5 Ways to Finally Stop the Email Madness©

Lynda’s High 5 for Leaders:  5 Ways to Finally Stop the Email Madness©
By:  Lynda McNutt Foster

(Be sure to check below to see if you are the winner of March’s High 5 prize)

Courtland & Lynda April 2016It’s madness. The amount of emails executives are processing a day is nuts!  I was with one last month that gets about 300 a day.  Email is not the best place for conversations.  It’s really a medium to transfer information and it’s not really ideal for that if there is a pattern to the information and an app could organize it more effectively.

I can not count the amount of coaching sessions I have had where a manager or supervisor had spent the last day or two trying to interpret an email they got from their boss or a peer.  Maybe they hadn’t heard anything back from their boss on a request for a decision they sent via email.  Sometimes they received a response back but aren’t really sure what their boss meant by it.

Research taken from the book Conversational Intelligence by Judith Glaser notes that conversations are interpreted by us in this way:  7% by words, 38% by tone, 55% by non-verbal or body language.  In email, 93% of the interpretation is LOST.  If you do not have a relationship with someone, or worse, if you have a bad one, the way you interpret their tone is probably how you will label their intention and therefore the meaning of the email.

An email as simple as:

“Thank you.  What exactly do you mean by that?”

Depending on the relationship of that person with you, the positional power that person has over you, the culture of your department or company, could set you off on a quest for tone that could send the gerbil wheel off in your head for a day or more.   (Try reading it putting the emphasis on a different word each time, like, WHAT exactly do you mean… or what EXACTLY do you mean…or what exactly do you mean by THAT)

Email is costing most companies and organizations hundreds of thousands a dollars a year in lost productivity.    As I have been collecting data by taking surveys in our leadership classes for the last year, the average time that leaders say they are spending, during working hours, sorting and managing email threads is at least 2 hours a day.  If the cost of that leader with all of their benefits added in is only $50 an hour, that cost is $100 a day, $500 a week, and if they have 2 weeks vacation, that’s $25,000 a year… managing email.  Many of my client’s time is worth well above that hourly amount.  Some as much as $500 or much more an hour.  What’s interesting to me is that executives are believing they are being efficient by not having an assistant and handling all correspondence themselves.  The cost to the leader’s productivity and increased stress level of managing upwards of 100+ emails a day is hard to calculate in exact numbers.  It would appear to be very high, though.

So how do we work together to stop the madness?  Here’s 5 things to do this week to reduce stress, increase productivity, and manage your time more effectively when it comes to email:

  1. Create, if you have the power to, and if you don’t, suggest it to the powers that be, that you determine a list of “Rules of Engagement” for email with your department or organization as a whole.  Determine when email is required to be responded to, the boundaries around what should and should not be put in an email, who should be copied and who shouldn’t.  This is a big one.  If you send an email out that takes 2 minutes to read to 10 people that is 20 minutes of productivity time that has been eaten up not to mention the time it takes to understand whether or not each of the people is supposed to respond to it.  Some of the most successfully run companies in the world now have Rules of Engagement for email which they strictly adhere to.
  2. Stop, thinking you know the person’s tone or intention in sending the email. If you need interpretation, pick up the phone… yes, that dusty thing you only get texts and emails on now, and call the person for clarity.  It will actually save you time so you can work on the task being requested rather than trying to interpret what they mean.
  3. Start, creating a task list or better yet, put tasks on your calendar so you can start tracking how long they take. Don’t use your email inbox as a to-do list past a few days.
  4. Set times to check your email. Responses to people don’t have to be perfect.  Waiting days and days to get back to someone can delay processing of important projects and tasks.  If you don’t know and need to get back to them, say that and put it on your calendar to respond to them.
  5. Turn off the bells and noises that alert you that a text or email has come in. The sound is triggering your lowest level thinking in your brain stem/amygdala.  Not good.  Those bings and dings are actually lowering your IQ by 10-15 points during the day according to the research shown in Your Brain at Work by David Rock.

There is probably little chance you have not heard some of these before.  Why aren’t you doing it?  Why is everyone still so distracted by email?  You may not have the power to create the change you want to see.  I understand.  Perhaps passing this on to the folks that do could go a long way in starting a new wave of focus in your department or organization.

Suggested Team Exercise for this week:

Get serious about creating a list of “Rules of Engagement” for email within your department.  This may take a few shots at it to get it in alignment with your culture and it will certainly take quite a bit of follow up and policing to ensure compliance.  I can assure you that the effort will be worth it when you see the productivity increase and stress levels go down.


Courtland James, Executive CoachCourtland James, an Executive Coach with Cortex Leadership, did a fantastic job facilitating an open forum discussion with a panel on the Generational Divide event at the CoLab last Wednesday night.  Thank you, to each of you that attended.  There wasn’t a seat left!  Courtland was also interviewed on Fox21/27 in regard to the event. Thank you, Becky Freemal, for the great story.

