Life hacking and all-around uber-helpful site LifeHacker.com published an excellent article about how we use email improperly called “Top 10 Ways You’re Probably Using Email Wrong.” Everyone who uses email (which would be, essentially, everybody) should go read the article. The only thing more impressive than the sheer amount of helpful information and links is the number of times the article is dead-on about how we’ve screwed up email since its inception.
Email has been the business go-to digital communication channel since the mid-nineties and despite the encroachment of instant/video messaging, group tools (Slack, Trello, etc.) and a neverending cavalcade of new ways to communicate, email remains the center of business communication, especially when communicating outside the walls of the company.
One of the ways that email is abused that didn’t make the LifeHacker article was the way we use email for frequent and painfully simple tasks like getting a “Yes” or a “No.” How much time is wasted in back-and-forth emails for common approvals like new hires, collateral sign-offs, project requests, safety incidents, expense submissions, etc.?
Whenever possible, we should seek to automate business processes that suck time away from more important work. Email can become a multi-threaded nightmare of questions, tasks and missed handoffs because for all its positive attributes, email is an overused tool poorly built for many of our most common interactions. Setting up automated workflow to handle common requests and processes can drastically reduce the amount of email clogging everyone’s inbox, especially executives who are pulled from strategic initiatives to dig through inboxes and attachments just to approve something.
I recently gave an example of the escalating effect of emails replacing true workflow automation in a post looking at automating the hiring process where I estimated that any simple request requires an average of five emails. A few people told me that this actually may be low. Depending on your organization and the nature of the request that may be true. Imagine eliminating most of these emails by creating an automated workflow for the most common requests. How much of your day would you get back?