E-mails: How Many Do YOU Go Through Everyday?
Before We Had E-mails...
We made a lot of phone calls. We wrote a lot of letters and posted them off in the U.S. Mail. We spent more money on postage. We waited for responses. We worked at a different pace. Similarly, some of the answers could be exchanged with the types of answers we would hear if asking the question, "What did we do before cell phones?"
In one hour, you might send out one e-mail to several people and those people could forward them on to even more people. I work in a law firm, so imagine how many e-mails cross my desk in one day. And, I manage e-mails for more than one person. Fun times!
E-mail in the 90s
The first experience I had with transmitting an e-mail was in the mid-1990's and the style and format of it back then seems very archaic now. Writing handwritten letters quickly became a thing of the past for a large majority of people, but I still like do communicate in that fashion on special occasions or holidays. I don't really like sending e-cards, but I appreciate receiving them. And, I certainly get excited when I have a letter or postcard in the mail.
E-mail just started happening everywhere. Sometimes as quickly as a response is received, you have to wonder if the person on the other end is just sitting there waiting impatiently and wondering when you're going to tag on to their e-mail again--especially in the business world. Everything is fast paced. I mean, how fast do we want things to churn? How much faster can we get?
This summer, we had a laptop out on the deck and we were commenting on how unimaginable this would have been back in high school. Who would have thought 30 years ago that we would be listening to songs on a laptop or sending messages on phones?
So, How Many E-mails Do You Have in Your In-Box?
One of the circumstances involved with e-mails, especially if you don't check them when you're on vacation is that you could be returning to the office to 400 or more of them and all waiting for a response. In an office, you have to treat them as these little urgencies and then you have to prioritize them and if you manage them, then you have to get them moved into folders or into a document saving system. All that takes time and if you don't keep up with it, you can go wonky! And, I'm not just talking about the e-mails you receive in the office either. Then, you have to consider how much you want to be out of control with them if you have a computer at home.
Not only do we need to prioritize the e-mails we receive, we need to make a plan as to how often we're going to check it so that we get other projects completed. Sometimes when I send out a statement, I will say, "Please do not hit the 'reply all' button," or depending on what is being communicated, I might say, "No response required," because I don't need 25 people to say, "Thank you." That just adds another e-mail into the bucket. I actually think it's funny sometimes when I send out a necessary "Thank you for your e-mail," and I receive a "Welcome" back.
At the office, you have to decide how much of your daily routine NEEDS to be involved in your in-box so you can work on other necessary things on your list. We become so obsessed with our office e-mails, home e-mails and text messages, do we have time to eat lunch anymore?
If you set up category folders and organize your e-mails into these folders, this will help deal with the separate subjects. You could even make a folder called, "Urgencies." Whatever style you have, in order to avoid 20,000 e-mails, make a plan to get them organized, and delete (let go!) of the ones you certainly do not need at all.
Setting Those E-mail Expectations
I think as long as we have e-mails, there will always be the sender's expectation of a quick response. If you're always on top of each e-mail and quickly response, keep in mind this behavior will encourage your recipient to form a belief that a quick response can always be expected.
I also think you need to set boundaries. When you leave the office at 5:00, and you check your office e-mails from home routinely, regardless of whether you need to or not, you again encourage an expectation. "Oh, Jane checks her e-mails every night, so she'll get back to us tonight." Not a great idea unless you have a high ranking position.
Certainly, we are enabled to choose how quickly we need to respond to a question, document approval or request. We still have the option of mailing out a letter on company letterhead or making that 15 minute phone call.
So many of us are overwhelmed with the e-mails we receive routinely. There are some days where it is really challenging to be productive with things in the to-do pile because of that one single e-mail you have to deal with that you know will effectively soak up a whole morning. And, please turn off the little sound that comes on every time you get an e-mail or that little window that pops up at the bottom right-hand corner. Disable it.
If you manage e-mails like I do, decide what hours of a day you're going to check them, print them, if necessary, and organize them. In this manner, you will develop a good habit and you won't be leaving the office yelling "I hate e-mails!" in the parking garage. And, you will also get other jobs done which people are waiting for.
Now, too, as writers well know, a lot of agents prefer material to be sent via e-mail as opposed to the manuscript in the mail. I don't know if the response time is generally quicker, but it sets up that expectation that it might be.