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7 Email Myths That Plague the Workplace

7 Email Myths That Plague the Workplace

    Myths about how to best do email abound. Some are explicitly stated and drummed into your head, and some are the unspoken expectations of the modern corporate world. To succeed at tackling the big email time sink and making email woes a thing of your past, you need to acknowledge these myths for what they are, and implement a system that works.

    Systems need good foundations in order to work, and when an effective email management system fails, it’s usually because the user couldn’t separate these myths from their approach.

    1. Good organization is the best way to stay on top of email.

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    It’s not. Turning emails into actions and archiving everything else is the best way to stay on top of email. Organizing each message into a different folder might be handy for other reasons, such as digging out a paper trail for your lawyer when you get sued, but it’s not handy for “staying on top of” email. There is no correlation between the folder your message is in (unless we’re talking about the inbox) and your level of email efficiency.

    2. You need to reply to every message.

    Some messages simply don’t need a reply. You should only reply if you have something valuable to add to the communication. Sure, you might feel the sting of guilt as you get used to this concept and stop replying to every message you get, but if you want to reclaim your time, it’s an adjustment you must make.

    If there are people you communicate with regularly who expect a reply even when you have nothing to add, you need to educate them rather than succumb to their demands. The biggest problem with email productivity is that people simply won’t put up a little resistance to those who don’t know how to use email effectively.

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    3. You need to reply to every message… as soon as you receive it.

    Worse than myth number two is the myth that you should reply to every message the second you get it. Nothing is accomplished by this. There are always exceptions to every rule—if you work in a newsroom, waiting an hour for information is like waiting a week—but they probably don’t apply to you. Don’t find excuses to reply to every message every minute of the day; just say no.

    Replying to every message you receive is a time sink. Replying to every message as soon as you receive it is sheer irresponsibility—ironically, many people do this to create the illusion of productivity and responsibility.

    4. Emails should be about (insert number) words.

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    The appropriate length for an email is dependent on what the email is about and how much the recipient already knows about the topic, and how much they need to know about the topic in order to act on it. If it doesn’t need to be more than a sentence, never make it more than a sentence. If the email is incomplete in three or four paragraphs, keep writing until the email is complete, but make every word count and edit like crazy before you hit send.

    Part of maintaining good email productivity is maintaining good email etiquette; you could call it the “email karma” rule.

    5. Email is a beast that can’t be tamed.

    Sure it can be. The technology is never the problem; the people using it are. The question is: are you the problem person, or is it the people sending you email? Either way, there are solutions you can implement, whether they involve changing the way you think about and use email or putting up obstacles between yourself and your contacts. Auto responders are one such obstacle that will educate those who are sending you unhelpful email.

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    6. There’s no way to get off that pesky mailing list!

    Of course there is; it’s just a matter of how far you’re willing to take the matter. Spam is illegal, remember, and if it’s truly a mailing list and not just spam from Russia, there’s a way to get your name removed (even if you have to scare the bejeezus out of them with lawyers). It may just take some time and energy. If it’s going to take you more than two minutes, you should simply set up a filter so that you never see messages from that address. If you’re looking for more time in your day, why take the hard route?

    7. Prioritization is a good email productivity tool.

    Prioritization is a good task management tool. If you feel like attaching a priority to an email you’ve received, it’s a good sign that you need to turn that message into an action. On the flip side, sending an email marked as high priority using the prioritization features of your email client has an equally dubious level of usefulness. Not only is there a good chance that the priority level won’t be displayed in the recipient’s email client, it’s a matter of good email etiquette to leave the priority of a given email up to the recipient and let them fit it into the context of their day.

    Email was never designed to help you communicate during an emergency. If there’s an emergency that truly does require immediate attention, pick up the phone or Skype.

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    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    No!

    It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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    But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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    What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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    But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

    1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
    2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
    3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
    4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
    5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
    6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
    7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
    8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
    9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
    10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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