Like many other companies, Pragmatic Works has the culture
of email communication. I often had made the joke that I need to change the
tones and chimes in Outlook to be my wife’s voice since I typically due what
Outlook tells me to do. Email has made us much more productive but has had its
downsides. There are some days that make me less than friendly to be around where
I do nothing but answer emails for four hours after being out of the office for
a few days. I’m not the only one with the volume of email that exceeds 500 non-SPAM
messages a day so I thought this would be an appropriate blog post to talk
about how I have learned to better maintain my mountain of chaos that we all
call email. After grumbling about the emails for way too long, I decided to
spend a few hours taking action to control the volume and quality of the
My first goal was to reduce my volume by more than half. I
did this by taking all the websites that send me messages like LinkedIn,
Twitter, community sites, Delta, etc into various folders by creating simple
Outlook rules. Doing so took about an hour the first time but it’s been so
worth it! Now, I can peruse the folders once a week instead of assuming emails
need immediate attention. This has helped me to not forget an email. Emails that are especially important that I worry about falling too far down the pile are flagged for later response in Outlook.
As Pragmatic Works grows from a small to a medium business
profile, I’ve realized I can’t be involved in the day to day minutia anymore
that I used to enjoy. I must now empower employees and trust them to do the
right thing. Then, occasionally audit them to ensure they’re doing the right
thing and meet the quality standards that I demand. Along those same lines, the
first thing I did to turn over a new leaf this month was to setup rules for the
many groups that I’m a part of like the company’s sales and consulting aliases.
I’m a part of about a dozen internal aliases that drive close to 100 emails a
day for different important things.
Time to check my ego at the door and make assumptions that
my managers can handle their jobs. Notice I didn’t say I removed myself from
the aliases. I setup rules to move emails to these aliases to a folder that I
can occasionally audit or check into if an escalation occurs. Part of this
process was also to notify those in that group that I will no longer be
monitoring that alias on a regular basis any more.
When I’m out of town, which is often, I have the proper out
of office response on my inbox to handle expectations on my responses. Just
because we have the culture of a 24 hour turnaround on emails, doesn’t mean
that my customers don’t expect an answer in 3 hours. In my out of office
message, I give a response that gives the sender an immediate contact that can
handle their request and an expectation that I will be XX amount of days prior
to a response. I also tell people that attend my sessions that it may take a few days to respond due to my travels. This few day lag sometimes can be because of the prioritization of emails and fires.
One of my behavior changes I had to make with email was to shut
down Outlook most of the day. I now only answer emails 3-4 times daily for 30
minutes each time. It had become impossible to accomplish work without this
queuing process and creating pressures on myself to stop what I was doing and
respond immediately to something that could wait. We also have tried to change
the culture at our company to where after the second email on a topic you must
pick up the phone and call someone.
Emailing is a great productivity tool but can also really
hurt productivity if you use it inappropriately. It can distract you and give
you the false sense that you’re accomplishing work by communicating. This is
the equivalent of the sense of accomplishment after sitting in a four hour
meeting about the color of the new company handbook or naming convention of
your source code. Don’t fall into the trap that I and countless others have
fallen into and control your inboxes before the control you.
Great comments Brian. I know what you mean by this " It had become impossible to accomplish work without this queuing process and creating pressures on myself to stop what I was doing and respond immediately to something that could wait."
For myself, I leave email open all day because I often need to message someone, but I did something similar by turning off all of the instant email notifications. Without those popping up, I don't even think about email and it allows me to keep my focus on my current task.