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E-Mail: The Big Time-Waster

Aug 17, 2007
Has e-mail taken control of your life? As a small business owner, I know e-mail rules my day. The first thing I do in the morning is check my e-mail and the last thing I do before I go to sleep is check my e-mail. In between, I am monitoring my e-mail like an air-traffic controller. I'm always watching for new mail and will stop what I'm working on when I receive a notice that new mail has arrived. This is just plain sick! Do they have a 12-step program for e-mail addicts?

E-Mail Wastes Time

The need to read e-mail throughout the day has become a big time-waster for companies. Most people have two or three e-mail accounts so that double or triples the time spent checking e-mails. A survey by America Online and Opinion Research discovered that 61% of people check their personal e-mail an average of three times a day while at work. Add in the time spent reading company e-mail and you've quadrupled the time spent with e-mail.

E-mail has taken over our lives at home and at work because it is not just a matter of reading the e-mails; we also need to respond to the e-mails. Sure we can delete the abundance of SPAM that clogs our in-boxes, but then we are left with the e-mail that demands a response. We have to take the time to slowly read the message, understand the message and then organize our thoughts to write a reply. This takes even more time.

E-Mail Miscommunication

Here's where things take a free-fall and really eat up your time. If someone was standing in front of you and you were having a conversation, it would be easy to say what you wanted to say. You'd watch the body language, listen to the tone of voice and quickly know what to say and how to say it. But e-mail is just words; no body language and no voice tone. It's actually one of the most difficult methods of communication because only 7% of a message is understood from the words we use; 93% of the understanding is from body language and voice tone.

So, not only is it difficult to figure out WHAT to say in an e-mail, it's difficult to figure out HOW to say it right and not cause a miscommunication. You have no idea what the mindset will be of the person who will be reading your e-mail. He or she could have just had an argument or an incident of road rage before arriving to work and then starts reading your e-mail. What you thought was "constructive criticism" is now interpreted as a vicious remark to them personally. You're in trouble now.

Let me replay this situation and imagine you chose to phone this individual rather than send an e-mail. As soon as he answered the phone you would hear in his voice something was wrong and the warning bells would go off in your head. There is no way you would offer your "constructive criticism" at this point. You'd choose another time when things were calm.

With e-mail you don't get any "do-overs." Once that message is sent, you are doomed. If there's a miscommunication, you are stuck trying to make things right and wasting more time!

Get A Handle on E-Mail

Compare e-mail to a garage with tools laying around. You can't park your car in the garage and you can barely walk through the garage without tripping. But, if you hang up the tools on the walls you can easily find the tools and what was chaos is now organized. Every tool has its place and you know where to find it.

You need to look at e-mail the same way. E-mail is a tool for communication; nothing more, nothing less. It's not the sharpest tool in the toolbox, but it usually gets the job done. However, it's not the only tool. Take a look at your other communication tools and see if they would do a better job.

Here are some guidelines to help you make better communication choices and prevent e-mail from being such a time-waster:

*If you are angry or if you think your message will make your reader angry or upset, don't use e-mail. Use the phone or physically meet with the person. You want the advantage of body language and voice tone.

*Be sure to include all the information your reader needs to make a decision in your e-mail reply. Think about things from their perspective and imagine what they need to know. The more information you include, the less likely there will be miscommunication.

*Set aside specific times of the day to deal with your e-mail. If you want to deal with all your e-mail at the end of the day, consider setting up an autoresponder that tells people that's what you do and that they can expect a response at the end of the day. If it is important they can phone you.

*Only handle an e-mail once. Open it up, read it, reply and file it into a specific folder. If you wait to get back to an e-mail you may have hundreds of e-mails to look through or even worse; not be able to find the right e-mail.

E-mail is a love-hate relationship that is here to stay. Although e-mail is our primary tool for business communication, it wastes time and can cause miscommunication. On the other hand, e-mail is a quick, easy way to communicate our message and I'd bet very few of us are willing to give up our addiction to it.
About the Author
Michelle Howe, MBA, is an expert in online copywriting and author of the popular book, Turn Browsers into Buyers . Visit her website at http://www.InternetWordMagic.com for the FREE report, Five Easy Steps for Creating "I Wanna Read That" Articles.
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