3 easy tricks: A modern day guide to email

  1. Francois Badenhorst

    Francois Badenhorst Business Editor, UKBF & AWEB

    91 18
    8 |

    Is there anything more offensive to the intrepid entrepreneurial soul than the bureaucratic rigours of email? No one began a business saying ‘damn, I’ma do me some emails’.

    Alas, there’s still a long way to go before the email is consigned to the spam folder of history. But if we can’t get rid of it now, there are a few ways to do email better.

    Strictly no circumlocutions (and pick up the damn phone!)

    In a recent email correspondence, an entrepreneur replied: “I don’t write, I do.” It was hard to fault her response.

    Although her point wasn’t  explicitly referring to email, her short replies suggest her maxim had been neatly repurposed for the age of email.

    The structure of email still retains the vestigial limbs of handwritten correspondence. The structure usually follows: greeting, small talk, what you really want, closing line, salutation and name.

    Lost in this performative dance is, well, what you actually wanted. But how necessary are these accoutrements?

    Traditional etiquette coaches would gasp if you eschewed the subtleties of 19th century written correspondence. But it’s worth asking, why does an entrepreneur send an email and why does a modern consumer open and read email? Both parties want something.

    Modern entrepreneurs could learn a thing or two from the 17th-century French polymath Blaise Pascal. “I’m sorry I wrote you such a long letter,” he famously apologised. “I didn’t have time to write a short one.”

    What Pascal understood was to craft a disciplined, thoughtful letter was a matter of respect. Of course, Pascal’s remark was delivered in the context of his time, it’s not completely true in the era of 200 emails-a-day.

    But what he understood even then was that communication is initiated to serve a purpose.

    Brevity isn’t a matter of saving time. It’s effectively communicating your point. If you are going to send emails then at least make it a results driven enterprise.

    James Hamblin, a senior editor at The Atlantic, has taken this to the next level. Hamblin doesn’t do salutations or sign-offs and strictly keeps emails to three sentences or less.

    Don’t have time to synthesise your point into a neatly packaged email? Pick up the phone and call them.

    Check less = reduce email stress

    Okay, but if brevity isn’t necessarily brief then doesn’t that just take us back to square one? Well, if you’re constantly knee deep in your inbox then yeah.

    Brevity on its own isn’t enough: it should be combined with a disciplined approach to checking email.

    Many entrepreneurs feel an immense pressure to reply immediately. But in the course of your business's daily life, you’ll never outrun your emails; you will always tread water.

    Not only does this rush to reply affect the quality of your correspondence (refer back to point one), it is also unproductive and actually bad for your health.

    A study by the British Psychological Society found half of the subjects had emails automatically sent to their inbox (push notifications) and 62% left their email on all day. These habits were linked to higher levels of stress (which, if you didn’t know, will kill you).

    “The habits we develop, the emotional reactions we have to messages and the unwritten organisational etiquette around email,” said the research lead Dr Richard MacKinnon, “combine into a toxic source of stress which could be negatively impacting our productivity and well-being.”

    A healthier – and more productive solution – is scheduled checks. Marc Wileman, the founder of Sublime Science, only checks his email every few days. To compensate, an email to Wileman is immediately met with an auto-reply alerting the person to this and asked to contact him directly if it's urgent.

    Wileman’s approach might be a tad extreme for some, but a more disciplined, routinised check of email will save you a lot of stress.

    And as for push notifications: no, absolutely not, get rid of them, kill them dead.

    Chat more

    In a Guardian article, Slack’s user researcher Dr Leah Reich argued email is an outmoded way of communicating. “Email,” Reich said, “is hierarchical and compartmentalised and great for political manoeuvring.”

    Slack is arguably the leading light in the modern workplace’s chat revolution. It is, though, certainly not the only one: there’s Whatsapp, Facebook messenger, Salesforce’s Chatter.

    Whatever the platform, they would all argue inter-employee email is unnecessary and not conducive to creativity.

    “How often is there deep collaboration and sharing on email?” Reich told the Guardian.”That weird overlapping feeling of ideas and iteration and design thinking? That’s still new to a lot of people. It’s radical collaboration, a different way of working and thinking.”

