Leadership at its very core is about relationships with other people. And we build relationships through communication, including our emails.
We all know that email dominates communication in the workplace -- but we don't often think of how email habits can affect our relationships, because most of us only think about email in a very transactional kind of way.
"I send information about projects and tasks to my colleague. They send information back to me."
Or we think about the one-off impact of an email -- usually when we're at the receiving end of a a badly written email.
(I mean, let's face it... Who hasn't received "that" email... You know the one -- where you throw your hands in the air, make a face at the computer, turn to a colleague and start venting about what someone just wrote to you.)
So we all intuitively know the value of writing a good email -- one that conveys the message, tone and intent properly.
Which is also transactional.
"If I send a well written email, our relationship will improve."
And many of us don't realize that there's ONE email habit that has a longer term impact on work relationships:
Letting your email inbox overflow.
We all know what it's like to have too many emails. We stare at our inbox, which might have hundreds of messages. We've responded to some. But not all. Some need responses. Some are just "FYI" or newsletters.
And we think to ourselves that we "should" be better at email. We look at it from our personal perspective. We think to ourselves that we need to be on top of email to make life less hectic. Or so we don't fall short on deadlines.
But losing control of your inbox also impacts your relationships.
Because when you let your email inbox overflow, you lose track of emails that don't seem important to your priorities. It might take days (dare I say... weeks?) to reply to someone, because you've lost track of your emails.
Of course, everyone understands -- we're all drowning in our inboxes.
Here's the thing.
The person who sent you the email is waiting for a response.
Now, we're usually pretty good at responding when the request seems urgent, or when it's from someone important to us.
It's when the email isn't really about our own priorities, it's not urgent, or when it's not from someone we think is all that important.... we might let the email slide. Sandwiched somewhere between all the other emails in your inbox.
You don't do it intentionally of course. It's not like you're sitting there, reading the email and thinking "You know, I don't really care if Jen gets an answer. I'm just not going to write back to her". (At least I hope you don't do that)
It's a bit more insidious... The email wasn't urgent, so you don't write back immediately. It wasn't one of your projects, so it doesn't come to mind during your daily work. And because your email inbox overflows, you lose track of the email. Meaning that if Jen wants a response, she's going to have to email you again, stop by your office, or call you to get an answer.
And Jen totally understands. She doesn't judge you, because she knows how much email you get.
But over time... It does impact your relationship with Jen. Because she may feel just a little bit (or a lot) uncomfortable having to ask about the email. Or she might start thinking that you're probably too busy to help her.
Eventually it'll mean she'll prefer to ask questions or get help from someone else. (Which means she's building a relationships with someone else rather than you!)
On the other hand.... If you're the person who is always getting back to Jen, you're going to build an incredible relationship with her.
She's going to see you as the go-to person.
She's going to feel like you always have time for her.
And as the relationships continues to build and develop, she's going to see your emails as important. So when you have a question for Jen, she'll instinctively get back to you right away.
And it all starts with making sure your inbox doesn't overflow.
So here are a few "email habits" that can help you keep your inbox from overflowing:
1. 2 minute rule: If you can reply to an email in 2 minutes or less, do it right away.
2. Archive: When you've replied to an email get it OUT of your inbox. Archive or even delete that bad boy.
3. Create a project: If the email is part of a bigger project, and you feel like you can't archive or answer in 2 minutes, then create a project and have a way to keep track of emails related to your project that need a response. Maybe you turn it into a task or put it on your calendar. But get it OUT of your inbox.
4. Be deliberate and do your email in batches: Set aside chunks of time in the day when you can batch your email. Be focused and deliberate.
5. Turn off pop-ups or other email alerts: These are major distractions from your other work, and most of the time, we don't actually deal with the email anyways. Instead, see point #4 about doing your email in batches.
6. Use filters and subfolders: Do you get emails with industry news going into your inbox? Or project updates? Or messages from your boss? STOP! Use sub-folders and filters to organize your email. Remember tip #4? Be deliberate about your email. Some examples of filters and how to use them:
Email Inbox Checklist
I've turned these tips into a short checklist -- keep a copy at your desk to help you keep your inbox from overflow!
Are you on the path to burnout... or an extraordinary career?
Hi, I'm Liz!