4 Reasons Why You Suck at Email
Let’s face it, email is the prevalent communication medium of our day. Whether you are an entrepreneur, a small business owner, an investor, or a lawyer, you have to come to terms with your inbox. But the sad truth is that you don’t and your reputation, business opportunities, and customer relationships suffer. Here are the four habits that are most likely the main culprits and some ideas to fix them:
1. You use your inbox as your task list.
How do you know if you are one of the millions of people who do this? Just check how many messages you have in your inbox right now. 100? 500? More? Of those, how many are marked as read? Most? All? If you have several hundred read messages in your inbox right now, this is a sure fire sign that you are using your inbox as a task list, a big time no-no. A good way to get this under control is to develop a habit of handling emails only once. Also, create separate inboxes for various tasks that you routinely perform as a result of receiving email. I have a “Tasks” inbox that has subfolders that help me quickly identify what I need to do with the messages I have received. For example, I receive emails that I need to just respond to, others that I need to do something with, like draft a document, and a third category of emails that I need to spend more time reviewing and researching prior to responding. Another tip: Keep all the messages that you move marked as unread until you are actually done with them then move them to a permanent folder outside of your task inbox. (or just delete them).
2. You don’t respond to emails you receive on the same day.
Go back and check your inbox again. How many of the messages you have received have you actually responded to? When did those come in? When someone emails you, they have something in mind, specifically, you! You need to jump on the opportunity and strike while the iron is hot. Respond to the message, close the loop, and move on to the next step — a meeting, a deliverable, a business opportunity. The longer you sit on a message to think it over, or to sculpt the perfect response, the more likely it is that you are no longer top of mind. And if you can’t substantively respond, keep the conversation going by at least replying with a message telling the sender that you’ll get back to them.
3. Your emails are encyclopedic.
You need a colleague, investor, advisor, or friend to do something for you. So, you draft an email that contains the minutiae of everything you are asking or want to inform them about. Bad move. They, like you, are fighting their inbox. They need you to help them cut to the chase and a long-winded email from you is either going to be deleted or buried at the bottom of their inbox. Make it a habit to write short and concise emails that consist of three sentences: The first should be background, the “what” of the message; the second sentence should be about why you are writing to them; and the third should be the “ask” — “Can you help me?”
4. You’re not persistent.
You drafted an email that is more akin to a novel than a message (see Reason #3 above), you quickly shoot it off, and then you forget all about it. The problem is the recipient isn’t asking for something, you are. It’s not their responsibility to remember all the details or timing of what you want or need. They may not even care to respond to you. Remind them! Give them a couple of days then send a follow-up message following the suggestions in Reason #3.
Now, if we all developed new practices to replace the reasons why we suck at email listed above, we would probably all get a lot more done and actually like email. Heck, I might even have more time to not suck at blogging!