I was asked recently how I created daily margin, or space within my day to fit the many things I’m working on. There are a few things that I’ve learned along my executive management career that help create margin to stay connected with individuals and allow myself to tackle new challenges that come along.
One of the best ways to do that is by managing email. While you may not think email is an enemy of margin, for some it is the number 1 enemy.
Email can be a time killer and can mask as productivity when, it reality, it frequently creates more inefficiency than it helps. When I was in executive management, I received hundreds of emails a day; finding a way through that mess helped me to craft a strategy that has helped with creating daily margin. This is critical, as I believe your productivity is inversely related to the number of emails you receive and send.
Below are my tips on managing email to increase margin:
- Think of email like wild mating rabbits. Email multiplies itself. For every email you send, you get more than one in return. If it takes less than five minutes to walk over to the person and ask them a question face to face, do that. I received an email today from someone in another state who was introducing me to a new team and process I would be helping with. Instead of replying, I called him back and we talked for 25 minutes. I could have replied to his email, which would have generated another reply, and so on, and that 25 minutes would have absolutely been spent on email across days replying back and forth. Was it urgent enough for a call? No, but it was so much better than killing 5 or 10 minutes here or there over multiple days. When we finished the call, he said, “Wow, it was great just to get through this right away.”
- Keep your replies short. When I get an email that demands a reply, I normally respond in less than one paragraph. If it goes more than a paragraph, you should have talked face to face or called. Too much text creates the opportunity for emotional context to be missed and a relational mess to be created.Have you ever read an email only to assume that the emotion behind it was one way, but come to find out they really didn’t intend it to come across that way? Context cannot be expressed in a 12-point font.
- Email should be about information sharing, not a to-do list. Email is best utilized for sharing information for review, passing along files for others, preparing for future meetings, etc. Using email as a running to-do list can be a bad idea because it just breeds more email (see #1 above). If you need a to-do list, buy one – don’t use email for that.
- Blind copy everyone or no one. If you are sending out an email to a large group of people, use the blind copy feature so that no one uses the ‘Reply All’ feature. Never use blind copy to copy someone on communication in a secret way. That’s just rude, and extremely unprofessional.
- Use ‘Reply All’ with extreme prejudice. There’s nothing more frustrating that getting multiple reply all’s from people when those replies contain no information that is helpful to you. Ask yourself, does everyone need to know what I’m about to send, or just a few people?
- Never use a group email to inquire about a time to meet. Use busy search, use an online meeting time finder like doodle.com, or make a few phone calls. Getting four replies to an email with four different times in which people can meet is a complete waste of time.
- Never send an angry email… Ever. If you want your emotion to come across, meeting the person face-to-face or call them. Emotional emails are unproductive and only serve to amplify frustration. Additionally, do you want your emotion to be digitally recorded forever? Probably not.
[This piece was written by Steve Huffman, former CIO at Memorial Health System of South Bend and Beacon Health System. To view the original post, click here. Follow him on Twitter at @SteveHuffman_IN.]