Email is a big part of most peoples lives. You use it to communicate with loved ones, get project updates from clients, send your clients promotions for your products any many other things.

With this heavy reliance on email it’s also become something of a whipping horse for being an ineffective tool. Email is not the problem, how you choose to use your email is the problem.

If you use your email in ineffective ways then of course it’s a terrible tool. A screwdriver makes a terrible hammer, but we don’t insist on using it as a hammer while lamenting how terrible it is at being a hammer.

Next time your complaining about email, make sure you’re not using it in these 4 ways that it should never be used.

1. It’s not a task manager

Your email is not a spot to collect a bunch of action items. It is not your task list.

First off there is no real way to prioritize your emails, they don’t have ‘due’ dates and can’t easily be grouped in to projects.

Second you don’t control the things that come in to your inbox. Anyone can send you something that they feel is important for you to do and you then have to use brain capacity deciding what to do about that item.

Third you can’t assign an email to someone and then track how it’s going. Sure you can forward it, but do you see the updates between the other people on the email only when you want to see them? Nope you get grouped in with a CC and just get every update even when it has no importance to your day.

Instead of using your inbox as a collection spot for your tasks you need to use something like Todoist or OmniFocus to track them. If you’re on a team and task assignments need to change hands regularly then it’s time to look in to a more robust system like Redbooth or Basecamp.

When you sit down once ore twice a day deal with everything in your inbox by either replying to it right away or pushing it in to your task management system to be dealt with later. Once it’s in your task management system of choice you can give it priority and schedule it to be dealt with.

2. It’s not a file folder

Yes search in some email providers is pretty good so you can find things fairly easily but your email is not a big file folder for you to store things.

First off, you can’t search inside attachments like a tool like Evernote can. Where Evernote allows you to search and find that text in the specific document email leaves you a long list of items with attachments you need to dig through to find the single thing you need.

Second you can’t efficiently organize all those assets, how do you include a hand written note that should go with the email. You could take a photo and email it to yourself but that just means it’s in with all the other clutter emails that really aren’t that important like the single ‘yes’ email which approved a change to a project.

Instead of keep all your documents in your email, use tools like Evernote to manage all your digital files. Use a project management tool like Basecamp to tie important documents with their projects.

3. It’s not a phone

The beauty of email is that it’s asynchronous so I can deal with an email when it’s good for me and you can deal with it when it’s good for you. We don’t have to negotiate a time to talk in the midst of our busy schedules.

But text misses so much meaning and many times waiting for that response  holds up a real project with a real deadline. All too often our love of email means we never even think of picking up the phone so we have 22 emails over 5 days trying to clarify nuances which could have been clarified in a 2 minute phone call.

Use all the tools at your disposal to bring clarity to your work and that includes the phone. If you send more than 2 emails trying to clarify something it’s time to pick up the phone and have that 5 minute phone call to get things on track again.

4. Your email attempts consensus building

All to often things get put on hold because no clear action was provided in an email. To combat this it’s time to start making your emails short and actionable.

Pretend your asking someone a question that has 2 possible outcomes. Most emails would look something like this:

Hey Bob,

I was wondering if you liked A or B. Let me know.

That’s a terrible way for you to wait forever to move because Bob just doesn’t deal with his email quickly. Instead write it like this.

Hey Bob,

I was wondering if you liked A or B. I think A is the way to go and unless I hear back from you in 2 days that’s what we will do.

Now you’re not stuck waiting for Bob, you’ve told him that in 2 days you’re going with option A. If Bob doesn’t get back to you in 2 days go ahead and do it.

If you really do need Bob to weigh in don’t send that email, call Bob and take 5 minutes to hash it out then move forward.

If you can stop using your email in these 4 terrible ways you’ll find pretty quickly that email isn’t that bad. You just needed to use it for the right job.

Featured photo credit: Rolands Lakis via flickr.com

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