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Technology / Managing email

Business communication: less is more

It may seem counter intuitive, but tearing yourself away from business communication tools like internet and email can actually make you more productive.

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I recently experienced having no Internet or email access for 26 days. We all know how much we rely on these business communication tools for running our work and personal life, but it’s not until it’s actually taken away from you for an extended period that you realise the full extent of your dependence.

For the first two weeks I was feeling pressured about my inability to respond to client enquiries, communicate with people and generally ‘get things done’.

But what I quickly discovered how much actual work I was doing because I didn’t have the email or Internet to distract me! In fact, by the time three weeks had passed, I was really enjoying my extra freedom – yes, freedom.

This experience truly opened my eyes to my own inefficiencies. Once I got over the feeling of being out of control I realised that actually I was very much in control.

In today’s world we’re led to believe that we always need to be accessible – to our clients, our suppliers, family and friends. Not so. By choosing to control how frequently we communicate, and at what time, we put ourselves in the driver’s seat.

"By choosing to control how frequently we communicate, and at what time, we put ourselves in the driver's seat."

Now I am back online, I’ve made some significant changes. I would highly recommend them to anyone, particularly if you are strapped for time.

Want more articles like this? Check out the managing email section.

1. Turn off automatic send/receive on your email program

I used to have Outlook set up so it would check for new emails every 10 minutes. Really, I was just asking to be distracted. To turn this off (in Outlook) click on Tools, Mail Set Up, Send/Receive. Then uncheck the box “schedule an automatic send/receive every x minutes”. Now you can decide when you want to read your emails.

2. Download emails no more than twice per day

Now you are in control, pick two times a day when you choose to hit the send/receive button and get all your emails delivered. Do this at the same time every day – make it a habit.

3. Schedule time to respond to emails, and stick to it

Our natural instinct when we get email is to reply immediately. That’s extremely inefficient if you are constantly getting emails throughout the day. Set aside 30 to 45 minutes per day to respond to your emails, and you’ll eliminate the problem of constant interruption.

4. Get better at managing junk email

Not having to read about Viagra, mortgages and surgical enhancement for 26 days was brilliant! Since being back online I’ve used Outlook to filter out even more of my junk email. Two rules are highly recommend.

  • create a rule putting all emails not addressed directly to you in a new folder called Junk Suspects.
  • put all emails not from someone in your address book into the Junk Suspects folder.

To set these up in Outlook, select Tools, Rules and Alerts, New Rule. Then just use the suggested templates to create this and any other rule.

You’ll find more tips on handling junk mail in this article – Ed

5. Set expectations with your customers about response times

The most difficult mental hurdle to overcome is about not feeling responsive to requests that come in from clients and customers. If your customers are used to getting a reply within one hour, then you need to communicate your new standards, or make them very clear up front. I suggest you ‘induct’ new clients and suppliers to your process by telling them when they can expect a reply from you. For example, “I read emails at 9am and 4pm every day, and will respond to you within 24 hours”. This sets clear boundaries and removes the expectation of an immediate response.

6. Unsubscribe to everything that’s unnecessary

If you’re like me, you’ve signed up for all sorts of things over the years. It’s amazing what you choose to spend time reading when you only have one hour per day. I used to waste so much time just scanning things through that I thought might be interesting. No more! This takes up huge amounts of time, so only read what is really of value.

It may take you a week or so of feeling uncomfortable about these changes before you start to feel the benefits of more time. Stick with it. I’m totally converted.

Megan Tough

runs Complete Potential, a company that helps businesses solve their strategy and people problems. She loves being a solopreneur, and when she doesn't have her nose to the grindstone, is fulfilling her other passion of fitness and health.

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