Fight Email Tyranny

On Sunday evening while browsing our local Santa Cruz bookstore I came across a wonderful book: The Tyranny of E-mail by John Freeman.

Freeman spends the first six chapters of the book making a powerful case for one rather sobering insight: We are all hopelessly addicted to email. It has taken over our lives and we have virtually no strategies to manage it.

The good news is that in the final chapter, “Don’t Send,” he presents ten prescriptions for breaking the email addiction and handling email with a degree of sanity. I’ll summarize them here, but if you want the full impact, get the book!

1. Don’t Send

Email begets email. The more you send, the more you get. So before you send an email message, take a few seconds to think: How essential is this email? What’s it’s purpose? Could I combine email messages to a single recipient in response to several emails? It is urgent or could it wait? So slow things down a bit and don’t be so reactive. Send email intentionally.

2. Don’t Check It First Thing in the Morning or Late at Night

Don’t you have a business so that you can have a life? And if the very first thing you do in the day is check email, you are a slave to email, not to your priorities. Much better to take some time to plan your day, look at the appointments and priorities YOU have first and plan how you’re going to get them done. Focus on the big stuff and then email can fit more easily between the cracks.

3. Check It Twice a Day

We often check our email several times an hour. The truth is, it’s not necessary. You won’t actually get behind. Better to schedule time to “handle” email, so you can do it more completely. Can’t reduce it to two times a day? Try three or at the most, hourly.

4. Keep a written To-Do List and Incorporate Email into It

Your best time management tool is a simple to-do list. I make a weekly list of about 5 to 10 major items I want to complete that week and then a daily list of 2 or 3 priority items for that day. Email is something I fit between these priorities but don’t let it dominate my day.

5. Give Good Email

The best emails are short, concise and clear. After all, email is about communication not a deluge of information. Take an extra minute to proof your email, make sure the message is clear and also makes a specific request or promise for action. Include your phone number in your email signature so that they can easily call you if needed. I also proof my email for typos and format the email for easy readability such as using bold type.

6. Read the Entire Incoming Email before replying

We’ve all done it. We scan an email quickly and dash off a reply. Then we read the bottom part we missed and realize our response was incomplete. So we send another email. Meanwhile you’ve gotten an email back, trying to clarify this… Again, the key is to do email intentionally. Write and respond with the intention of moving something forward without confusion.

7. Do not Debate Complex or Sensitive Matters by Email

Sometimes you just need to pick up the phone. Nuances of emotion are hard to express in writing. Especially when you’re in the habit of dashing off emails quickly. Remember that you have a relationship with your correspondent. Treat that relationship with care, and communicate in a way that will get the best outcome. Besides, a quick phone call can often be faster than writing an email.

8. If You Have to Work as a Group by Email, Meet Your Correspondents Face-to-Face

In my one-year Marketing Mastery Program we connect by teleconference, email and phone. But I also hold a 3-day workshop at the beginning of the program so that people can connect person-to-person. They get to know each other, feel more comfortable with everyone and a more powerful community is created this way. When they send emails after the workshop, they are no longer emailing to strangers.

9. Set Up Your Desk to Do Something Else Besides Email

A big desk helps. My computer is in the middle of a v-shaped desk and I have four feet on each side of the computer for my planning books, for taking notes, for my laptop computer that acts as my “jazz jukebox,” etc. Yes, the computer is the central hub of my business, but lots of space leaves me options to do other things than be on my computer.

10. Schedule Media-free Time Every Day

What do we do after our full day at our computers? We visit Facebook, watch TV and play video games! We are not only addicted to email, we are addicted to electronic media to the point of obsession. I include myself in this. If you don’t have a TV, I honor you! But for the sake of your own well being, make sure to unplug for several hours a day. If you don’t, you’re opening the door for serious stress issues.

The More Clients Bottom Line: Work at handling email consciously and intentionally. It’s one of the most powerful communication mediums in the world but it is both inescapable and addictive. It can severely damage your quality of life if you don’t take the kind of steps outlined in the article above. And do your self a favor and get John Freeman’s book: The Tyranny of Email. Powerful stuff.

By Robert Middleton of Action Plan Marketing. Please visit Robert’s web site at for additional marketing articles and resources on marketing for professional service businesses.