Does email stress you out?

August 26, 2008

Imagine life without email. Hard isn’t it? I often tell people that when I started my business 11 years ago I didn’t even have an email address (although I was scrambling to get one once I understood what it was). It felt so cutting-edge at the time! These days, it’s as familiar as Kevin Rudd’s round smiley face.

I recently did a terrible thing and got really cranky in an email to an organisation I was desperate to talk to, who hadn’t got back to me – despite many attempts on my behalf.

Getting mad is something I’ve tried very hard to avoid over the years, trying to follow the rule that a CEO I know once set: if it’s a difficult conversation, have it in person. In this case, the organisation didn’t have a phone number on their website, or an address, but that’s another story.

Anyway, as it turned out they HAD replied to me but for some reason I’d missed it. They were an important organisation and I felt really embarrassed when they eventually pointed out my error.

The point is, modern communication can be quite stressful. Especially when you’re getting 50+ emails a day and probably sending around the same amount. That’s 100 conversations. Exhausting!

FOLLOW A THREAD

One of the golden rules that I Iearnt when working with the very organised people at Microsoft is to follow a thread: that is, when you receive an email, hit the reply button and answer THAT particular question. Don’t start a different conversation. If you have a new question, start a new email with a new subject line.

As a freelancer, who’s often firing off questions to clients as I do my work from home, this is a huge time saver for me. I encourage others to do it as well.

So if email is stressing you out trying the following things:

  • Don’t instantly reply to mails. Let them sit a while as you gather your thoughts.
  • If things are getting heated pick up the phone and never cc the whole company in a reactive response.
  • Follow the thread approach.
  • Close down your in-box and only open it at intervals during the day (this one is hard!). That way you can get on with your work uninterrupted.
  • Have an email free-day, where instead of emailing people you call them or walk over to their desk. Radical.

Good luck!

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I’ve just had a week off with my family. We stayed in a little house in a national park miles away from the Internet. Even our mobile phones didn’t work. For some of you, this might send you into a sweaty panic but personally I found it quite liberating. No email to check. No blogs to read. No news websites to addictively peruse.

Instead I read (Hemingway actually – marvellous!) and took out my favourite thinking tool: my notebook. In it I drew litle diagrams, wrote down snippets of thought and made myself a MUST DO WHEN I GET BACK list which had a few work items on it but also personal, fun stuff that I’ve been putting off for ages.

So now I’m back. Plugged in once again to the 21st century. And yes, while I’m happy to be reconnected to the world I’m also thrilled that I’ve got a bag of new ideas that were born simply because I was disconnected. Not from myself though. Just the frantic world. How do you disconnect? Can you live without technology? Even for a day? Try it. It feels great.