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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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    Joel Falconer

    Editor, content marketer, product manager and writer with 12+ years of experience in the startup, design and tech digital media industries.

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    Last Updated on July 17, 2019

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    What happens in our heads when we set goals?

    Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

    Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

    According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

    Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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    Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

    Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

    The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

    Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

    So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

    Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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    One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

    Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

    Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

    The Neurology of Ownership

    Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

    In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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    But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

    This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

    Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

    The Upshot for Goal-Setters

    So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

    On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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    It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

    On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

    But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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    Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

    Reference

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