Yes, I read a book about how to manage responding to email at work. The good news is that is was a quick read. Honestly, it took less time to read than to clean out an inbox after getting home from a vacation.
The book? Unsubscribe by Jocelyn K. Glei. I think it's a must-read for anyone who works in or around a corporate environment...which is likely about 95% of the people who read this blog. The book stayed true to its recommendations on email: it kept content short and to the point. It was easily digestible and had specific action items.
The last part was crucial: action items. Unlike a lot of business books that are truly aspirational in nature, Unsubscribe was incredibly tactical. It set out pretty much every time of email scenario you may face at work with very prescriptive tips on how to deal with each one.
A few of my favorite takeaways:
Don't substitute email for a discussion that should be taken offline
Ever have that email thread that gets out of control? Yeah, we all do. Glei recommends that emails should only really be recaps and follow ups with specific action points. Expressing intricate ideas or solving a complex problem are things that should be done in-person when possible. Email isn't as efficient nor is it effective for these types of conversations. Also, taking some conversations offline helps you avoid the phenomena mentioned in the next point: negative bias.
Be aware of negative bias
There is scientific research that shows how we inherently read emails from people in a negative tone of voice. An email (or text or IM or @reply) lacks the body language and expressiveness an in-person conversation offers. Negative bias is why important conversations should happen offline. It's also a reason that Glei argues for the use of exclamation points, emojis and emoticons in emails.
Most people avoid using them to avoid appearing unprofessional - after all most senior levels execs people interact with online are pretty short and to the point. However, the use of expressive things like punctuation and emoticons help bring people's guards down and protect against that negative bias. Softening your tone wherever possible in an email ultimately leads to a more productive exchange.
Don't be a slave to your email
It's why I sometimes turn off Outlook while I'm intensely working on something. Glei confirms that tools like emails make terrific servants but terrible masters.
Every time we get a notification - whether it's an email or a like on Instagram or an @reply on Twitter - we get a tiny rush of dopamine to our brains. It's why it becomes so easy to get chained into email. We feel this need to compulsively respond to everything immediately. As a result, we end up inadvertently creating fire drill situations that are totally unnecessary and self-inflicted.
Glei suggests that we don't need to respond to every email. We also don't need to respond immediately. Email isn't instant messenger. This doesn't mean you should neglect your inbox and be a bad teammate. What it does mean is that you should control how you interact with your inbox and not let it control you.
There's a phenomena that Glei mentions that I have personally experienced: the less email you send out, the less you receive. If you refrain from compulsively responding to every single email you get immediately...you don't get as many responses. It's easier said than done to put this into practice. As mentioned before, every message in our inbox shoots a little dopamine to our brain.
I highly, highly, highly recommend this book. It is an incredibly quick read. If you have time to read and share 15 Medium posts every day on productivity, you can take time to read this book.
If you fee like a slave to email...if it's the first thing you look at when you wake up...this book is a must.
However, if you're not much into reading, the author was a guest on one of my favorite podcasts The Accidental Creative recently. Many of the points discussed are also found in her book. You can check it out and listen on your commute here.
What about you? How do you handle email?