The number of emails we see coming in and going out every day is a nice key performance indicator for all of us. High numbers are also a good stress level indicator which allows us to shout "busy busy busy" when colleagues ask how things are going. If you are a bit strategic, you can arrange it so that you receive hundreds of emails a day and then, after a while, report to the company doctor that you have a burnout. Very understandable with so much pressure, of course!
I'll give you some tips on tried and tested ways for using email that drive me and all of us crazy.
Sabotage Skype-for-business so that people who try to call you will hear an error message. Since a single phone call can save up to 10 emails, especially when we‘re devoting emails to important things like ‘thank you’ and ‘you're welcome’, it's a good trick to maximise your email traffic. For the same reason, don’t put contact information or phone numbers in your email signatures.
Don’t put much effort into keeping your calendar in Outlook up to date so that someone else can pick a good time for an appointment. Then reject the meeting request without text or explanation. Force the other person to come up with a list of options for the meeting - by email of course. Only respond after a week or so, thus keeping the process as complicated as possible because several people have to block and then unblock a row of options in their agendas. A single meeting with 10 participants can generate 100 emails!
‘Set a good example by emailing over the weekend’
Send meeting documents as attachments to everyone, even if you know that everyone expects to find them on a shared hard drive. If possible, leave documents buried 10 mouse-clicks deep in a zipped file in an email, in a format that cannot be read with standard software - the more people you put to work that way, the better!
If you want to ask a colleague to do something for you, don't send an email to one person with a text like ‘Would you please do this?’, but send it to a group of people asking ‘Can someone do this?’. You will receive more emails and there is less chance of someone acting on the request, which in turn will generate even more emails.
If a colleague asks you to do something by email, don‘t respond until that colleague starts cc’ing your supervisor. Then you will know for sure that it is important, your supervisor will get an idea of how busy you are and, although the number of emails will only increase slightly at first, the product of the number of emails and number of addressees will increase rapidly. Double the success if your supervisor starts emailing you separately because then you can claim that you are so busy and therefore ‘hadn't gotten around to it yet’. Cc your supervisor’s supervisor on that answer!
Always use ‘reply to all’, so that everyone is kept informed of everything that is happening - and the number of emails and the number of addressees is maximised. Add more recipients if possible. Do the same if you respond to an email on which you were only cc’d - which you should always do anyway because you shouldn't miss an opportunity to send an email to as many people as possible.
And for supervisors: set a good example by emailing over the weekend. For example, ask an important question on Friday evening and state that you need to complete the decision-making process by 9:00 on Monday morning. This effectively prevents your employees from relaxing during the weekend. You’ll only need to do it once for a long-term effect!
Dr Menno Blaauw is IMS Manager at the Reactor Institute, after having worked there as a scientist for 20 years. He is also a member of the Works Council