I worked with a leader who one day discovered that he had 75 e-mails in his inbox whose sole purpose was to say a simple thank you. He then emailed his team and said: “Please take this e-mail as a worldwide thank you from everyone to everyone else. Now I have sent this e-mail, please nobody ever send an e-mail of thanks again about a simple receipt of an e-mail.” While some may think that is a little brutal, sometimes sharp messages are needed to change a course of behavior.
It seems that our inputs never stop expanding. We add Slack, Facebook for Work, or the latest instant messaging platform under the guise of improved productivity but with so many ways to be contacted, it is important to find ways to keep the input at a minimum and in control. Here are two powerful ways:
1. Delete all of your e-mails. Listen to any returning executive after vacation and you will hear them complain about the size of their inbox upon their return. J. Allard, corporate vice president of the Entertainment Division at Microsoft, had a brilliant solution to that. When he returned, he just deleted everything—yes, everything, as in select-all-delete-confirm-yes-permanently-delete. He used to go around with a great big grin on his face when he returned from his latest snowboard adventures because he never came back overwhelmed. He started a trend at Xbox. Many followed in his footsteps, perhaps with a slightly more cautious approach by setting an e-mail auto response telling people they were on vacation and on return they would be deleting their e-mail so please resend after a particular date. This set a new acceptable norm, and this was 10 years ago, before the proliferation of many messaging apps.
2. Teach people how to interact with you. Successful leaders train their team and peers on how to interact with them. Don’t like e-mail? Only want to talk by phone? Love one-page summaries? Hate long e-mails? Want open space in meetings? Or love minute-by-minute agendas? Let people know. Whatever your preference, the most effective way thoughtfully ruthless leaders prevent themselves from having to say no all the time and from becoming overloaded is by training those around them how to interact with them.
The best time to do this is when you first join a team. You are still in your honeymoon period and everyone is open to getting to know you and learning new ways of working. If you aren’t in a new role, it isn’t too late, but it will require some education. Nevertheless, it is worth the effort.
How is excessive e-mail or messaging causing you and others in your organization to be overwhelmed, and how could you remove it? What kind of interaction do you prefer? Take some time to consider how you might help your team—and yourself—overcome input overload and free up time and energy for the work that matters.
Dedicated to growing your business,