    Especially in an idea driven workspace, the new wave of chat apps opens up new channels of collaboration. Their instantaneousness engenders an informality that drives right-to-the-point; it’s certainly preferable to the staid email and sneaky BCCs.  

  2. ffox

    ffox Contributor

    1,381 261
    Email is wonderful (so is Chat), provided it is used correctly. Look what you get in an email exchange. You get the content data plus the meta data recording who sent what, when it was sent and to whom. All of this is searchable, and all of this is usable. The biggest mistake people make with email is not sending a blind copy back to themselves. The second biggest mistake is not filing all emails for posterity.
    With Chat, it needs to be configured to enable all conversations to be saved.
    Posted: Dec 13, 2017 By: ffox Member since: Mar 11, 2004
  3. Ray272

    Ray272 Contributor

    355 52
    I have found lots of ecommerce companies do not even answer the phone anymore and prefer email for all comms. I also prefer email comms and know many who do also. I'm connected by Skype too but feel it is a bit too urgent and matters of no real importance arrive through Skype which I feel obligated to answer quickly.
    Posted: Dec 13, 2017 By: Ray272 Member since: Jul 5, 2017
  4. Clinton

    Clinton Contributor

    5,223 2,398

    But they would say the above, wouldn't they? They're talking up their own book. Why do we even quote the obviously biased nonsense these PR goons keep pumping out?!

    Whatsapp, Slack etc., are what cause the stress. The always on, always available culture suits organisations, but is not in the interest of the individual.

    Give me email any day. I have numerous filters which save me a lot of time. And when I do deign to reply to a communication, I can do it in my own time.

    Again, bullsh*t!

    I do outrun my emails. Every single day. Zero inbox here, mate. One needs to be ruthless. At the end of the day if I haven't replied to an email then it was simply not important enough. I delete it and go home happy. It's a simple system.

    Stop dancing to other people pulling puppet strings - tell them to stuff their Slack and Whatsapp and whatever where the sun don't shine. Tell them to send you emails instead and you'll reply when/if you see fit. It's less stressful, for one, but it's also important from the point of view of control. Stop giving everybody else control over your life and your time!
    Last edited: Dec 13, 2017
    Posted: Dec 13, 2017 By: Clinton Member since: Jan 17, 2010
    Joe Robinson likes this.
  5. ffox

    ffox Contributor

    1,381 261
    Why do folk have this fear of receiving a message by email, chat or snail mail. It's just a communication, it can be managed without stress. A mail will either ask the recipient to do something, or inform the recipient that something has been done. There's no stress in that, just act on it or file it. Provide it's not spam, don't delete it, store it. If you need it let the machine search for it.
    Posted: Dec 13, 2017 By: ffox Member since: Mar 11, 2004
  6. Clinton

    Clinton Contributor

    5,223 2,398
    I'm not sure they do, but Slack and the like have a vested interest in bad mouthing email, in making it seem unfashionable or "stressful". Email is also "staid" and can be "sneaky"!

    In other words, stop using a free product and pay us to use our less efficient alternative.
    Posted: Dec 14, 2017 By: Clinton Member since: Jan 17, 2010
  7. ffox

    ffox Contributor

    1,381 261
    Surely, email has a place in both internal and external communication, as does chat. The recent launch of Teams in Office 365, which uses chat as the principal means of communication, had user groups shouting about the imminent demise of email, but in practice users will use both -

    Communication is communication, the method used will depend on the user and the circumstances. The important thing is to make use of the data contained within the communication.
    Posted: Dec 14, 2017 By: ffox Member since: Mar 11, 2004
    AJ Products likes this.
  8. iwebsitez

    iwebsitez UKBF Newcomer

    5 1
    Well said ffox
    Posted: Dec 19, 2017 By: iwebsitez Member since: Nov 30, 2017
  9. AJ Products

    AJ Products UKBF Newcomer

    38 8
    Thank you for the article - very useful points
    Posted: Feb 1, 2018 By: AJ Products Member since: Jan 10, 2018