The little red number that haunts your phone, the incessant pinging, the constants alerts. Emails, emails, emails. Many of us feel overburdened, overwhelmed, and stifled by them. What should be an effective and easy communication tool has become a source of stress and anxiety.
So what can we do to take back control? And avoid feeling – and causing – email induced technostress?
These top tips are a great place to start.
Find your system
Ever looked longingly at a colleague’s neatly ordered inbox with colour coded flags and neat folders? That can be you too, and it will really help you take control. An afternoon of filtering your inbox, creating priority rules will save you immeasurable hours in the long run. Not sure where to start? Keep it simple with folders for: today, this week, this month, and AOB. Then use your inbox just as a holding pen.
Be upfront about boundaries
Not everyone has the same preferences with emails, so if you're getting frustrated with colleagues not replying after 5, or if you resent feeling obliged to respond out of hours, set expectations and ask your team to do the same. Since smartphones it's harder than ever to switch off but putting clear boundaries in place and respecting the preferences of others can reduce stress. Add your contact preferences to your out of office and email signature to make it clear and transparent.
Think before you email
It’s easy to default to email but ask yourself if it’s really the right medium? Email ping pong can disrupt people’s flow – if you’re in the same building would it be better to go and speak to them? Or call on the phone? Alternatively if you’re collaborating on a project instant messaging or Slack could be a more efficient option.
Use a clear subject line
Life would be easier for everyone if you could scan email subject lines and prioritise it without even having to open it up. So make it short, clear and actionable – under ten words is ideal. Steer clear of vague statements like ‘Update’ or ‘Hello’, give the recipient a helping hand in clearing their email backlog.
The five-sentence rule
Brevity and clarity are your friend when it comes to the body of the email too. A great rule to stick to is the 'five sentence rule'. You'll save time, get shorter and more useful replies - and if it takes more than five sentences to get your point across, email might not be the right method of communication.
Or Monday... or Wednesday, whatever day suits how your business operates best. If you want to shift email culture across your team it might take a sharp shock to get people thinking about other ways of communication. It doesn't have to be weekly, even a monthly initiative could be enough to encourage face to face meetings or the good old phone call.
Try time batching
Our energy and concentration fluctuate through the day – typically they are high in the morning and dip after lunch, but it varies from person to person. Try to keep the high productivity times in your day for the most important tasks and the dips for the easier tasks. Try setting aside 3 blocks of half an hour to focus on emails. Batch your responses in this time and you won't lose valuable 'on' time and your day won't be perpetually punctuated by pings.
Control email, don't let it control you
When we use emails properly, they are an invaluable communications tool. But when we let it control us it can be unproductive, unhelpful, and a source of anxiety.
Share these habits with your team, take them on together - and you can make technostress a thing of the past.
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