How IT Managers Can Defeat The Email Beast

Email is both a good thing and a bad thing
Email is both a good thing and a bad thing
Image Credit: AJC

What role does email play in your life? If you are like most of us, it plays a bigger role than you may be aware of. I’d be willing to bet that you start you day by logging into your computer and checking your email. You’ll read and respond to emails for a while and then you’ll go off to a meeting. During the day, when you come back to your computer, you’ll work on emails a bit more. At the end of the day you may wrap things up by spending more time on it before going home. Guess what – email rules your life! What’s an IT manager to do?

Emails Are Based On Old Standards

One of the reasons that email can end up taking up so much time in our lives has to do with the way that we view emails. Due to how email came to be, a replacement for sending postal letters to people, we still tend to view emails as being a form of letter writing. There is a social expectation that when we receive an email, we will respond to it quickly. There is no problem with this for a small collection of email, but all too often we get inundated with lots of emails that are not important and we don’t have any IT manager training on how to determine that they don’t really require our immediate attention.

The ways that we use our IT manager skills to interact with our IT teams today have changed. Instead of sending formal letters to each other, our interactions are more based on exchanging quick, short messages. We do this in order to get timely information that we need in order to complete our projects. In this context, email comes across as being a slow, burdensome way to exchange information.

If you are going to defeat the email beast, you are going to have to replace it with something else. In today’s modern work environment we now have a number of different tools that let us exchange messages with team members in ways that better matches our working style. One way to share documents with other team members is to use Google Docs to make documents available to other. They can make edits to the document and you can see the changes that they make. This simplifies the process of moving towards creating a final form document. When you are sharing resources with team members (links, stats, etc.) you can use Evernote or create a hashtag and provide the data via Twitter.

Change Your Priorities

One of the things that a lot of us don’t realize about email is that it is very, very disruptive. Most of the computers that we use have some sort of notification device that lets us know when we have received a new email – something pops up on our screen or the machine makes a “ping” noise. The result of these constant reminders that we have new emails is that we tend to stop what we are currently doing and take a look at our email. Even if we don’t get a notification, we often feel the urge to check on our email “just in case”.

This is once again a great place to use today’s social media tools to interact with team members instead of relying on email. You need to back away from your emails and no longer allow emails to determine what you’ll be working on and when you’ll be working on it. Going forward you can now use social media tools to reach out to team members to get their inputs and options. Using these tools will allow you to get immediate feedback from people who are currently online and you won’t impose on people who will get your message later on.

Although we currently use email too much for too many things, it turns out that there is still a place for email in our lives. One example is that email is a great way to make first contact with someone. After you have met with someone for the first time, email is once again well suited to be used to provide a follow-up, a recap, or confirm the results the meeting. If you have to ask someone for their help, a short, concise email is often a great way to make that request. Finally, when you’ve posted something on a social media outlet, you can use an email to notify people who may not be aware that the information is now there.

What All Of This Means For You

Email is a powerful tool. However, we often don’t realize just exactly how much time we spend dealing with both reading and sending emails during a given day. Additionally, the way that we interact with our teams these days have changed and no longer closely match how we use emails.

The way that we interact with our teams has changed. Our interactions are now much shorter and we often need feedback quickly. Today’s social media tools are well suited to meeting both of these needs. We can now share documents that can be edited by multiple people, and communicate items of information in different ways via social media. When we use email it can be very disruptive and demand our attention during the day. However, email can still be used in specific circumstances where detailed information needs to be provided to the other party.

Email has been with us for a long time and it’s not going anywhere in the future. What we need to do is to take a look at how we are interacting with our teams and attempt to identify if there are any other social media tools that we can use to remove the burden of dealing with the email beast from our shoulders. Finding the right balance between social media tools and email will provide us with a workable solution and will allow us to get back to IT team building. Find the right way to do this and you’ll have turned the email beast in to the email house pet!

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Management Skills™

Question For You: Do you think that you could take one day a week off from reading or sending any emails?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Do you remember the last time that you went on a vacation? I’m willing to bet that just like your IT manager training taught you, you configured your email to tell everyone that you’d be out of the office for a while and they really should not send you any emails. However, despite doing that I’m also willing to bet you that when you came back to work your email inbox was overflowing and despite all of your IT manager skills it occupied your life for the next few days. This sure seems like a waste. If only there was some way to reduce the amount of email that you receive every day…