Instant email is good for nobody

Like most project managers, account managers, or client-facing individuals, I have my email inbox open all day. One any given day, there could be a dozen different individuals that can reach out to me with an urgent question. But replying instantly is not always the best action. While we can’t ignore our clients (current and potential), we can help each other by getting into good habits. These are some of mine explained.

Urgent does not always mean important

There is a difference between something urgent (a phone call, a task with a deadline attached) and something important (improving product quality, preparing a contract for a new project). Like with any time management, it’s key to distinguish between the two. One of the best things I learned in college was the Urgent vs Important Matrix. Many people get in the trap of confusing email urgency with importance; try to avoid that.

Interrupted productivity

It’s fairly obvious that we could all spend eight hours each day in our inboxes. I sometimes catch myself responding to emails immediately to get back to Inbox Zero. But, I’ve lost at least 15 minutes of productive time having mentally changed gears and get back to what I was doing. By that point, another email has come in… and you wonder what you accomplished in the past hour. Setting aside productive time and batching email is one of the most powerful things I can recommend to anyone. Tim Ferris has a great manifesto on eliminating email overload.

Most questions can answer themselves

I’ve found that being in the habit of turning around and asking someone a question leads me to get lazy: I rely on the individual instead of other resources (guides, Google, etc.). While I’m in the business of good customer service, that doesn’t mean handing out answers all day; that gets expensive for everyone. Investing time in better documentation and frequently asked question lists will save you from yourself and constant questions (especially on projects with many stakeholders).

One caveat, I do monitor email all day long with desktop notifications. This allows me to determine at-a-glance what is both “urgent and important” and save the rest to batch later. As long as everyone’s expectations are clear, these simple takeaways can greatly help client-facing individuals stay productive. One way to put this is: “sorry if I don’t respond immediately, it’s to help serve you and other clients better.” You can’t really argue with that, can you?