It has been twenty years since email was invented, and fifteen since their use has become widespread for business purposes.

 

The advantages are obvious: Especially when used for international purposes, email is much faster than classic „snail“ mail. Some senders also believe that form and style are less important with emails than on paper. However, over the last ten years, a „netiquette“ has developed, offering a basic guideline.

 

Also, (and this has become a common ground for complaints) email allows to send a message to several recipients at the same time, even differentiating between main recipients and those who should only be notified.

In practise, the latter feature has become a curse as much as a blessing.

 

It cannot be denied that email offers a great opportunity to quickly and efficiently send information to a nearly unlimited number of recipients. The downside is the rapid growth in the number of emails arriving in the mailboxes everywhere. The habit of including people in the address field who only marginally are involved in the matter – or even are not involved at all – has become widespread. The same is true for “FYI” forwarded messages.

 

In many cases, the sender address already is enough to infer whether the message is of relevance to you or maybe even needs urgent attention. It is advisable to use the feature to mark a message as „urgent“ before sending it very sparingly, or there will quickly be a „cry wolf“ effect where in the end messages will get ignored, even if they are indeed urgent.

Still, there are many who cannot resist the urge to read even the most marginally interesting emails. In Germany, that means that it takes about an hour every day before most people can actually start any productive work.

 

Prioritize using cross-reading and categorizing

Quickly skim your emails in the morning and then sort them into categories: Those needing urgent attention, those needing to be answered soon, and those that can wait until a less busy time of the day.

 

Turn off the sound

Many computers, and pretty much all laptops, have built-in speakers. And if it’s not entirely prohibited in the office, many employees experiment with different sounds to announce incoming email. Trumpets, bird song, or gongs, might be amusing for a while, but then they more and more turn into a nagging distraction. Someone trying to development new idea or trying to analyse a spreadsheet will quickly get annoyed by those interruptions every few minutes. At the very least, productivity suffers.

It is better to forego any kind of audible signal and stick to the symbol in the task bar. If that also proves distracting, do away with that, too, and develop a strategy like this: Whenever you take a short break to drink some water (or another recurring event), you check whether there is new mail in your inbox. The rest of the time, you won’t have to worry about it.

 

Get offline after work

There are some professions where people need to be on call day and night. Firefighters and other emergency services are the most prominent example. However, in those case that time spent on-call is usually in some way counted as hours worked. The average office worker, however, should make clear, though, that work emails won’t be read in the evening, at night, and on weekends and holidays.

More and more, some companies have even started to reconfigure their mail servers, which now hold back emails outside of office hours. Volkswagen was the first international company where that decision was made by the top-level management. That takes away the pressure to be available all around the clock, however subtle, and increase their ability to relax and recharge.

 

Don’t do everything by email

Studies have shown that there is a tendency to reduce the amount of direct communication with colleagues face to face or by phone, and instead use email. A pity really, since a quick chat by the coffee machine often does not only quickly can solve topics that otherwise would require numerous messages if done my email. It also does wonders for the work climate. The same with telephone. Even more since modern technology offers possibilities such as conference calls, with or without picture.

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