How practices can manage email better
Jul 07, 2021
John Paul DeGoria's story is quite amazing.
The founder of Patrón launched his company in 1980, whilst a door to door salesman, and eventually sold his stake for US$5.1 billion.
If you think about that in terms of a business journey, that's a full-length journey from a one-man-band to a global brand.
However, this isn't about John or Patrón or how he did it.
It's about a choice he made not to own a computer, laptop, tablet or even an email address which he explained simply by saying...
"If I did, I'd be inundated".
Now it might be easy to see this as an outlier, or about having tech vs. not having tech, but it's not.
It's a common trait of the way the majority of highly successful people manage communication channels and more to do with exerting control over focus than the use of technology.
It's about availability. They're not easy to reach by design.
Agora's Mark Ford is another example of someone who has made the full journey, going from being US$100,000 in debt to a net worth of US$240 million.
His observation was that one of the biggest reasons most businesses never liftoff is because of
"...an obsession with small chores".
Good observation, and of all the small chores we could name, email is a biggie.
Email presents a major productivity challenge.
Depending on which research survey you look at, it'll tell you that the average person spends between one to four hours a day managing email.
There are 1 billion knowledge workers around the world, each receiving on average 55 business emails a day. It's staggering volume... and staggeringly inefficient when you also consider that the average typing speed is five times slower than the average speaking rate.
But we don't need stats to understand why email sometimes ends up managing us, instead of the other way around.
But email also isn't going away.
With 3.7, billion users worldwide sending 269 billion emails every day, this open-source platform has been around for four decades.
Bigger than Facebook. Bigger than the internet. Countless have tried to replace it...
- Instant Messenger,
- HipChat and more.
They all failed.
The reason? Email is central to many workflows that require team collaboration and, for most people, the primary way they manage their workload.
So, how do you solve the problem of email?
For me, it's about four things I work with firms to do differently to free themselves from the tyranny of poor external communication.
Step 1 is to Centralise.
When I asked the question from the stage at the recent Momentum Better Business events, most people in the room confessed to every person in their business managing their own, individual inbox.
I get this is the way it's been, but let's put that through another lens.
Can you imagine an office where each of you works in your own space, with your own private external door and an internal one?
Sometimes your colleagues will simply wander in and begin having a conversation between themselves (the equivalent of the cc), and if clients come to the office they simply wander into whichever door they're used to, and it's then your job to deal with them and direct them where they need to go.
This is essentially what people do when they fail to have a shared inbox.
Tech-wise, we use and recommend Missive. We chose it for many reasons, one of which is that it looks and feels like email, instead of a ticketing system that tends to make people feel like they're waiting in a queue rather than a valued client).
In truth, though there are many options out there and as we all know, it's not the technology that solves problems. It's how it's used.
Step 2 is the method of managing it.
We call it triage, as many do, and it works just like it does in a hospital.
Someone (critically, it's usually not me any more than it would be a surgeon) meets people as they come in and make a quick decision.
Is this critical? Does it require special attention?
The process in our business, which we call triage workflow follows a similar structure, flowing through three, sequential questions asked.
- Does this require a response? Anything that doesn't require a response can be easily deleted or archived, (e.g it's spam or just some other one-way communication)
- Does it require the recipient to respond? In many cases, your team can step in and answer it faster and often better than you can. It's also the reason why we use extensive templating. More on that later.
- Is this urgent? If it requires me to respond, but it's not urgent, it'll be assigned to me in my own private inbox within our system. If it is urgent, the team will usually flag it by another communication system, in our case Voxer.
Step 3 is to create templates
How many times have you watched a cooking program and heard the words....
"Here's one I prepared earlier..."
It's done to save time, which is why we also create templates.
I mean, how many times have you written an email and thought, "Haven't I written this before?"
...or hunted around in your inbox trying to find that perfect response you remember crafting six months ago...
This is an indication that there are certain communications in your business that deserve to be stored.
We have a list called The Essential 25. It's 25 emails which, by writing in advance, will literally save you hours each week.
The truth is that most businesses already have them. They're just hidden away in amongst everything else.
As an added benefit, I often find dictating these results in a more consistent tone and a really personal voice.
Step 4, our final step, is the true end game.
It's the whole (real) reason for doing this all along. It's where we fixed your internal comms by getting you and your team out of your inbox.
Email was never designed to be a tool for internal communication. Imagine you had to write a letter to your team whenever you needed to discuss something.
It doesn't make sense, but that's what we mostly do.
All those cc's, bcc's, kind regards, logo images (or file name placeholders). All the extra information platitudes, I hope you're having a nice day signatures, it all adds up and makes it harder.
Email is meant for external. When you get this right, your team starts to communicate outside of email.
That's not to say you can't communicate about emails. Again, leaning on tech our Missive tool gives you the ability to comment (much like you would in a Facebook Messenger thread) but outside of the email chain itself.
I can direct people on how to respond to things or update them on where things are at without having to disrupt the communication.
There's more to this, and the opportunity is HUGE.
Communications is one of two areas (I'll cover the second next week) we lose the most time and have the opportunity to gain most efficiency.
Most businesses I work with on this find themselves easily winning back 5-10 hours, just by getting a little smarter about the way they manage communication....
....which leads to the important question.
If you had 5-10 hours back, what would you change?