A couple of years ago I read a newspaper article with the title “slave of your own inbox”. It was about the enormous amount of e-mails that we receive on a daily basis and the stress it gives to us. I recognized myself in it. I received by that time over 100 e-mails a day and was looking for ways to handle my inbox properly.
It seems that we have less and less phone calls or face-to-face meetings in our digital era. Last week I called the municipality to request certain information. Instead of getting someone on the line who could help me, I was asked to send over an e-mail with my questions. I recognize this as well. When somebody asks something from me, I’ll ask often to shoot me an e-mail as well, so I won’t forget. It seems to work faster, but in the meanwhile you’ll be more and more obsessed by your e-mail, resulting in less personal contact.
And it’s exactly that personal contact which is so important for us. We are social beings and need people to work together or to have face-to-face conversations with. Research even shows that with good social contacts we’re happier and healthier. So why are we asking people to send us e-mails instead?
It might be because of the way work is being divided within a team. It might be caused by the way of working. Without a phone or a face-to-face conversation you can reply to requests continuously. It can be caused by the company’s culture, where e-mail is the standard way of communication. Or it might be because of the speed we want to finish requests. When I send out an e-mail, it’s from my plate and I’m done.
The newspaper article gives 7 do’s and don’ts for email traffic. Practical tips that you can apply if you’re the sender, but also if you’re receiving the e-mails. However, I think the most important lesson we can learn is to keep the communication personal. We can pick up the phone and can write down our own notes with follow up actions, rather than asking the other person to send us an e-mail.
Finally, I got rid of my e-mails. After days of working, getting the backlog gone, I could start with a clean slate. Without CC or BCC-box, but with controlled mailbox hours I’ve started to go over my e-mail more structured. I deleted it, took action or planned time in my agenda to follow up on certain e-mails. But the most important thing that helped me was to give people a call instead of replying on their e-mail. That made them trusting the e-mail was read and followed up. Same time the relationship got closer because there was personal contact. That gave me the ability to influence people who send mails that were not for me and instruct them how to do it next time. The amount of e-mails dropped down bit by bit and I was able to manage and cope with what was left. And in the meanwhile, I had very nice conversations with colleagues and customers: via the phone, but even more face-to-face.