Your email habits can unintentionally damage your career in many ways, by affecting your productivity, health, work relationships and professional reputation. See if any of the email habits below look familiar and learn how to overcome them with quick, easy and practical solutions.
You’re distracted from focusing on an important project, or urgent issue because you keep stopping to answer the stream of emails landing in your inbox. It feels easier to keep replying to new and easy-to-answer emails than dealing with older ones that require more time, thought, or action before you can reply to them.
- Take Brian Tracy’s advice and tackle your most important task first before you do anything else. If you feel you absolutely must check your emails as soon as you arrive in the office, then do but give yourself a time limit of 15 minutes to deal with any urgent issues and then focus on your important task.
- Assign yourself time slots in the day when you will not check emails. Turn off email alerts on your phone and computer and use the time to get on with work that is a priority. If you’re worried that people will wonder why you aren’t replying to them straight away, set up an automatic response email that explains what you’re doing and states the times of the day when you will be checking and responding to emails.
You have hundreds, if not thousands of emails in your inbox and feel in a state of panic that there is a crucial one buried amongst them that you have overlooked. Even if you were to spend the whole weekend ploughing through your emails, you still don’t think you could get back on top of them. You start existing in a permanent state of anxiety. Your colleagues begin to think that you’re unreliable.
The solutions given above (for helping productivity) can be used in conjunction with some of the excellent suggestions for getting your inbox to zero in Graham Allcott’s book, How to be a Productivity Ninja How to Be a Productivity Ninja:
- Unsubscribe from all non-essential newsletters and updates that are delivered by email.
- Filter the emails in your inbox by date, so that the oldest are showing at the top and then delete any that are no longer relevant.
- Instead of having endless folders and subfolders for your emails to be filed in, create three folders called @Action, @Read, @Waiting. Any emails that require a response from you should be filed in the @Action folder. Any emails that don’t require action from you but that you would like to keep for reference, or to read later (e.g. an industry newsletter) should be filed in the @Read folder. Emails related to tasks or actions that other people need to act on and then come back to you about can be filed in the @Action folder. If you follow this process, you won’t be using your inbox as an unofficial ‘to do’ list of things to read, action, or follow up on and it won’t get out of control.
- Going forward, any emails that arrive in your inbox and can be dealt with in less than 2 minutes, should be dealt with as soon as you’ve read them. Any other emails should be filed in the three folders.
- Allocate yourself certain times to look at your three different folders. You will probably need to look at the @Action folder every day and work your way through it but you may find that you only want to check the @Read folder occasionally and the @Action folder once or twice a week.
Think about how many emails you’re sending out. The more emails you send out and the more people you cc in to your emails, the more replies you will get, which means your inbox will start filling up again. Think about other ways you can communicate with colleagues and clients at work. Slack is a messaging app for teams that lets you group your communications into different categories and is a good tool for collaborating on projects.
Email often feels like the easy option but it can be quicker to make a phone call to get answers you need, or to get up and walk to a different part of the office to talk to a colleague (walking instead of staying stuck behind a desk all day, is also going to benefit your health). Communicating by phone or in person is more personal which can also help you to build closer and better relationships with your work colleagues and clients (see the next point below).
Relationships at work
You are a manager, Director, or someone with considerable influence within the company. You pride yourself on working hard and getting the job done well. This means you will often use evenings, early mornings or weekends to catch up with emails; especially if you’ve been stuck in back to back meetings all day. You’ve started noticing motivation levels dropping at work, or your team appearing more stressed and unhappy than usual. Some of them are staying later and later, even though you keep telling them it’s important to have a work-life balance and spend some time outside of the office. It feels like your relationships at work are becoming strained but you can’t put your finger on what the problem is.
If you are responsible for managing anyone else in the business, they will be looking to you to set the tone of what behaviour is expected. People will follow what you do, not necessarily what you say. If you email people at 5am and last thing at night, your staff will think they should reply, or that they should also be working at 5am as well. It isn’t good for anyone’s health or happiness to be working around the clock. If you have to email outside of standard working hours, write the emails but schedule them to be delivered when the office opens. Here’s how to schedule your emails in Outlook. To schedule emails in Mac Mail, you’ll need to use a third-party app like Mailbutler.
You’re fed up with a team member not pulling his weight at work, so you decide you’re going to fire him. HR are insistent you follow procedures but you make it clear to them in several emails that you just want this person gone. You then email your best friend complaining about the idiots in HR making your life difficult.
Once you’ve sent an email, it’s there for other people to find. Just cast your mind back to the scandal when Wikileaks hacked into Sony’s employee’s emails and leaked them online, or more recently, the damage done to David Beckham’s reputation when leaked emails implied he was only doing charity work to get a knighthood.
If you’ve criticised, or joked about a colleague at work, or have made plans to fire them without following the correct process and this person suspects you’ve done this, they can request access to any emails that have been sent about them by using a subject access request. They may then have the evidence they need to win at an Employment Tribunal, leaving the company out of pocket and your professional reputation dented.
Another point to bear in mind is that your employer can not only fire you for sending inappropriate content from your work email address; they can also read your personal emails and messages if you are a UK employee and accessing them from a work computer or work phone.
- Check your company’s email policy. Some companies are more forgiving than others about work email addresses being used to send and receive personal emails. Many companies will allow work emails being used occasionally for personal matters. However, even if you work for a company with a more relaxed attitude to this, it’s a good idea to only use your work email address for work emails.
- If you criticise a colleague in an email, make sure the criticism is something you’d be happy saying to his/her face.
- If you need discuss a problem employee, do it in a face to face meeting with HR, or your manager.
- Personal emails that you would not be happy to be read by the company should be sent from a device that isn’t owned by the company (e.g. your own mobile phone).
Fay Wallis is a Career Coach with a background in HR and Recruitment. She is the founder of Bright Sky HR, where she helps people in their 30s, 40s and 50s overcome their career challenges with confidence. Fay creates free resources via blogs, videos and templates to help tackle many of the career issues her clients come up against. To have her latest resources sent to you as soon as they are created just sign up here. If you would like one-to-one support from Fay you can learn more about her coaching solutions here.