Email Overload

by Ron

Scott Adams, the creator of the cartoon, Dilbert recently said on CNBC’s Squawk Box,

“I’m pretty sure [email] has destroyed my soul.”

He described email as a job in itself, which no longer enhances productivity. Although still useful and productive in many ways, Scott’s point is all too obviously valid.

But here’s a trick that will quickly eliminate a substantial portion of email overload and will improve your team at the same time.

You’ve gotten to be a leader because you’ve been good at what you do. You’re a problem solver. You’re efficient. You see the issues clearly. You’ve been the go-to person. You’re the leader.

So when that email comes in, what’s your first instinct? Solve the problem! Give the answer! Clarify the issue! Do what you’ve always done to be successful! But none of that is leading. All of that is doing. You need to lead!

Image Source: BuzzFarmer, Creative Commons

Image Source: BuzzFarmer, Creative Commons

So here’s the trick that will eliminate a large percentage of email very quickly. Your first reply should be, “Why are you sending me this email?” You’ll quickly see that many emails are sent to you because people don’t want to be accountable for their actions. And they’ve discovered if they send you an email, you quickly solve the problem; Clarify the issue; direct the resources; etc.: instant solution. Problem solved. They don’t have to do any of the heavy lifting. If things go wrong, they have the email showing that you took the action. And at review time, they claim credit for the successful completion of projects.

Your first reaction to any email is to ask yourself (and them) why am I receiving this email? If you simply solve the problem by answering the question, you’ve accepted the accountability. You’ve “lost your soul” to email, as Scott says, and your people have not developed because they’re not accepting accountability. You’re a doer, not a leader.

How have you used (or stopped using) email to develop people or increase productivity? Or if you just want to vent about email, send us a comment.

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