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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 January 13, 2020

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

    No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

    Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

    Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

    A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

    Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

    In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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    From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

    A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

    For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

    This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

    The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

    That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

    Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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    The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

    Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

    But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

    The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

    The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

    A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

    For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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    But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

    If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

    For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

    These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

    For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

    How to Make a Reminder Works for You

    Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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    Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

    Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

    My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

    Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

    I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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