A significant part of your day is taken up with communication. If you can speed up the process of communicating and also increase the effectiveness of your communication, this is a huge potential productivity boost.
How do you do it?
Let's look at the main ways you communicate and what you can do to improve each of them:
- Write brief emails, to the point.
- Email is good for brief communication that does not require a lot of back and forth and does not involve complex or emotional issues. If something involves emotions or very complex issues a phone call is probably better.
- Don't check your emails multiple times throughout the day. Stick to checking your emails two to four times each day.
- Process all emails completely when you check your email and make sure you have nothing left in your inbox after processing.
- Handle each email ONE TIME – the first time that you look at it. Either delete, archive, quickly reply, delegate, or for some important stuff that will take time to complete, you can put it on you to do list.
- Don't use your inbox as your to-do list. This is a common practice, but also an ineffective way of doing things. Also the experience of clearing your inbox every time you check your emails is a very relaxing and freeing experience.
- You can also improve your typing speed by taking a typing course.
- These services can be a productivity killer because they are usually set up to interrupt you. Anyone can contact you at any time. Try to minimize your time on them, perhaps use them only in certain time blocks through the day.
- If you're back and forth text chat conversation goes past, say 10 items, you are getting into the unproductive zone. At this point it would have most likely been faster to handle it in a phone call.
- Make sure that these services do not make sounds or pop up a message when new contacts are online or when they send you text messages. This is highly likely to distract you from your current task.
Phone calls can be inefficient for a couple of reasons. Firstly, you often have a back and forth when you can't catch someone at the right time and get their voicemail. They may then call you back and get your voicemail. Secondly, it's hard to do really quick phone calls. Usually you will end up chatting for a longer period of time than it would have taken to read an email on the topic.
However, there is some stuff that should always be handled via a phone call or an in-person meeting for example complex issues that require a lot of back and forth conversation and emotional hot button issues (misunderstandings can occur easily over email and tempers can flair).
Here are some more tips for the telephone:
- You don't always have to answer the phone! Depending on the type of work you do, you can leave your phone to go to voice mail at times when you are focused on other productive activities.
- It's very helpful if you start a call with the objective of the call: “The objective of this call is to ...” This keeps you and the other party focused throughout the call.
- You can also start a call by saying, “I only have five minutes, so I will have to go in a sec”. This is especially if you are answering a call from them. This gives you the ability to leave the conversation if you feel it is not productive, but you can always extend the conversation past five minutes if you feel it is a productive call.
Handling meetings is a huge topic by itself, and you can look at this article on More effective meetings, to delve into it further.
Meetings are a really effective way to communicate when you have a team that has lots of back and forth communication – five minutes here and there through the whole week. It can be more effective to hold a weekly meeting to cover these issues than to constantly interrupt the rest of the team throughout the week. These interruptions can be a big time waster in an organization and if done right, a meeting to replace a lot of these five minute interactions throughout the week is a very effective way of doing things. To handle this effectively all parties should make a list through the week of the things that they want to cover with the other person(s) in the meeting. Then in the meeting keep outcome focused: What is our objective? What's the next action step? and Who is responsible?
Don't make yourself too available
Finally, if you want to be more effective, look at what CEOs of fortune 500 companies do. Don't always be available! Have some walls between yourself and the outside world. If it's appropriate for your job, have someone answer your phone calls and “screen” people who want to get some of your time. Or if that's not possible you will need to do the screening yourself. You can schedule specific times throughout the day where you are available and other time blocks where you cannot be distracted.