You have permission to edit this article.
Get Organized!

Dr. Frank Buck: How is your email culture?

  • Comments

Email has been the subject of many articles, and with good reason. It has been an important communication medium for more than 20 years. Still, many people do not use it well. 

To email or not to email?

When do you send an email and when do you use some other means of communication? How long a delay is acceptable between when you send an email and when you get a response? When people within the organization aren’t in agreement, trouble is ahead.

When is the last time your organization had a discussion about email best practice? Has this discussion ever happened?

A quiz

Decide what type of communication would be best to communicate each of the following pieces of information:

—The meeting scheduled for this afternoon is cancelled.

—The meeting scheduled for three days from now is cancelled.

—The boss needs to see Billy in his office right now.

—The building is on fire.

—Here are the details for the company picnic scheduled for next month.

—What’s your suggestion for where we have lunch tomorrow?

—A red Toyota parked out front has left its lights on.

Are people in your organization expected to check email all day long and respond instantly. If so, don’t be surprised if no work of substance ever happens. Is the focus of everyone in the building derailed throughout the day by announcements over a loudspeaker? 

I would suggest these practices for email:

Use email in situations where reading anytime today is OK. Most communication is not urgent. Conventional wisdom is to check email once or twice a day. Let this rule of thumb be the guide for the messages you send.If you need a faster response, email is not the tool for that situation. 

Commit to handling your email daily. When people in an organization trust others will read it and handle it within a day, everyone can relax. You don’t find yourself asking others, “Hey, did you get that email I sent?” You also don’t find others asking you for “status reports.” If you are letting email pile up for days because you are busy, you are the bottleneck, and it’s not fair to everyone else. The answer to the “busy trap” lies in good systems that allow you to stay on top of incoming work.  

Batch information. Resist the temptation to fire off an email every time you think of something to communicate. Could you save those thoughts and put them together in a one-page memo to send out at the end of the week? A concise, organized memo can communicate a great deal of information without ever reaching beyond a page. 

Resist the “instant message” route. Interruptions are the enemy of focus, and focus is the ingredient lacking in the workday of all too many of us. Sure, interruptions are part of our day. But should we guarantee they happen by making them a central part of our communications system? Do we really want our people shifting their focus from the work at hand to the message which pops up on the screen dozens of times every day? Many so-called “emergencies” are veiled examples of poor planning. If you need to interrupt a colleague at this moment, pick up the phone or walk down the hall. 

Email doesn’t have to be a source of stress. Set norms within the building for how communication will happen. Watch communication get both better and easier.

Frank Buck is the author of Get Organized!: Time Management for School Leaders. "Global Gurus Top 30" named him #1 in the Time Management category for 2019 and 2020. Dr. Buck speaks throughout the United States and internationally about organization and time management. You can reach him through his website: Follow him on Twitter @DrFrankBuck.