What if I told you that getting too many emails is not the reason your organization is less productive? You may think, “Well, my inbox proves otherwise.” While I know this is a valid point, and your employees always complain about email, the solutions may not be what you think.

For example, a company hired us to help their employees be more productive. When I asked the senior leaders where we should focus first, they all agreed that email seems to be an issue for everyone. But the volume and type of emails helped us identify the root cause of the issue—and it wasn’t email!  

In reality, email was just the tip of the iceberg. We found that there was an opportunity to improve efficiency in the following areas: planning, collaboration, and delegation.

Once we optimized the way the organization worked, management reported that the entire company was now 30% more efficient. (To think it all started with the notion that email was the problem!)

If you’re a leader who regularly hears your employees complain about getting too many emails, make sure you’re providing solutions for the real problem so you can increase productivity. Here are some warning signs that there’s a bigger issue beyond a full inbox.  

1.  You’re Using Email to Plan Your Work

One of the biggest problems with email is that it’s not being used as intended. Remember, its initial purpose was to be a communication tool that distributes messages to one or more people. Yet, somewhere along the line, it became the “everything” tool in the workplace.

I can see why some people use their inbox to help plan their work, but it’s not the right tool for planning and accountability. What usually happens is that you start out using email to delegate work and follow up on action items. And then your employees try to use it to prioritize their work. But often the ball gets dropped because email is not an effective prioritization tool.

For instance, a client we helped—a professional services firm—historically had an issue with planning. This is bad for any business, but it’s especially detrimental when you need to bill for every hour worked. (Unproductive, non-billable time is a major issue!)

In order to get them on the right track, we helped them understand how to use other tools like Microsoft Task Manager and Excel to plan and manage resources more effectively—which, as a result, reduced non-billable time and email (a double win!).

This is why using the right tools is critical. If you don’t, you’ll always struggle with planning and keeping your employees accountable for their work.

What to Do Instead

Manage planning and accountability for tasks outside of your inbox. You can do this by first defining the three Ws: Who, What, and When. This allows you to ask the important questions including:

  • Who owns the task?
  • When is it due?
  • What exactly are you asking them to deliver?

After you’ve answered these questions, use tools that are built to accommodate planning and tracking projects across teams (e.g., MS Excel, Google Sheets, Asana, or Basecamp) to store this information. Or, ideally, if your company is using Office 365, you can organize your teamwork using the new Planner function (free with subscription) that was designed for this purpose.

Whichever tool you choose, it’s critical that you store this information somewhere that everyone can easily reference. Once you stop using email for planning, prioritization, and accountability tracking, you’ll see your email volume go down and your ability to lead effectively go up.

2.  You Collaborate with Your Team via Email

In this day and age, we have access to some amazing technology that can be leveraged for collaboration. Yet people still use email as a collaboration tool. This goes back to keeping in mind the original purpose of email. The same way that you shouldn’t use it for planning—you shouldn’t use it for collaborating with others. This will only cost you more time in the end if you do.

If you’re working on a presentation and you need to send the draft to your team for review, using email for the feedback process is not efficient. One person will respond with comments in an email, and then another person responds. Next thing you know, you’re getting different versions back. 

You end up with a big mess and now need to merge and reconcile the feedback so that you have a final version. (And we wonder where our precious time goes!)

What to Do Instead

Everyone (and I mean everyone) has access to collaboration options better than email, so use the tools meant for collaboration. If you’re a Microsoft Office suite user, incorporate tools like OneDrive, SharePoint, and Teams that are designed to handle multiple users reviewing and editing documents. 

Otherwise, platforms like Google Drive or Slack are also great options. Also, they can be used for collaborating with people inside and outside of your organization, which is an added benefit. 

For example, I had a client who collaborated with several external resources and was responsible for drafting a final document meant to drive legislative policies. She spent hours collecting random feedback because she used email. 

We helped her understand how to leverage OneDrive and SharePoint so she could collaborate more efficiently with people outside of her organization. This was a huge eye-opener for her, adding back hours to her day.

If you find that you’re complaining about too many emails, stop and ask yourself if you’re truly taking advantage of collaborative technology that’s been around for years. Take the time to identify a better way of working and put the proper tools to use.

 3. You’re Receiving Emails About Work You Should Delegate. 

When it comes down to it, an obvious solution for dealing with email overload may be to provide training on how to effectively manage emails. But what do you do when there are still too many emails to keep up with?  

Let’s say you go to an email training and you learn how to leverage all the bells and whistles properly, but you find that you still have too many emails. Then you have two options: Say no to project requests so your workload (and, therefore, email) is reduced. Or, figure out a different way to get that work done.

The reality is that having too many emails can also be a sign that you’re not delegating work properly. If you don’t delegate work that other people can do, all the email training in the world won’t make a difference to your inbox. 

What to Do Instead

As I always say, “Only do what ONLY you can do!” This is where delegation plays an important role and is a necessary option in order to be more efficient.

Not only do you want to delegate certain project tasks so that work can be done by someone else, you want to also delegate all the communication that goes with it. It may take a reminder (or two), but training others in your organization to bring their issues and questions directly to the person you delegate work to will shrink the volume of email you receive.

Don’t worry about not being in the know if you delegate some of your tasks to someone else on your team. Just ask to be “looped in” when bigger issues come up that may need your attention. Being a cog in the wheel with communication bogs down your email and you end up slowing the process down as well. Therefore, effective delegation can help with your email issue—crazy, right?!

Again, email is not always the problem; it’s a sign that there are areas where your processes can be improved. 

If you want to decrease emails, look beyond email training and make sure that you’re addressing the real issue. We’d love to help you get to the root of the problem. Contact us today to learn more.

Plan with Jan

When it comes to signs that you’re not using email properly, tell us what you struggle with the most: planning, collaboration, or delegation?

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