Quick, name the top 5 time-wasters in your workday. Meetings might have made the list, and chatty coworkers may have made an appearance, as well. But according to our Workplace Index, 40% of people say email gets in the way of their best work, and 64% admit that email overload negatively impacts their productivity. It wasn't too long ago that digital communication was considered the answer to all our productivity challenges. So what happened?
In a recent article for Entrepreneur, etiquette expert Jacqueline Whitmore speculates that while the lack of face-to-face interaction with our fellow professionals has made us lax about politeness, "[m]anners are just as important now as they ever were."
So which of Whitmore's 9 great "techno-etiquette" tips will help chip away at the productivity problem? Several of them, in fact:
Be succinct. This should be common sense—making your digital communication brief is a good way to avoid getting tangled up in over-communicating, and it could have the added side benefit of encouraging good email habits among your colleagues. But Whitmore cautions against being too brief, as abrupt, one-word communications can convey rudeness or curtness even if you didn't intend to.
Be timely. When you get an email, respond in the same day, even if you don't have the answer, advises Whitmore. While her advice is aimed at creating a good impression and good service to your customers and colleagues, this is also a time-saver; responding to your email in a timely fashion keeps it from piling up and, you guessed it, encourages timeliness among those you work with.
Stop to reconsider that "reply all." We've all been part of the dreaded "Reply Allpocalypse." (If you haven't, pause now and breathe a sigh of thanks.) There's hardly a bigger waste of time, particularly if the disaster reaches enough people to slow down email. Stop and consider before you hit "reply all." Does everyone on the other end really need to see what you're about to send? Do you really want more people hopping into a conversation or project and tying you down?
Use your "out of office" feature (and pay attention to others'). The "out of office" feature is a great way of letting people know not to expect a reply, but it can also be a good reminder for others to consider waiting until you're back to send an email. Waiting until a colleague is back in the office is more likely to garner the response you want and it saves them the trouble of spending their first day back in the office trying to swim out of a flood of emails.
Beyond these tips from Whitmore, there are obviously other ways to help cut down the email clutter. Consider closing your email down (or setting one of those "out of office" messages) when you really need to focus on an important project or deadline. If a quick phone call or in-person conversation will add clarity and be faster, then try that—but be mindful of keeping those conversations brief and respecting the other person's time! And work with your IT department to evaluate plugins or features within your email program that allow you to filter or redirect non-urgent or irrelevant messages.