Don’t speak to a person; write an email

If you read about leadership or management, you will often see a disapproving comment about people who write an email while they’re sitting next to the recipient. In leadership courses you regularly hear the same criticism.


The wisdom is that you shouldn’t abuse email. You should not send a message when you can discuss it face to face or over the phone. I’d like to put a bombshell on that from a Time Management point of view. I think we should turn the argument around:
Do not interrupt someone’s work, when
you might just as well send an email!

We know from many studies that interruptions cause massive productivity losses. When you’re in the flow of a task and you get an interruption, it can take 5 to 20 minutes to get back into the same flow.

By contrast to an interruption of someone at your desk, reading emails is entirely within our control. If you want to increase your productivity, you limit dealing with emails to only two or three times a day. For more ideas on email management, Click here to read our blog on The 7 Golden Rules of Email Writing

So, when should you use face to face contact
or a phone call instead of writing an email?

• Complexity: it’s easier to clarify yourself in a conversation; it allows for question and answer to get to the heart of the matter. This is where emails go wrong in ping-pong games that waste everyone’s valuable time
• Decision needed: if you need a decision and there may be some discussion involved, use personal contact. You’ll reach your decision much faster and with more clarity from all sides
• Urgency: if you need an answer fast; don’t expect people to read their emails all the time. If they did, they’d be wasting precious company time
• You need buy-in: it’s hard to engage people through an email

The message: give someone a precious productivity gift: an email instead of an interruption.

I’d like to hear your views. Do you agree or not? Do you have other circumstances in which an email or personal contact are more appropriate? Leave a comment below.
If you’d like to get into more depth into productivity, join our Time Management course and you’ll learn much more about keeping yourself in a highly productive flow of work. If you’re looking at improving your writing, from a spelling, grammar, structure or style perspective, our Effective Business Writing course will help you write better emails and other business documents.

Peter Munnik

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