When I left my last startup, I had to purge my email system before returning my computer. I had to do a total clean up to ensure no HR or confidential information got leaked. I discovered I had sent or responded to over 76,000 emails in 2 years. That’s 172 emails per working day. That’s insane and yet very typical of our current working habits: way too many emails!
Let’s face it: Emails are processing time, and not thinking time. We have very few creative email moments or deeply enriching email moments. We have very few touching email moments. So we know that when we are sending or receiving too many emails, our work environment is not healthy anymore.
If inundated by email, our teams and our leaders are task mastering and not driving the business forward with great creative ideas. We all know excessive email is a problem but what do we do to change this business destroyer. And I say this as one of the most prolific email writers of all times. I have been guilty of excessive email throughout my career. Emails became so constant in my working life that they started running by downtime.
A year ago, I experimented a radical morning routine change following the advice of a good friend and very successful business executive. My friend asked me to resist reading any emails between 11 pm and until I left my home. Why not wake up with cuddles and kale rather than emails? I used to wake up at 7:30, read emails and respond to overseas emergencies from 7:30-7:45, wake up the children, get dressed, make the kids breakfast and then leave for the school run at 8:15. It was all extremely efficient. When my friend challenged me to break free from morning emails many awesome things happened. Other much more pleasant activities replaced email. My mind was entirely focussed on my spouse, my kids and a healthy breakfast. I started waking up slightly earlier to enjoy mornings even more. I was totally focussed on the morning conversation and exchanges rather than problem-solving in my head the issues raised in the night emails; it had no negative impact on my productivity.
Guess what: the USA was asleep at 8 AM Paris time. They were not doing an all nighter waiting for my answers. In fact, it had just the opposite impact on productivity!
I arrived at work in a good mood and relaxed. I had not yet been bombarded by the problems and crisis to be resolved that day. My team enjoyed the more relaxed me and I could attack the problems in a more constructive way rather than sending rushed answers between 715-730 before my morning coffee. I looked back at my emails from those mornings and they were often not well thought through and not very constructive. They sounded angry... like someone who has just woken up and has not had her coffee yet and is forced to deal with things in a rush. Imagine that!
I think it is imperative to reconsider how we start our working days. So much is influenced by our first hour after waking up. We need to harness the first few hours with creative broad thinking before plunging into to do’s or we never get around to the broad thinking. And we need to push our teams to have that same email discipline.
Another tip a fellow executive gave me during my series of interviews for this book really resonated with me and I have been following it religiously since. Kill all email trails of more than 4 response emails with a phone call!
As soon as an email turns into a discussion or argument, this very successful CEO kills the email trail with a standard answer: “Let’s take this off email, I am calling you now (or just walking over to your desk). “ She would call the person immediately to discuss the issue offline or face to face. Her simple (and non-negotiable response) sends a very strong message to her entire teams: get off email and start talking to each other. She has "iron will" discipline in this regard, something I greatly admire.
Let’s all implement these rules and be more productive and happy! :)