Why Email Makes You Stupid


Are you wasting time with your emails? Email is supposed to be a communication tool. The problem is that most people are poor communicators. Email bombardment and mass email is clogging your inbox. You get a bunch of emails each day and you can’t reply to each one with the quality it might deserve. This result in a problem you might not have thought of; the quick and easy forward function that makes you stupid and do you know why? My bet is that you could answer 80 % of all emails you forward. I recently wrote another post about email: How to Write Good Emails you should read it.

The Forwarding Phantom.

It is easy to forward and within minutes you have emptied your entire inbox. Some emails do require a bit effort to handle. If you are a leader it might be easy to forward as a delegation tool, this might be ok – BUT it might prevent you from learning. I have been working at call centers for some years now and I am a sinner too. I often see people forward emails to others because the email is difficult and requires some work. These emails are a learning opportunity and you should take your time to figure out the answer. You might end up with knowledge useful next time around.

Return to Sender Address Unknown

Some emails should have been sent to someone else. Of course some do send to people or departments like throwing darts blind folded and hope that it gets to the right people. This is because they don’t know your organization or your role within the company. And if you are not sure where it is supposed to go, what do you do? Do you forward it to someone else? What would be useful is to reply to the sender, explaining that you are not the correct person. In this way the sender will get a response and be taught that you are not the right place for such enquiries in the future. The worst thing you can do is to forward the email to a third person because the more forwards the more likely that some will ignore it. So do reply instead of forwarding.

Emails From Customers

Do not forward emails from customers! This is lack of respect. If you forward you release yourself from responsibility. A forward increase the chance for no response, and the customer will get back to you a bit angrier. What you should do is “own” the email – create a new email and ask others for help or knowledge to solve the case. When you get your response, compile an answer to the customer and return it with a good answer. And you will learn as you collect answers from others.

Time, Time, Time

You can probably spend an entire day responding to and sending emails. I know that I have replied to more than 100 emails in one day. This is more than 8 hours of work if you spend five minutes on average. How is this defending good prioritizing? There are a lot of time thieves in your inbox. This is why you should try to educate your organizations about email culture. Spend 30 minutes in the morning, 30 minutes around lunchtime and 30 minutes at the end of the day. Start by sorting emails. “Just for you”, “sent to you and others”, “copy to you”, “sent to a mail list or group” – Focus on the first two groups – These require actions. Some need quick response, some can wait. Sort them. The rest is FYI or just to read. But keep in mind, use your time wisely – you might make more progress doing other stuff than replying to emails. Think about this: What is your job? Are you hired to answer emails? If no, be a jerk and reply to important emails. The rest? I don’t know as it is not polite to not answer emails. I wish it would be ok to answer: WOT (Waste of Time) – this would give you a chance to reply, and the sender to reconsider the importance of their email.

Acceptable Quick Responses

I wish there would be an acceptance to these short and maybe rude answers.

  • WOT – Waste of Time
  • DNFT – Did not find time
  • TMI – To Much Information
  • NEI – Not Enough Information
  • UM – Unclear Message
  • WTD – What to do?
  • IDU – I don’t understand
  • AISTAT – Am I supposed to answer this?
  • RTL – Read this link

But to be realistic and honest, I do not know what to do with emails I don’t find time to answer within a normal time frame. In order to get my job done, I should spend less time on emails and more time on planning, projects, employees, meetings, phones, solving problems and so on. How do you deal with a full inbox? And some emails deserve more time to really give a good answer.

Some food for thought at the end: If you spend all day replying to email, you will end up helping other people to do their job, and you don’t get time to do your job. Do you still want to reply to all?

Please share you knowledge about email challenges – did you solve some of these issues?

Frode Heimen
Promotes Good Employees into Great – Follow me on Twitter

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2 Comments on "Why Email Makes You Stupid"

  1. Emails are the bane and saviour of my life. My business wouldn’t be possible without them, and yet, they seem to take up an ever increasing portion of my day.

  2. fergusonsarah | November 25, 2011 at 1:35 pm |

    Massive and intriguing post.. Well, I am on your side.. I totally agree with you!

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