Is there anything more anathema to the intrepid entrepreneurial soul than the bureaucratic rigours of email?
No one began a business saying ‘ damn, I’ma do me some emails’.
Alas, there’s still a long way to go before the email is consigned to the spam folder of history. But if we can’t get rid of it now, there are a few ways to do email better.
Strictly no circumlocutions (and pick up the damn phone!)
In a recent email correspondence, an entrepreneur replied: “I don’t write, I do.” It was hard to fault her response.
Although her point wasn’t explicitly referring to email, her short replies suggest her maxim had been neatly repurposed for the age of email.
The structure of email still retains the vestigial limbs of handwritten correspondence.
The structure usually follows: greeting, small talk, what you really want, closing line, salutation and name.
Lost in this performative dance is the kernel of what you wanted. But how necessary are these accoutrements?
Traditional etiquette coaches would gasp if you eschewed the subtleties of 19th century written correspondence.
But it’s worth asking, why does an entrepreneur send an email and why does a modern consumer open and read email? Both parties want something.
Modern entrepreneurs could learn a thing or two from the 17th-century French polymath Blaise Pascal. “I’m sorry I wrote you such a long letter,” he famously apologised. “I didn’t have time to write a short one.”
What Pascal understood was to craft a disciplined, thoughtful letter was a matter of respect. Of course, Pascal’s remark was delivered in the context of his time, it’s not completely true in the era of 200 emails-a-day.
But what he understood even then was that communication is initiated to serve a purpose.
Brevity isn’t a matter of saving time. It’s effectively communicating your point. If you are going to send emails then at least make it a results-driven enterprise.
Modern entrepreneurs could learn a thing or two from the 17th-century French polymath Blaise Pascal
James Hamblin, a senior editor at The Atlantic, has taken this to the next level. Hamblin doesn’t do salutations or sign-offs and strictly keeps emails to three sentences or less.
Don’t have time to synthesise your point into a neatly packaged email? Pick up the phone and call them.
Check less = reduce email stress
Okay, but if brevity isn’t necessarily brief then doesn’t that just take us back to square one? Well, if you’re constantly knee-deep in your inbox then yeah.
Brevity on its own isn’t enough: it should be combined with a disciplined approach to checking email.
Many entrepreneurs feel an immense pressure to reply immediately. But in the course of your business’s daily life, you’ll never outrun your emails; you will always tread water.
Not only does this rush to reply affect the quality of your correspondence (refer back to point one), it is also unproductive and actually bad for your health.
A study by the British Psychological Society found half of the subjects had emails automatically sent to their inbox (push notifications) and 62% left their email on all day.
These habits were linked to higher levels of stress (which, if you didn’t know, will kill you).
“The habits we develop, the emotional reactions we have to messages and the unwritten organisational etiquette around email,” said the research lead Dr Richard MacKinnon, “combine into a toxic source of stress which could be negatively impacting our productivity and well-being.”
A healthier – and more productive solution – is scheduled checks. Marc Wileman, the founder of Sublime Science, only checks his email every few days. To compensate, an email to Wileman is immediately met with an auto-reply alerting the person to this and asked to contact him directly if it’s urgent.
Wileman’s approach might be a tad extreme for some, but a more disciplined, routinised check of the email will save you a lot of stress.
And as for push notifications: no, absolutely not, get rid of them, kill them dead.
In a recent Guardian article, Slack’s user researcher Dr Leah Reich argued email is an outmoded way of communicating. “Email,” Reich said, “is hierarchical and compartmentalised and great for political manoeuvring.”
Slack is arguably the leading light in the modern workplace’s chat revolution. It is, though, certainly not the only one: there’s Whatsapp, Facebook messenger, Salesforce’s Chatter.
A more disciplined, routinised check of email will save you a lot of stress.
Whatever the platform, they would all argue inter-employee email is unnecessary and not conducive to creativity.
“How often is there deep collaboration and sharing on email?” Reich told the Guardian.”That weird overlapping feeling of ideas and iteration and design thinking? That’s still new to a lot of people. It’s radical collaboration, a different way of working and thinking.”
Especially in an idea-driven workspace, the new wave of chat apps opens up new channels of collaboration. Their instantaneousness engenders an informality that drives right-to-the-point; it’s certainly preferable to the staid email and sneaky BCCs.