Getting Control of Bad Email Behavior

Email sucks or it's awesome.  I don't know.  So much of our headspace is spent checking emails, sending emails, thinking about what to write in emails, writing the perfect emails, hoping I didn't miss an email, waiting for an email response, figuring out how to respond, and on and on and on.  Email may be the single biggest productivity killer and drama creator in your life.  It is time to wrangle this beast once and for all to use it for good.  Here are a few ways to navigate email crazy successfully.

1.  Emails should be to thank people or encourage great work.  When you send emails because you are frustrated with someone, BEWARE!   You might feel some relief when you hit that send button but the anxiety will build as you (i) reflect on whether you should have sent the email in the first place and (ii) await the response.   Send without requiring or expecting a response and you'll free yourself.

2.  Don't get spun up telling yourself a story about an email.  When you get an email from someone questioning your action or disagreeing with you, the instinct is often to fire back and shut them down.  Don't.  All you are doing is exacerbating the drama by assuming the sender's intention.  If you're troubled, then pick up the phone or engage face to face (see my post about rushing to conflict).  Remember tone and body language account for 93% of intent.  Only 7% is actual words.  Don't read into an email. 

3.  Consider the Pomodoro Technique to keep you focused.  Chris Winfield has an amazing method to massively improve productivity through something called the Pomodoro Technique.  The easiest way to explain it is breaking down your time into very focused, singular objectives (at 25 minutes each), interspersed with intentional breaks.  There is no email.  There is no hitting "refresh".  All focus is on the one thing that you need to accomplish in that window.  You will be surprised how much time you save and how email stops controlling what you are supposed to do next.

4.  Err on the side of short and simple.  The more you write in an email the more opportunity exists to have your intention misinterpreted which then snowballs into some fruitless back and forth exchange.  Keep your emails short and to the point, not more than 4-5 sentences.  Remember, people don't want to read your long email anyways. 

Email is an incredibly powerful tool but it can also be a massive energy drain which can cost leaders dearly.  That cost is hard to acknowledge when you feel drawn into what feels like a high stakes back and forth exchange of words.  Don't buy into it.  Keep it light, and short, focus on intentional productive time, and remember that you control whether an email exchange should escalate.