Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Does email make you stupid? How to cope

According to a recently published study, the answer is yes. From The Register, UK:
"Email users suffered a 10 per cent drop in IQ scores, more than twice the fall recorded by marijuana users, in a clinical trial of over a thousand participants. Doziness, lethargy and an inability to focus are classic characteristics of a spliffhead, but email users exhibited these particular symptoms to a "startling" degree, according to Dr Glenn Wilson."

Thing is, email isn't going away and it's become such a part of our daily lives that we're going to have to learn how to manage it. Especially for you as interactive producers. Most of your direction from clients will come via email so it's going to be important to develop good habits.

As an emerging professional you've already developed some good work skills. Now you need to polish your e-correspondence skills.

Here are some considerations to help you manage your email without losing your cool:

1) Time management: Save personal, family or non-critical emails for periods when you're not working - either before you begin work, at lunch or after work/dinner. If it's an email that requires serious thought, save it for the weekend. As tempting as it may be to tell your friends about what you did over the weekend, your work comes first. It doesn't matter whether you're working from home or in-house - there are only so many hours in the day!

2) Colour coding/flagging: If your email browser allows you to use colours, assign different colours to urgent and work related emails so you know what requires immediate response. Assign a flag to any work related email and create folders for specific projects.

3) Clean up: Clean out your mailbox every two weeks (that includes your SENT folder). Obviously, save and flag important emails. If you're really on the ball, start getting in the habit of deleting non-critical emails right after you read them. Those one-liner "thank-you" emails can go in your trash after you've read them.

4) Emotional maturity and professionalism: No matter how bad your day is going emails will continue to arrive in your inbox. You will invariably receive emails that stress you out - even if the sender did not intend it. Your first rule of thumb is BE PROFESSIONAL. A second rule to think about is "always assume goodwill" - either from your sender or in your response. Another rule, when dealing with more stressful emails, is to wait until you've cooled down to respond - there is no WITHDRAW button on email! Once you've sent something it's sent and there's nothing you can do. Remember that. Chances are, no matter how annoying or nervewracking an email is there is a productive and constructive way to respond. If you're having a really tough time dealing with a particular client, remember to have a sense of humour. Designer Ze Smith's hysterical "Communication Skills" is a primer on transforming your gut reactions.

5) Good form: if you don't already have one, pick up a business writing basics book. These books go over various different types of messages - from job applications to promotions to referrals and resignations. Email may not have been around for long but good form has been with us since the dawn of the printing press. And good form is an index of professionalism. People will appreciate your tact, politeness and manners.

6) Match subject lines to content: Make sure your subject line is specific and avoid terms that might result in your email going into a spam filter. Keep your email body focussed to a single topic. If you have additional concerns or questions, send them in another email. It's hard enough to locate a particular bit of information from subject lines alone. As an interactive professional you should always send the following emails as single messages:

- Invoices (specify the job as well)
- Project deadlines
- Work quotes
- Project outlines
- Iterations

7) Closure: It's always nice to send a thank you to somebody who has helped you out in some way. In the old days, people used to send thank you cards. It's also very good form to compliment people on their work. Chances are, you won't receive much feedback from clients. When you're working on a team and hardly anyone on that team is receiving any complimentary feedback (often clients withold compliments for reasons that have nothing to do with the quality of your work) you should all get in the habit of complimenting each other. It goes a long way towards building morale and will make for a more friendly communciations flow.