Micro-emailng challenge month No. 1: 'I Talk Too Much'

Micro-emailng challenge month No. 1: 'I Talk Too Much'

Summary: My buddy Hutch Carpenter and I started a little email brevity challenge after the first of the year, in which we're tracking our sent work emails to see how loquacious we really are. And, more important, to determine if we can leverage the skills we've learned by using Twitter to make our communications more focused.


My buddy Hutch Carpenter and I started a little email brevity challenge after the first of the year, in which we're tracking our sent work emails to see how loquacious we really are. And, more important, to determine if we can leverage the skills we've learned by using Twitter to make our communications more focused.

Hutch, obviously the more responsible of us two, posted his results last week. Being the awesome blogger that he is, Hutch also found a way to turn what he learned into an idea around social software for "guaranteed delivery." I won't rehash it because, well, you can just read his post. My lesson from January's micro-emailing measurement? I talk too much. My poor co-workers.

Clearly Hutch is the winner this month. My numbers above even omit forwards and calendar invitations. This represents pure, originally authored emails by yours truly. What's most telling to me is the following:

  • Of these 662 emails more than 60 percent of them were sent to people within a 20-foot radius of my desk
  • This says to me that I either feel the need to have a paper trail or am exceptionally lazy and don't talk to my co-workers face-to-face enough
  • Of these 662 emails about 20 percent were "Oh yeah, and also..." emails meaning I am sending emails off too quickly without finishing the thought the first time. Not good.
  • My email approach is similar to my Twitter approach -- and I have more than 18,500 updates on Twitter.  I think this is telling me that I need to think more before I speak.

As Hutch said, February is a new month. I wish I had gleaned some bigger picture lesson out of this experiment as he did. However, I think because my numbers are so dismal I couldn't see beyond my own activity into how this impacted the bigger picture. That is a problem in and of itself. Let's see if I do better this month.


Chatty Jen

Topics: Collaboration, Social Enterprise

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  • Look at it this way

    Emailing instead of walking over and talking to the person is better. Why? Because the recipient can answer it at a good time for them. I read a news article recently that reported on a study where people were interrupted in a task to deal with something else. When they went back to the original task, most took between five and ten minutes to refocus their concentration and return to performing the task efficiently.
    Marc Erickson
    • It is still a distraction

      That's why messaging is better for some of those "me too" responses. Or you could try the anti-Twitter aka digest version of summarizing several messages at once.
  • The world of communications

    Look around your office for a moment... How many new-technologies-aware people do you see? Of those how many can actually efficiently communicate?
    In these decades we're swamped with methods of communication. (phone, telex (teletype), fax, pager, email, messenger, mobile phone).
    What has struck me (working in a world-wide organisation) is that the more means of communication we get shoved in our face, the less we really communicate.

    How often did you have to re-mail someone to tell them that they didn't READ properly? (Sorry, especially people in the USA seem to have reading issues)
    How often did you listened with only half your attention to what someone says on the phone? (Or worse, how much attention can you honestly and realistically give to a telephone conversation whilst driving??)

    We all need to step back, and use our means of communication more effective and efficiently.

    The best way to do this differs for everybody. Some people prefer to email throughout the day, stop that now! If you have masses of email to answer, split it in multiple chunks throughout your day. When you do attend to them, switch off your mobile phone, take the desk phone off the hook, switch your communicator/messenger to busy (or better 'show offline' and focus.

    In effective (business) communication you need to refrain from 'talking' more than getting your basic message across. When you deal with large amounts of emails, and it starts to exceed your effective working time, you need to change the way of emailing. Do you REALLY need all those emails? Try sifting through your emails, discard the ones that are just 'frilly' talk. Yes, we all fall for that trap every once in a while. But when your effective working time seems to be diminished to just juggling around communicating while your job isn't that, you're obviously need to switch from over-communicating to working.

    Limit the amount of communication methods. If you're too much distracted from your messenger, turn the thing off, block chatters or limit your contacts to the bare essentials. Mobile phones? Redirect them to your desk phone, nothing is more annoying than talking to someone about an important subject and be disrupted by a mobile phone. Make an 'availability' schedule if you can, for me it doesn't work, since I have to be able to be reached (part of the job), but I did manage to make people feel they are listened to. How? Voicemail! When I'm working on my emails, the calls are all going to voicemail. The big advantage is that people are forced to summarize their questions and be more effective, no more "how's the weather". When I'm done with the emails, I listen to the messages, take notes, look into the questions and answers, then start a calling session. People will appreciate that you did pay attention to their demands. They start to understand that it's your way of working and they do get what they want/need. The next time this person calls you and gets your voicemail, the summary will be even better and more effective for you.

    Micro-emailing? I don't think so. It's only half the way of emailing effective.
    When dealing with multiple emails from the same person, just reply to them all in one. Subject by subject, horizontal lines/bars between subjects. When you get a reply to/like that, it's almost just a check-list. Refrain from overquoting, delete the junk you don't need in a message. Too many emails have quote garbage trailing at the bottom. Keep the essential information, as a summary, but keep it as small as possible.

    This post is absolutely not an example of how such communication takes place. But this is not an email, this is much like a blog post, where rich use of natural language is expected.

    (Note: I didn't mention anything about the hidden communication, like helpdesk people writing junk in a ticketing system, sysadmins filling their collaboration/information sharing platform with jokes and junk, etcetera.)

    If we want to survive and not drown in the communication, we need to cut down on it. We need to step back a little and think about the methods of communicating and which ones to use for what subject.
    I only see the means of communication growing and they are all so tempting to try out, but which ones do we really need?