Continuing our discussion of the recommendations made by John Freeman (1), these are a few more of the considerations he offers:
6. Read the entire incoming e-mail before replying. Because time has become of the essence, we have a tendency to want to handle each piece of e-mail as quickly as possible. Sometimes we respond to fast, and we do not provide the information that was needed. Be able to respond that e-mail with the information it requests, in the time frame it asks for. If you cannot, provide that information to the person you are writing; let them know when you will get that information to them. And don’t set up a large file system for all the e-mails you send and that you receive; most experts recommend against this.
7. Do not debate complex or sensitive matters by e-mail. This is how flame wars start. Often this happens because we cannot send intonation or affect with our message, and it is then misunderstood. Bad feelings build up over time. It is far better for most meetings to occur face-to-face, but we often use e-mail to avoid face-to-face meetings. If you cannot do face-to-face, then use the phone; if not the phone, try Skype. Complex question require thought and strategy, and e-mail does not lend itself to complicated discussion; we need time to explain out thoughts in such cases. Being present helps you more than you might think.
8. If you have to work as a group by e-mail, meet your correspondents face-to face. By doing so you put faces to names and you begin to build trust. It may not always be possible to do so, but many mechanisms exist to help create “face-to-face” scenarios, such as, again, Skype or other videoconferencing technology. This will help put out fires before they have a chance to begin.
9. Set up your desk to do something else besides e-mail. I’ve set my computer off to a side of my desk, and have kept my work area free from the computer, so I am not constantly looking at it. I am not reminded, this way, of the messages on it asking my attention. I spend too much time on the computer as it is, and a lot of my collaborative works takes place through the computer. All of us need to get out more and interact in person, me as much as anyone.
10. Schedule media-free time every day. Get away from the computer. I have had what I call “youtube fugues” occur wherein I want to find one single youtube clip, do so, and then begin linking to related clips. Before I know it, 2 hours has passed, and I have not been productive. So get away from the technology, from your computer and your handheld and your laptop and your cell phone and PDA, and so on. Get your attention back, because right now, as our work speeds up, we become fragmented and do not work in long bursts any more.
We can get some control back. We can re-engage with the outside world, but it will take some work. Otherwise, we will be subsumed into The Matrix.
1. Freeman J. The tyranny of e-mail. New York, NY; Scribner, 2009