions and information to be processed. What happens if they don't respond to all the questions or understand the information. You will spend 3-4 more emails trying to clarify the content when one phone call of 5 minutes could have handled everything.

Sure, there are times that a long e mail is the best way to impart lots of information, but people often get lost in the content (or get distracted by something else before they are done). Keeping the email short and concise increases the possibility that they will read all of it and respond accordingly.


Email Overload?

If you are a regular reader of our blog and newsletter, you are familiar with our comments on email and what a distraction it can be. Not only can the alarm of an incoming email interrupt you from something that is more important, the sheer challenge of keeping up with reading, responding and filing of email can be daunting. I recently read a statistic that said 45%-55% of most professional's time is spent using email. That is a very significant amount of time-when does everything else get done?

If you are spending hours a day on email, consider a few strategies and recommendations:

  • Do you really need to send the email in the first place? Sending email increases the number of emails that you receive in return (people reply or comment on emails that you send). To reduce the number of emails you get, reduce the number you send

  • Keep it simple and short. Use bullets, use an outline and do your best to keep it to the point-don't ramble. Encourage those you work with to do the same. This will save you time writing and hopefully reading messages as well. In our office, we have a rule that if a message is going to go over a certain length then it is better to pick up the phone instead

  • Don't copy the "world" just because you can and don't forward on messages that are not vital. The people you know and work with are probably just as busy as you and filling up their email box is not doing them any favors

  • Create a filing system to store your emails so that you can easily find them when you need them. But, when in doubt, throw it out!

  • Define some rules with those that you work with about email (e.g. restrictions on length, the need NOT to reply with a "thank you" and who needs to be cc'd on what)

What if you could reduce the amount of time that you spend on email by 10%-20%? Would that make a difference in your day? What would you do with the extra time? Maybe you would actually be able to take lunch or take that important 15 minute break!


A Tip for Email

Writing and responding to e-mail can take up a lot of time. There is nothing worse than having a mail box that is full of messages waiting for replies. One simple suggestion is to treat email like a text message or an Instant Message. Keep it very short and limit the number of characters, words and/or sentences that you write (sentences are easier to keep track of -so try limiting sentences). You might start by limiting yourself to 4 or 5 sentences. The goal is to limit yourself to 2 and no more than 3 short sentences.

Not only will this cut down the amount of time that it takes for you to write and reply to email but it will also save time for those that have to read it. If there is an email that requires more than 2 or 3 sentences, maybe it is better to pick up the phone to speak to the person or leave a voice message.


Email and Gambling

I just heard on the radio of a study on email conducted by Dr. Thomas Jackson of Loughborough University, England. In the study, Dr. Jackson notes that it takes an average of 64 seconds to recover your train of thought after interruption by email. So, people who check their email every five minutes waste 8 1/2 hours a week trying to get back on track.

Another study by Tom Stafford, a lecturer at the University of Sheffield, England believes that the same learning mechanisms that drive gambling addicts are also at work with email users. "Both slot machines and email follow something called a 'variable interval reinforcement schedule' which has been established as the way to train in the strongest habits," he says. 'This means that rather than reward an action every time it is performed, you reward it sometimes, but not in a predictable way. So with email, when I usually check it there is nothing interesting, but every so often there's something wonderful-and I get a reward." The reinforcement schedule of email is enough to keep us checking whenever we hear the "bell." Didn't Pavlov have a dog that reacted the same way? Scary!

I know I can fall victim to this "conditioning" but I am amazed at what I have been seeing lately. I have been in meetings and the person speaking will stop mid sentence, put the meeting on hold, and check their email because his/her phone beeped. Even regularly when carrying on a one on one conversation with someone, while I am talking with them, they will check their email on their Blackberry or phone. They will even reply to the email while saying to me, "Uh huh, uh huh." Don't people realize we know they are not paying attention to us or listening to what we are saying when they are checking/responding to email?

Again, take a moment and consider your email habits. I have! Turn off the bell and plan a time to check email. (It can at least wait until after our meeting!) One recommendation is to check email two times a day-the beginning of the day and an hour before the end of the day. I know that is a little extreme but limiting it to once an hour for some would be a big step. Then you'll be a winner when it comes to managing your time.