E-mail is everywhere. It's on your computer, your tablet, and your phone. You are constantly connected to it, able to zip off a message to anyone at anytime. Under certain circumstances, this is totally awesome- things can get accomplished quickly and for those of us who aren't so fond of talking on the telephone, it gives us a chance to think of a response without being put on the spot.
E-mail can also be a huge time suck. Suddenly there is a message you weren't expecting and it is now demanding your attention. It actually takes your focus off of what you should be doing. I've realized this is part of my scheduling problem as well. I'll set an agenda for the day and boom! Someone takes that away from me with a message that have to then respond to- if not immediately then at some point- thoughtfully and with attention.
I'm reading this awesome book called Good Manners for Nice People Who Sometimes Say F*ck by Amy Alkon. It's all about social faux pas and how to deal with them and be a more considerate person. In it she says, " 'Give a hoot!- Don't pollute." This isn't to say you shouldn't e-mail. It is sometimes the best way to get a particular message across. Just recognize that every e-mail you send eats up a tiny bit of the recipient's life, and combined with all the other e-mail they get, the life-eating can add up." She then goes on to give some good suggestions for better e-mailing, like remembering to blind carbon copy (bcc) when e-mailing a whole group so you don't blast private e-mail addresses to everyone- a personal pet peeve of mine. I would like to make my own list, though, based on what I deal with most days.
1. Don't send an e-mail asking a question you can (and should) google first.
As a maker, I get a lot of e-mail and Etsy convos asking about how to do something/where to find something/what something means. Do you know how I learned the answer to 90% of that stuff? I googled it or headed to the Etsy help section and kept reading until I found what I was looking for. Then I'd head to Pinterest to see if anyone wrote a good post on it. I may ask a friend for an answer if I can't find what I'm looking for, but it would be a good friend I know well and who I know probably won't mind the interruption. If you are not on e-mail speed dial with someone, see if you can solve the problem yourself first with some research.
2. Don't send an e-mail asking a question you can look back at old e-mails and find the answer to.
If you've already received information with a date, time, suggestion, website, link, etc. in a previous e-mail, search back through that e-mail to find the answer before asking someone again. If the previous e-mail is lost and gone forever, try researching first: is the event posted somewhere else online? Did the link go into your browser history? Can you search for it online? Try any and all before asking a question you've already been given the answer to.
3. Don't send e-mails asking for advice/product/suggestions if you don't know the person.
E-mailing random people whom you don't know, even if they are super knowledgeable about a particular topic, is not a great idea. Also known as a "cold call", this is when someone just suddenly pops up looking for information as if you have all the time in the world to chat, or looking for free product for their site. When you do this, you are taking someone's time to reply back- always. If you know someone already, even a little bit, it's more acceptable- especially if you preface it with, "I know you're busy, but when you have a minute...", but if you are not already on someone's radar, then you are chipping away at someone's job or other tasks they need to get done.
4. Beating a dead conversation.
If you have been e-mailing with someone and their responses become clipped, non-committal, or passive, they are done talking to you. Don't continue to e-mail them and be a drag on their time. Most people are way too polite to say, "I don't have the time or energy to talk to you anymore," or "I don't want to help you with this," so they will instead start sending more vague, distant messages back. If this starts to happen, realize you are getting the brush-off and that it's time to let it go and move on.
5. Asking the same question over and over again.
Someone has asked you a question. You have taken the time to reply and you send it off, certain that what you said was clear and helpful. Then hours, days, weeks later, you get an e-mail from the same person asking the same question, as if you never answered them back, or they ask in a way that shows they did not comprehend what you've said at all. Please, if you have sent someone an e-mail and they've answered you, go back and read that. If you don't understand what they've said, then say that. But please don't force someone to re-write their whole (time-consuming) e-mail because you didn't comprehend it the first time and didn't tell them that.
6. Sending a rude/angry/mean-spirited e-mail.
Emotionally-charged e-mails are some of the worst and hardest to deal with. They are like a time bomb in your inbox. You open a seemingly innocuous message and you are then blasted with hate, confrontation, and all the things you did wrong. If the person you are writing to has any kind of a soul, this message will directly affect them and worm its way into their brain and pretty much ruin their entire day until the issue gets settled. When an e-mail of this nature comes in, it takes over your thoughts and you have to process it and look at it from all angles and craft a careful response. It's draining. If you are seriously peeved at someone for something, wait awhile before you e-mail them. Then wait some more. Then ask yourself if what your issue is is big enough and important enough to ruin someone's day and sink their schedule. It's an ego check for sure, but it's also considerate. If you do still need to air your grievances, wait at least a day to write it, until you've settled down and can write a little more calmly.
7. Consider how busy the person is you are about to message.
Does the person you're dealing with have a lot going on? Deadlines to meet, kids to deal with, a busy holiday season, a special event going on, a vacation coming up? If you're e-mailing someone who is generally really busy, make sure what you're writing about is really important. Are you offering them a great opportunity? Awesome- send away. Are you asking them if they think your website looks nice? Don't send, unless you are paying them to design the site. There is a time and a place for all e-mails but if it's a comment that doesn't need to be sent right then, consider just waiting to talk about it in person.
All of these types of e-mails add up over time, and for some reason, they have a tendency to come in bunches. If you are overwhelmed with your inbox, you may try and set aside some time to read and reply to messages when they won't derail your day.
How do you deal with your inbox? Have you run into any of these issues, or do you have others that totally wear you out?