The 3 Most Important Questions To Ask Before You Send That Email
9th June 2010
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Email has liberated the world!

However (and it’s a big bold “however”), Email has also become a tyrant; a fire breathing dragon waiting to consume the unsuspecting user fresh each day. While it has liberated communication it has turned modern workers into the hi-tech equivalent of the industrial revolution’s mill workers. It’s made people “cog-ware”; just another part of a relentless machine speeding down a long dark tunnel as they serve email rather than it serving them.

Don’t get me wrong. Without email there is so much that we would not be able to do. It is one of the main drivers of globalisation; the arterial highway that provides the glue to join global business together.

In my working life based in the UK I have had the privilege of working with colleagues and customers from all over the world, from the USA and Canada to Brazil and Uruguay; Sweden to Portugal; France to Turkey, Morocco to Oman; Egypt to South Africa and Japan to New Zealand to name just a few. I recall days when I started and ended with New Zealand, and worked with Miami at lunch time and Vancouver late in the afternoon. Without that marvellous thing called Email it would have been impossible.

The Email Gog-ware Machine

The email tyrant is merciless; it generates a virtually continuous demand for attention and instant response. It generates huge volumes of “stuff” that you have to read, most of which is pointless and then it demands a response.

There is a myth that email is more efficient than other means of communication but that is not necessarily so. Only if it is used well is that true. If used unthinkingly as a default mechanism expecting instant responses it becomes that dragon that consumes, that diverts from the important to the supposedly urgent and it burns up our time.

What the world of the on-line forum calls “discussion threads” often need several cycles to reach a conclusion as replies proliferate and then there is the copy list! How many people are on that? Each reading the proceedings. What might have been dealt with in a 5 minute phone call now begins to consume man hours when all the participants are included.

The individual tasks associated with an individual email may be trivial but their volume and the inability to control the flow, plus the constant diversions away from one’s main tasks, are fertile ground for negative stress. Negative stress drains away a person’s ability to perform and saps the capacity to care. The tyrannical email master is out of control.

Escaping the Evil Cog-ware Machine

All is not lost, there are things that you can do to take control of the evil Cog-ware machine that is Email.

One thing that you can do is read the follow up articles in the “Taming the Email Dragon” series (available for free via The Creative Leader Bulletin) which will explore various strategies and best practice approaches that you can take.

  • 11 Ways to Use and Abuse Email looks at the types of communications in which you regularly engage and shows you when best to use or avoid email.
  • 9 More Tips to avoid the Email Black Hole outlines best practices to help you keep the Email dragon in its lair.
  • How to Use Email Software to Save Your Sanity. This article looks at the capabilities of Email client software and shows you how to set it up to help you manage your Email load.
  • Broadcast Emails – The Nuclear Option. If you need to communicate to lots of people is Email the best way?

The Three Most Important Email Questions

Before you originate or reply to an email don’t think “Email” instead think “communication. Ask yourself the most crucial question, “What will be the best way to communicate in this situation?”

  • Can you deal with the matter more effectively by speaking with your correspondent?
    Many strings of emails could be dealt with much more effectively by a phone call followed by an email, if necessary to document the outcome of the conversation.
    If your correspondent is overseas you may need to email to set up a time to speak with them.
  • Who needs to be to be copied on the email?
    Frequently people are added to the Cc list that really don’t need to be there. Unnecessary emails take up their time and may cause unnecessary replies. So, if you have to email, perhaps to pass on some data, then think carefully about who needs to be on the “Cc list”. If you cannot avoid copying the email then do only copy it to the essential people.
  • How much do I need to write?
    Have you ever received an email, seen how long or complex it is and felt your energy just drain away? You find that you do not have the will to read to it. So, when you send an email, keep it as brief and as simple as possible.

    Layout is important too. Use short paragraphs it looks less intimidating and easier to read quickly. Be sure to keep to one idea per paragraph. If you need a response ask specifically and if the email is addressed to more than one person then be clear who needs to respond, else all the recipients will assume that someone else will complete the action

The result of wise answers to these questions will be fewer emails, conclusions or agreements will be reached more quickly and less time will be wasted.

What You Can Do Today

Take a look at your inbox and ask that first question: “Can you deal with the matter more effectively by speaking with your correspondent?” When the answer is “Yes!”, pick up the phone. If you make some agreement use a brief email to document it, and leave the Copy list blank if you can.

Try that for a week or two and review what has happened.

How much time to you lose due to email diversions?

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