Email. Electronic mail. Fast, ethereal, efficient, catastrophic. Like the photograph in this post (seriously though) , the term electronic communication is riddled with antitheses.
For, oh, lots and lots of years email has been the main means of communication in both the corporate and the private world. And it’s amazing. The technology is unbelievable. The brainpower behind making it happen is (as in most such cases) well, mind boggling. And as in the case of most tools developed for the betterment of man’s life, man totally mis-uses it. A while back I did a little research (via email) and came to the conclusion that on receiving an email communication, people feel more pressure to respond faster (or even immediately) than, say, to a fax or a letter. If the message is from the people upstairs the pressure increases further. And what do people in a hurry and under pressure often do? That’s right. They make e-stakes and i-screwedups.
Think for a minute. In many cases you don’t when answering an email. Strange when you think that we consider it so important that we activate that god annoying pup up so that it can interrupt you no matter what you are working on. Opps! There goes one now. Shall I stop writing and open it, or should I finish what I’m doing first. It doesn’t really matter since my train of thoughts has been derailed anyway. And as I already have more than twenty tabs sitting on my task bar I really have to ask, what the hell am I thinking of. Seriously, what are you thinking of when you have for or five spreadsheets, six or seven websites, a couple of presentations and several PDFs open? Would it be safe to assume your mind is not 100% on the task at hand? Well, it never is unless you are bald, have a long beard, are probably wearing orange and are sitting cross-legged on a rock near a yak – that kind of focus takes years to develop. You get the picture. How many of your resources are focused? How many are wandering off in twenty different directions. And then you get Spam. A ridiculous “forward” just popped up. Add antisocial networking and you might as well tattoo UNPRODUCTIVE on your forehead. (AUTHOR’s NOTE:Yes, antisocial networking. If you want to network get out and meet, have coffee with, touch, feel and joke with people. Sitting alone in a dark room in front of a bright monitor clicking on hyper links is not a social activity no matter what you have heard. If your parents were social networkers social intercourse may never have occurred and you probably wouldn’t be here reading this right now).
So you get an email, glance over it and feel compelled to answer. Chances are you haven’t scrolled down far enough to see the preceding messages. You never know, the first may have been “Let’s see how many idiots get stressed and answer this”. If the answer needs some research you click on a search engine tab (remember, one of the five you already have open) or open a new one and type in the burning issue. You then look at the first ten hits out of half a million options and click on a couple. You scan through ten pages of text, adverts, links and pictures of smiling “gurus”. Maybe you copy something. Back to the email, a quick paste, a smart comment, what you believe is a documented response and off it goes. You may have used the term “educated guess”. It’s still a guess, just in a more expensive polo shirt. Hang on! Was that reply or reply to All? Quick! Sent items! Oh, crap! She wasn’t supposed to get that! Recall! Recall! Where’s Recall!! Folks, stop looking, it never works.
As managers we need to expel info stress. This is the term used for the headache and gut cramps you get when trying to deal with all the “information” whizzing around the information super highway. In fact, most of it is BS. All the BS you can handle only a click away. It has come to a point that you need to shovel through so much BS to get to the information, by the time you find it you forget what you wanted it for or have become engrossed in something else you happened upon. You are, of course, multitasking. Or so you think. Two or three threads: multitasking. Twenty threads: who are you kidding?
Take time to focus. Make it a rule not to answer (or even read) emails as soon as they pop up. Turn off the pop up! Incidentally this practice can also save you from particularly awkward moments during presentations.
Treat emails as you would a good old fashioned letter. Take the time to read it. Without pings and pops. Hang on, my mobile is beeping. Sorry, it seems one of my son’s dragons gave birth. Really important stuff. Where was I? Oh, yeah – letter. Then take time to compose a reply. Put it down for a while and go back to it twenty minutes later. Then send it. Oh, and never fill in the recipient’s address until you are ready to send. And mind the drop down lists so you don’t send your competitor your customer price lists by a slip of the cursor.
So one can’t help but wonder, to what extent has this half-assed approach to communication, with projections into decision making, contributed to the mess the world economy is in today? How many hours do people at the office spend actually working or focusing on the job? How many important business decisions (or feedback leading to them) were based on amateurish web searches and hasty replies to emails?