In praise of email

Email gets a bad rap. But I like it.

I would rather receive or send an email about a task than receive or make a phone call or go to a meeting about a task. Email allows you to respond in your own time. A phone call does not. Email allows a person to assess and look into something, to build a potentially thoughtful, worthwhile gap between the stimulus and the response. Problems certainly arise when people don’t utilize that gap and instead respond thoughtlessly or too hastily. But email respects the time and attention of others better than conventional communication methods.

Most people need a couple of hours of uninterrupted time to get into a flow of productive work. Phone calls, especially, but meetings, too, have a skewed sense of urgency that does not respect the time and need for the deep focus of others. Certainly, some things have to be talked out or are best handled in person. But I appreciate someone who emails asking me to suggest a day and time when a call or face-to-face would be convenient. I have even set my phone’s voicemail message to encourage the caller to send an email instead of leaving a voicemail if possible.

Yes, email can be overwhelming if your email inbox is your de facto task list, especially if you don’t tend to your inbox consistently. But I’m an inbox zero guy. I process through my inbox every day and empty it almost every time I open my email app.

That doesn’t mean I respond to every email, and it doesn’t mean I respond quickly to every message. I just do triage. I decide which emails need a response from me and which can be deleted or archived. If an email needs a response, I do it right away if it will take less than a couple of minutes. If it will require more thought and take longer than two minutes, I file it in an “Action” folder in my Mail app for review at another time. Also, I only open my email app two or three times each day, ideally.

A good email should have a clear subject line, nothing cryptic, and the body of the email should be as short as possible. You’re more likely to get effective responses if you keep your emails clear, direct, and simple. Don’t cc unnecessarily, and there are very few cases where you need to bcc.

Tone is always important. Some people allow the impersonal nature of email or social media to enable bad manners. Be impeccable with your words, always. Read over everything you send or publish to check for errors, of course, but also to check your tone. Imagine anything you send being published for all to see. Don’t email anything you would regret becoming public. 

Email is just a tool, but used effectively it can help you work smarter and better.

My email inbox just minutes before this post was published
My email inbox just minutes before this post was published