Is your email a disposable asset?

It stands always ready, takes seconds to write, requires no effort to deliver, reaches one or thousands nimbly, and yet there’s no guarantee you will ever see it again. Sound great, expect for that last part.

disposabledefinitionYou rely upon a timely return with the information required. Yet, as the world gets busier, this becomes a bigger reliance. Once you hit send, you are on someone else’s time. They too need to get work done, reshuffle priorities regularly, and get too many emails. Why increase this reliance by sending someone a disposable asset?

You have two options, one depend less on email or two invest in improving the return of your asset. –pause to reflect– OK, option two it is. 

Are you giving or asking for something?

If you are asking for something, think of the other person. Make the email clear and as concise as possible. If you can’t say what you need in one or two lines, then people are going to need more time to think about it. More time equals a higher chance of a delay or being ignored.  If you are giving something away, fantastic! Givers are not so concerned about a reply. Plus, giving increases your email karma. Still, clarity is key!

Do you have a prior relationship with that person?

Family aside, if you didn’t email someone at your work, would he/she ever think about you or miss you? If no, see notes on clear and concise above; else, consider a more direct method of communication. Yes, it is more time consuming, yet relationship building pays riches over time.  When someone unknown emails you, do you jump to reply? To stay competitive today, we must produce. Being busy isn’t enough! If you depend on email, your relationships need to be dynamic.

Is there another way? 

Maybe the answer to your email query already exists online. Check meeting notes, prior emails, FAQ pages, or even the addressee’s social media. Take action by harvesting data or information where you can and don’t wait for it to come to you already assembled. 21st Century tools, plus human brain, and an ability to act means maybe you could work at Google.

Maybe email really works for you? Yet, ask yourself the following. Are your emails clear and concise? Does email interfere with work you need to do? Do you answer emails as they come in? If you answered yes twice, I suggest you rethink your email usage. Disposable assets don’t really help you get work done!

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Email, you can’t win!

Remember when you looked forward to getting emails? You bragged about it to friends and family. I installed a campus wide email system in 1995. Administration worried that the staff would not take to it. We held wine & cheese events to promote email. We designed email communication guidelines and employee expectations policies. We hoped, prayed, and crossed our fingers. In 2010 the human race racked up one hundred trillion emails. I credit the wine & cheese.

In 2011, the average corporate office worker received 112 emails a day. Assume you want to deal with all your emails each day. Yes, I know, big assumption. Estimate that you will send at least another 40 that day. Let’s figure 1.5 minutes on average to deal with each email, (112 x 1.5) + (40 * 1.5) = 228 minutes. If nearly four hours of your day goes to email, how do we get any work done?

Why can’t you win

Email is an asynchronous form of communication. The sender does not need to be in sync or direct contact with the recipient. You send it and hopefully someone reads it later during their scheduled four hours of email. Remember that other great asynchronous communication tool of the 80s and 90s, voicemail? Sure, people still leave voicemails today, just not as many. Why? The general perception among the twenty random people I surveyed, voice mail is too slow.

Guess what? Email is slow too. And I find that its ambiguous nature slows the process of communication down further. One, you are hoping that the person is going to write you back immediately. Probably not going to happen!  Two, there’s a good chance the email recipient will need to collaborate/consult by email with someone else. And three, email comes without any visual or auditory cues. Any one of your recipients might be in a bad mood or dealing with some crisis. So, in the end you end up with a cold or less than desired answer that results in you sending more email back.

Digital Zen

Caliorg @ Creative Commons

Email is not like smoking or drinking, you can’t go cold turkey. It’s too much a part of your life. And work does get done via email albeit slowly. Your long-term goal must be one of reducing dependence on email. It should not be your “go-to” communication method. It should at least be a secondary method or even last resort.

As learners and learning leaders, we need to be utilizing our management skills and think before send an email or a blitz of emails. Before you commit to new cool ideas or projects, consider current commitments. Unfortunately, time, life, & different interpretations of email use will always challenge the amount of work you can take on at one time. The path to digital enlightenment relies upon honesty and the knowing yourself.

I urge you to fall back on a more synchronous means of communication. Pick up the phone! We all have them; just we rarely use them as phones. Take a risk and go online to see if anyone’s around for instant message or online chat. Should the mood strike you, start your video camera. Google Chat, Skype, and FaceTime all include abilities to talk face to face. Yes, it is not the same and sometimes there is a delay. I say, get out of your comfort zone. Then, there’s my personal favorite, go see the person! There’s nothing like real time conversation to get work done!

Email was once a risk. For many, it was their gateway tool to the digital age.  Now, we must challenge ourselves to move beyond email before it buries us!