Bane (n) - death, destroyer, ruin.
I think that is a fair description to start with. For most of us that deal with email on a daily basis we understand how much it is a part of our work life. Email is our form of daily interaction with most of our coworkers. However, there is an inherent problem with it. If we witnessed the exchanges that take place through email as a face to face conversation with someone we would find it quite rude. Email interrupts us and sometimes shows up before we can even finish our side of the conversation. This goes on day after day after day in every office in America, and across the world. There are roughly 3.4 million emails sent every second globally, try to wrap your brain around that.
Much like your parent’s Gremlin (that’s the car, not the mutated Mogwai), email was invented in the 70s. Funny how there are very few things that we use daily that have that type of history, and just like the Gremlin, you should probably stop using email everyday. There are several companies that are working to replace email, and some of them are promising. But for most of us in working environments we will have to deal with email, and like the title states the worst offenders are often our co-workers.
Some of us work in offices, where walking down the hall is too laborious or time consuming so we send an email. We would never pick up a phone to ask a quick question; instead we just shoot an email at any hour of the day. Heaven forbid you are a remote employee; people gladly start an email chat that will go on for the next hour. I have to imagine for many of us, it plays out like this:
You are waiting for the business day to end, it is 4:30pm.
Waiting for the clock (do we still have clocks in offices?) to magically strike 5pm. Much like those days in school desperately waiting for the bell to ring to go home. And you would have been on your way home, if you didn’t just get an email from Tracey in Sales the subject line reads, “Urgent: Your decision is needed”. You open the email and read, “On Friday do you want to bring everyone to that expensive bar that everyone likes, or would you like to do something different?"
You make the mistake and respond, “That bar sounds great, see you on Friday”. Seconds later as if Tracy was waiting for your reply, in the way that a leopard waits to pounce on its prey, you receive, “Wonderful, what time?”
You respond, “8pm would be great”. Your answers become progressively shorter with every email, the last one reads, “sure", since it is now past 5pm. The questions just keep flying at an alarming rate. You give up, defeated...and stay until 5:30 answering one inefficient email at a time.
Yes, that is possibly an exaggeration, but a more reasonable version happens every day in our work lives and our personal lives. My goal is to help you by giving you one strategy to help combat ineffective email communication.
Here it is: Delayed Delivery
Delayed delivery is a fairly simple concept. You write an email, instead of sending it now, you send it later. You may wonder, why would you ever use this?
Well there are many reasons why I personally use this. Let's first revisit our story between you and Tracey. Tracey still sends the email; one thing I have learned is you can control your own actions but you can’t easily control others. So rather than simply hitting send, you “delay” or schedule the email to go out at 5:30pm. Now Tracey doesn’t know by 5:30 you’re already home with your feet on the couch watching your stories, because there is a good chance she is too. Also maybe just maybe the delay in your response, will give her time to think of a much better email for her next response. Let’s say she sends an email right away again...same question, “Great, What time?” You immediately write her a response, but you schedule the email to go out at 9am on the next workday.
There are 2 perspectives on delayed email delivery. First, you are slowing down communication. You are purposefully taking a conversation and taking longer to find a resolution. I can’t disagree with that perspective, but no one knows that you are delaying your communication, and if the matter truly is urgent a phone call will occur. There is, I believe, a more accurate perspective rather than saying you are slowing down communication; you are slowing down ineffective communication, so as to not reward it with quick responses. This is something that is hard for people to hear, but putting this method into practice, does teach people slowly how best to communicate effectively.
The second perspective is more in alignment with how I perceive this strategy. Your communication is reflecting your schedule and availability. If someone sends me an email at 4:30pm I will respond to the email, if there is a question or something finite for me to respond to. I could be driving in a tunnel, stuck in an elevator, on my way to vacation, or having dinner with a friend there are lots of reasons why people can’t respond to email immediately. I have found that as long as you regularly respond to emails within 8 business hours, people come to expect this as a standard time frame for a quick response. This helps you become more productive, because you aren’t responding to every inbox notification, and you have metered your response to align with your availability.
My goal in sharing this strategy and the many others that Tech Effect teaches is to help you make your time with technology the most effective and efficient it can be. From my personal life, if I know I have things to do the next morning like drop my kid off at school, I write a few emails the night before, and schedule them. Sometimes I delay email, to give the topic under discussion a cool down period. Have you ever witnessed an email chain that has occurred while you’ve been in the air, flying from one destination to another? If people can solve a problem without me chiming in and writing another email, it actually works out best for everyone, not just me. This isn’t a strategy to make you lazy, actually quite the opposite. It is one method to help maximize time. Spending less time going back and forth for hours a day, frees up time to be more productive doing other things.
Email is low hanging fruit for anyone that helps people be more productive, but simply telling you about delayed delivery isn’t quite as helpful as leading you as close to the fountain as I could. If we were in the desert, I could tell you about a well with cold spring water, or I could walk over there with you and help you find it. I’m all about helping people find the solution that works best for them.
Based on the data that is online there are 3 dominant email service/clients people use on a day-to-day basis. Below are strategies for each of those services for how to add delayed delivery to your email. The instructions vary for each one, but all are relatively simple. If you have another service/reader, a quick Google search can help you, or you can set up an appointment with Tech Effect and we would be glad to support you in implementing this strategy.
1.) Outlook - Luckily for Outlook users, delayed email is free. Below is a link to help you start using it.
2.) Gmail - Gmail has the largest user base for any web based mail service. Surprisingly they don’t have a way to natively support delayed email. The best service I have found is boomerang. Boomerang is a plugin for your browser (Safari, Chrome, IE). It is a great service with a free 30-day trial. After the trial you can keep the free service and send 10 delayed emails a month. For a subscription with unlimited delayed emails it costs $5 a month after that. I know the value of being able to delay emails is well beyond $5 a month. They also have additional features that may be of interest to you, as well for that same $5 a month.
3.) Mac Mail - I have been using SendLater for well over a year with my Mac, and I think it is great. It costs $14 as a one-time charge for the MacMail plugin.
After you have made your choice(s) all of these options operate about the same way. You get a separate button to send the email normally or a different button to delay the delivery. It is that simple, and I promise using it will begin to change your behavior around email, and help make it a more effective communication tool than it was before.