Lynda’s High 5 for Leaders: 5 Ways to Finally Stop the Email Madness©
By: Lynda McNutt Foster
It’s madness. The amount of emails executives are processing a day is nuts! I was with one last month that gets about 300 a day. Email is not the best place for conversations. It’s really a medium to transfer information and it’s not really ideal for that if there is a pattern to the information and an app could organize it more effectively.
I can not count the amount of coaching sessions I have had where a manager or supervisor had spent the last day or two trying to interpret an email they got from their boss or a peer. Maybe they hadn’t heard anything back from their boss on a request for a decision they sent via email. Sometimes they received a response back but aren’t really sure what their boss meant by it.
Research taken from the book Conversational Intelligence by Judith Glaser notes that conversations are interpreted by us in this way: 7% by words, 38% by tone, 55% by non-verbal or body language. In email, 93% of the interpretation is LOST. If you do not have a relationship with someone, or worse, if you have a bad one, the way you interpret their tone is probably how you will label their intention and therefore the meaning of the email.
An email as simple as:
“Thank you. What exactly do you mean by that?”
Depending on the relationship of that person with you, the positional power that person has over you, the culture of your department or company, could set you off on a quest for tone that could send the gerbil wheel off in your head for a day or more. (Try reading it putting the emphasis on a different word each time, like, WHAT exactly do you mean… or what EXACTLY do you mean…or what exactly do you mean by THAT)
Email is costing most companies and organizations hundreds of thousands a dollars a year in lost productivity. As I have been collecting data by taking surveys in our leadership classes for the last year, the average time that leaders say they are spending, during working hours, sorting and managing email threads is at least 2 hours a day. If the cost of that leader with all of their benefits added in is only $50 an hour, that cost is $100 a day, $500 a week, and if they have 2 weeks vacation, that’s $25,000 a year… managing email. Many of my client’s time is worth well above that hourly amount. Some as much as $500 or much more an hour. What’s interesting to me is that executives are believing they are being efficient by not having an assistant and handling all correspondence themselves. The cost to the leader’s productivity and increased stress level of managing upwards of 100+ emails a day is hard to calculate in exact numbers. It would appear to be very high, though.
So how do we work together to stop the madness? Here’s 5 things to do this week to reduce stress, increase productivity, and manage your time more effectively when it comes to email:
- Create, if you have the power to, and if you don’t, suggest it to the powers that be, that you determine a list of “Rules of Engagement” for email with your department or organization as a whole. Determine when email is required to be responded to, the boundaries around what should and should not be put in an email, who should be copied and who shouldn’t. This is a big one. If you send an email out that takes 2 minutes to read to 10 people that is 20 minutes of productivity time that has been eaten up not to mention the time it takes to understand whether or not each of the people is supposed to respond to it. Some of the most successfully run companies in the world now have Rules of Engagement for email which they strictly adhere to.
- Stop, thinking you know the person’s tone or intention in sending the email. If you need interpretation, pick up the phone… yes, that dusty thing you only get texts and emails on now, and call the person for clarity. It will actually save you time so you can work on the task being requested rather than trying to interpret what they mean.
- Start, creating a task list or better yet, put tasks on your calendar so you can start tracking how long they take. Don’t use your email inbox as a to-do list past a few days.
- Set times to check your email. Responses to people don’t have to be perfect. Waiting days and days to get back to someone can delay processing of important projects and tasks. If you don’t know and need to get back to them, say that and put it on your calendar to respond to them.
- Turn off the bells and noises that alert you that a text or email has come in. The sound is triggering your lowest level thinking in your brain stem/amygdala. Not good. Those bings and dings are actually lowering your IQ by 10-15 points during the day according to the research shown in Your Brain at Work by David Rock.
There is probably little chance you have not heard some of these before. Why aren’t you doing it? Even though something is common sense, we don’t make it common practice. Why is everyone still so distracted by email? You may not have the authority to create the change you want to see. I understand. Perhaps passing this on to the folks that do could go a long way in starting a new wave of focus in your department or organization.
Suggested Team Exercise for this week:
Get serious about creating a list of “Rules of Engagement” for email within your department. This may take a few shots at it to get it in alignment with your culture and it will certainly take quite a bit of follow up and policing to ensure compliance. I can assure you that the effort will be worth it when you see the productivity increase and stress levels go down.
Courtland James, an Executive Coach with Cortex Leadership, did a fantastic job facilitating an open forum discussion with a panel on the Generational Divide event at the CoLab last Wednesday night. Thank you, to each of you that attended. There wasn’t a seat left! Courtland was also interviewed on Fox21/27 in regard to the event. Thank you, Becky Freemal, for the great story.
Courtland also got married recently and the picture you see at the top of article is from his reception at the Colonnade Club at the University of Virginia on Sunday afternoon. Congratulations, Courtland, you rock!