Christina Wallace found love on the internet quicker than most by recognising that online dating was good at expanding her dating pool, but not good for spotting chemistry, intelligence, charm, politics, marital status, creditworthiness, hygiene and anger issues. She was meeting a lot of frogs.
To improve the prince/frog ratio, she created a simple set of initial filters to qualify her ‘leads’, such as “Can they write in sentences without sexual content?”. It saved a lot of time that would otherwise be wasted messaging back and forth with prospects that were going nowhere.
Then, to those left standing – a meagre 13.8% – she offered her ‘Zero date’; one drink in one hour with one question in mind, “Do I want to have dinner with this person?”. This saved more time still, not to mention awkward moments outside restaurants after dodgy dates.
I see a similar dynamic with email because, like online dating, it’s good at expanding your reach. It’s quick, easy, cheap, asynchronous and interoperable, so it doesn’t matter whether the person you’re emailing is online right now or using the same software as you, and to contact lots of people you don’t have to lick dozens of stamps, walk to the post office and fork out.
But those strengths mean that email regularly delivers a big box of frogs, and this is why, like Christina, it’s good to have a strategic approach to how you tackle it rather than just treating every one like a potential prince as soon as it hops on your desk and says ‘Ribbit’.
Having a particular time when you process email is generally a good plan. For a start, it enables you to work with less distraction the rest of the time and, for bonus points, some things will be resolved in the meantime by others. It also reduces the knee-jerk tendency to respond to an email in the moment by using email, irrespective of whether it’s the best tool to use. After all, in the same way that online flirting can’t identify chemistry and character, email isn’t great at discussion, clarification, consensus, rapport, tone, humour, emotion, body language or nuance. But in the heat of inbox battle, when you have a hammer, everything can look like a nail.
Slowing down and deliberating a bit more carefully over email with a cool head and a clear focus also enables you to apply your own first stage filters to reduce the scope of what you engage with. Christina improved her hit rate by culling those without Ivy League degrees and those who weren’t (like her) over 6 foot tall, but in the domain of knowledge work, other questions might be helpful;
- Am I the best person to deal with this? Most of us want to be helpful, and being the helpful one in an email environment comes with extra brownie points, too, but being that person too often can exert a personal cost.
- Does this relate to my strategic priorities? You can’t do everything and email tends to drive you in the direction of other people’s priorities. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.
- When is the best time and place to deal with this? Does it need to be done immediately, soon or ‘as soon as’? Again, email can drive you towards NOW.
- What is the best way to communicate about this? Would a call or a coffee save time and nail this properly rather than dragging it out over hours and days in email?
Email brings a lot of frogs but leaning in for a kiss too often only ends well in fairy tales. Slowing down to clarify it all will enable you to get a clearer sense of what’s important and what’s not, applying filters of priority and personal importance that will enable you to focus more on the ones that might turn into princes.
Oh, and to see how Christina’s story turned out, go here.