How many emails are sitting in your inbox right now? Do you have hundreds or thousands of messages sitting there awaiting action?
Email has become one of the most used technologies leaders use to communicate with their teams. The average leader spends nearly 2 ½ hours each day managing email and text communications. That’s average. You might be spending more or less time depending on your personal communication style and business culture.
So, with the volume of emails you’re likely receiving each day, do you make the time to respond?
In recent years, it has become more acceptable to delay a response—or worse—not send a reply at all. In the busy-ness of corporate environments, leaders may forget that these messages come from human beings.
People understandably get upset when their messages go unanswered wondering if the message was received and, if so, why they weren’t important enough to warrant a reply. Lack of response also means that employees can wind up in limbo awaiting your input or decision.
I’m not implying that leaders ignore others intentionally, but it can negatively impact trust, credibility, and perceived leadership efficacy just the same.
In counterpoint, Reddit CEO Steve Huffman suggests that you “shouldn’t respond to every message.” In fact, many messages you receive are a “carbon copy” or a “reply all” meant only to keep you in the loop. But, while he’s correct that not all emails require a direct response, that doesn’t excuse the bad behavior of simply ignoring messages (or people) because you’re busy.
The challenge is deciding the priority of each message and if it needs action from you. It’s also important to build systems that support effective email management and prompt responsiveness to the people you lead.
Here are three ways to better manage your inbox and respond with respect:
1) Rethink responsiveness.
Despite what you might expect in terms of responsiveness from others, treat your employees and colleagues with respect by acknowledging their messages in a timely manner (within 24-28 hours). Because responses are less common these days, people really appreciate this simple gesture of courtesy.
2) Create a system.
Many email programs allow you to create filters for incoming messages that automatically help sort (or delete) the volume of emails you receive. Take advantage of this feature to reduce the number of messages left in your inbox to review.
If possible, get help from your assistant to scan and sort your email messages. Have him/her flag important messages and create folders that are labeled according to priority so you can easily take action at a later point.
3) Batch messages.
Rather than trying to read and reply to messages in real time, have your assistant hold space on your calendar to go through messages in a time block. (For example, give yourself 30-45 minutes in the morning, and an hour in the afternoon.) Communicate this practice to your team so they know when to expect your replies.
Not only will you be amazed at how many issues get resolved without your involvement, but this also provides a set time to reply to those important messages with thoughtfulness and care.
It’s important to remember that employees need your input and support. When you become the bottleneck, it can negatively impact their work as well as your reputation. Build systems that allow you to balance responsiveness with not being a slave to your inbox and everyone will benefit.