After bashing email yesterday in my post Email – the app we love to hate! I came across an article on Medium this morning by Aytekin Tank, How email can actually enhance your productivity. I’ll post what I think is good about email, adding in any benefits I’ve missed from Mr. Tank’s article. But keep in mind he is the founder of JotForm, which according to its home page enables users to: Create online forms and publish them. Get an email for each response. Collect data. So Mr. Tank may just be slightly biased in favor of email. Nonetheless he begins his article with a quote from UI/UX guru Don Norman‘s quote, “email is the office memo turned cancerous, extended to home and everyday life.”
So what’s to like about email?
- It’s asynchronous. I much prefer either meeting face to face or communicating by email. I hate talking on the telephone to a disembodied voice. Real time communications apps like iMessage or Slack do have their uses but I find them to be overly terse and overly used. Because email is asynchronous I can reply, if at all, on my schedule, not on the sender’s. I can give real thought to composing my response, commensurate with the importance of the message.
- It’s a good way to keep track of projects. I’m a big user of Apple’s reminders app, but I still find it useful to save emails from colleagues and others that are still relevant to whatever project we are working on.
- I can attach files – documents or images. This feature has been copied in most real time apps, but it’s still a benefit of email. And I can tell at a glance which emails I’ve sent or received have an attachment. Sometimes it’s the only way I can find a file that’s gone missing!
- You can communicate one-to-one or one-to-many. Apple and others have made conference calling, either voice or video, much easier. But scheduling a conference call can be more trouble than it’s worth. Emailing everyone with a stake in my message is much more efficient, even if the request is to use a scheduling app to set up a meeting.
- It improves my writing. I learned business writing by writing three to five press releases a week for over three years. I started using email in 1980 at Software Arts where although there were only about a dozen of us in 1980, email was heavily used by the founders, which, of course, meant that everyone used our in-house email system heavily.
- It enables me to get feedback in writing. While I do prefer f2f meetings, taking notes is a chore and distracts from fully participating in the meeting. Getting written feedback on a proposal I’m working on is usually more helpful.
- You can easily copy and paste. It is very easy to send a personalized version of basically the same email to several people. And I often copy a salient extract from a full article I’m sending to someone so they don’t need to read the entire article unless they wish to.
- Mail forwarding is easy and helpful. And yes, like the cc function it too can be just as easily misused.
Here are to additional benefits from Mr. Tank’s article:
- It builds trust. I’m not a CEO, but when I was an executive my teams new I expected quick responses to my emails, if only to acknowledge the “ask” and inform me when they could get it done. Likewise, I tried to respond to everyone in the company’s email with a couple of hours unless I was traveling.
You don’t forget important details. Mr. Tank points out this as a benefit of cleaning out your inbox daily. And I do agree with this, especially for busy executives with a lot coming at them continuously.
In the section of his article, Writing email, Mr. Tank includes one of my global principles: show, don’t tell. He uses screen shots heavily, as well as tables. Adding graphics to an email is almost as easy as adding text and can be far more effective. He also recommends using @tags. That’s a trick this old dog has never learned, perhaps because I’m not a Twitter user, so I can’t comment either way of this tip. Otherwise we closely agree on the principle ways to craft and effective email message.
Mr. Tank ends his article with four tips on how to process your email. I’m not sure I’m in total agreement with these so I’ll leave it to readers who are interested to read that section of his article.
He closes his article with a quote from Slack cofounder Stewart Butterfield that email isn’t going away any time soon. “Maybe by 2080,” he said. “It’s got decades left at least.”
So you might was well get good at composing, sending, and managing it.