Email as Greek Tragedy
Email is a modern Sisyphean tragedy for many of us. The mythic Greek King Sisyphus received a unique punishment to roll a rock almost to the top of a hill only to have it slip and roll back down to the bottom. Then he’d have to do it again and again. Sisyphus was cursed to have this back breaking, rock-rolling punishment in hell for eternity.
Sounds a little like email, right?
I get about 200 messages per day to roll back up the hill. If you know it’s going to go on forever, you may as well get good at it.
For ArcStone’s weekly staff meeting, I assembled a few tricks that I’ve been using to help me roll-up my inbox. Here are the eight tactics I shared to help ease the pain of email purgatory…
- Adopt a habit of “Inbox Zero”. Inbox Zero is an email practice of reducing your inbox to zero messages on a regular (read daily) basis. The main set of tactics are to immediately to: do it, delegate it, defer it, delete it, or file it. The strategy is simple – but the practice takes practice. A cool new plug-in (if you use gmail) is the email game – it teaches good email habits in a fun, funny way. Also check out David Allen’s Getting Things Done for his inbox clearing strategies.
- Only check your email at designated times with full awareness. Once or twice per day if you can get away with it. Hourly if you must. But don’t do it all the time and fracture your focus.
- Use a to-do list for your tasks – not your email inbox. There will be fewer dropped balls and less clutter in your inbox.
- Use the subject line smartly. Start informational emails with FYI: (Subject) and actionable items with Action: (Subject).
- Be concise. Three lines max if possible. Email is meant to convey short messages. Think about the long six or seven paragraph emails you get versus the short ones – which do you actually thoroughly read? Save your readers’ time – go for concise, punchy messages.
- List actions first and also number them. Don’t put a big block of text first and then put the tasks at the bottom – put the actionable stuff up top. Don’t assume people with 200 + messages per day are going to scroll down, they’re gonna be scanning.
- Don’t “Reply All” unless everyone needs to truly see it. This will save your team members a lot of time and insure that they read your messages when you send them.
- Never, ever send emails with a lot of emotional content. No angry, contentious or hurt emails – ever, ever. Emotionally fraught emails tend to create additional rounds of long, angry, hurtful, legally damaging, time sucking email. Seriously, don’t send emotional emails unless you like to painfully waste your time.
Any other tips? Please comment!