Wednesday, August 6, 2008
A Tip To Reduce Stress: Reduce Email Time
By Cory Treffiletti Do you get stressed-out at work?
It's really quite easy to get stressed during the course of a tumultuous day in online marketing. It can be a beast to stay ahead of the curve of innovation, on top of the most recent news regarding mergers, acquisitions and consolidations and constantly examine and optimize campaigns in order to generate a higher ROI. As a result I find that we get sloppy and make silly little unnecessary errors. There's a lot of research that discusses where the pressure comes from at work, but my experience is that the majority of stress comes from my reaction to that wonderful tool we all use throughout the day: email.
I fondly remember my first job, back when I had to write memos and make 15 copies to be passed around and left on the desks of the people I interacted with in my agency. My boss, Pete, would review the memo before I sent it out (which definitely helped me improve my writing skills immensely, especially compared with some of the emails I routinely see today) but the process would take an hour or so. Plus there was the time required to make the copies and physically walk them around to each person's desk. That process of walking around sounds easy, but rarely did anyone just ignore you when you popped into their office -- they always had something to say or to check in about.
Email dramatically reduces the time required for distributing information, but it creates two clear and significant issues in my mind. The first is that, for many people, writing skills are slowly eroding. Over the last 15 years we've become more relaxed and more conversational in our email chatter, which can signify professional laziness. Between two colleagues who work together consistently and frequently, a conversational tone is warranted and welcome, but in professional outreach, negotiation and general business discussion between two companies, you must remember that email is forever (so to speak). The written word is permanent and can be forwarded, shared, printed out and it can come back to haunt you. The written word is also a reflection of you, and when in business you want your emails to be a proper reflection of you and your talents.
The second issue I have with email, and the one that creates the most stress for me and those around me, is that too many people in our business consider email an immediacy medium. They expect to hear back in response from an email within a very short period of time, and sometimes they call within hours of sending the email.
In special cases this is OK, but email is not an immediacy medium. It is a convenience medium, but it should not be considered immediate. Part of our stress comes from the constant influx of messages into our inbox and the almost instinctual need to respond to them right away! I read an article recently that suggested turning my email off at regular times of the day and focusing on the work in front of me. After trying this the last two weeks, I have to say that it works!
It's very similar to being on a plane. Have you ever noticed how productive you are then? It's because you have fewer distractions and can focus your attention on the work in front of you. Turning off your email for an hour here or an hour there has basically the same effect. I find it makes my day much more enjoyable, and I still don't miss anything!
Email is a life-saver, one I probably couldn't live without anymore. It ranks up there with the microwave oven and the ATM machine as one of the most useful inventions of the last 40 years -- but one way to reduce stress in the workplace is to own your email rather than letting your email own you. I even find that by focusing on my email at specific times of the day, I am more calm, more focused and my writing improves. Maybe Pete was on to something when he had me reviewing those memos to check for grammatical errors. I took time and care when writing, and I think I can do that again! By getting to re-implement some of those basics, I feel my quality of writing is increasing -- and my clients benefit as a result.
Try it for yourself. Turn off your email for an hour in the morning and an hour in the afternoon, and focus only on the work that is right in front of you. I bet you'll feel the way I do!
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Cory is president and managing partner for Catalyst SF.
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