Courtland also got married recently and the picture you see at the top of article is from his reception at the Colonnade Club at the University of Virginia on Sunday afternoon.  Congratulations, Courtland, you rock!


Will you give the gift of knowledge this week?©


People ask me frequently what the best book for them to read is.  I consume books, learning videos and articles about business and leadership like it was chocolate or something.  I’m lucky because it’s usually a client that asks and I know enough about what they want as far as their outcomes to suggest a book that will keep them moving forward on their path.

I thought I would throw out a few varied suggestions if you’re trying to think of a gift for yourself or a team member.

A subscription to Harvard Business Review.  Ask for this for Christmas!  If you want to know and use the latest research by the smartest people on the planet regarding leadership, order this subscription or beg a loved one or your boss to gift it to you.  I use this magazine constantly as a resource for the best research to create my launch lists, ebooks and course content.

How Google Works is a new one by Eric Schmidt, Jonathan Rosenberg, Alan Eagle.
I’m about half way through it and already have 3 launch lists I want to write about it and definitely is one of my favorite audiobooks of the year.  I haven’t finished it because I stop it like every 10 minutes to take a bunch of notes.  It’s not just a sort of bio on the company itself but it is kind of guide written by leaders that help build Google to what it is today.  So far, it has dissected Google’s hiring process in detail which explains how they recruited and developed such great team members.  It’s a book about how they built their culture and the methods you can steal to get the same results with your team.

10% Happier by Dan Harris
This book just makes you laugh the entire time.  In the audiobook version it is narrated by the author and it totally cracks you up!  It is the cynical and enlightening journey of Harris’ path to discovering a method of relaxation that he believes made him 10% happier.

Any of these books by Malcolm Gladwell are super interesting and good reads.
Outliers (my favorite), blink, The Tipping Pont, David and Goliath.
If you haven’t heard of him here’s who he is:  CLICK HERE.

Conscious Business, How to Build Value Through Values, by Fred Kofman.  It focuses on unconditional responsibility, unflinching integrity, authentic communication, impeccable commitments and right leadership.

The Power of Full Engagement, Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal.  This is a great one to read over the holidays to start your new year right!  Full of practical ways to focus on managing your energy which will help you optimize the time you want to invest towards your desired outcomes.

I wish for you the gift of grace this week.  Give grace to yourself for all that you do to serve others – whether you always demonstrate it perfectly or not.  Grace to those that are wanting to please and serve you.  They don’t always get it perfectly either.  Grace to those you love and care about.  Family relationships come with way too much history to get it right every time.

Merry Christmas, my friend.  You are a reason why mine is so very, very joyful this year, as I have received more grace from others than I could possibly every measure.


How will you manage silos in your workplace this week?©

Silos are naturally and necessarily created in work environments to house team members into groups that form departments and that are designed to lead to the alignment of authority, responsibility, and accountability.  Silos allow for executives to manage smaller teams that allow for them to create communities that focus on areas of expertise and specific work product creation and implementation.

All sounds great, right? Yep, until you need to innovate or become customer centric and organizationally focused.

A silo mentality can be defined as: A mind-set present in some companies when certain departments or sectors do not wish to share information with others in the same company. This type of mentality will reduce the efficiency of the overall operation, reduce morale, and may contribute to the demise of a productive company culture.


Three aspects to consider in the organizational silo barrier are:

  • Non-aligned priorities
  • Lack of information flow
  • Lack of coordinated decision making across silos

When these aspects are occurring it will be difficult to make the changes necessary to remain competitive and get the ultimate results you may need to achieve.

What's your strategy?

In the Harvard Business Review Article, The First Two Steps Toward Breaking Down Silos in Your Organization, Vijay Govindarajan makes the statement, “Companies don’t change because they want to. They change because they are forced to by customers, by competition, by advances in science and technology, and by government regulation. Only when change is being forced upon the enterprise will people seek, give, and accept help.”

So if you need team members who currently operate in silos to begin operating in a way that will lead to the results you want to achieve, you’ll need to:

  1. Make a compelling case for why innovation is necessary to the organization and for each of its members. It will need to be an interactive experience for the leader and team member’s that occurs in as many different forums and formats as possible. Change can’t be “someone else’s” job or need to happen because it was posted in an email or there was one tell and sell group gathering that happened. Nope, you are going to need to lead the campaign throughout the organization and take some serious time to connect with other leaders and their team members to make the message and vision stick.
  1. Create an agenda that develops a step-by-step guide that team member’s can follow to reach the vision you will communicate. You need to not only communicate the vision for better communications you need to demonstrate it by clearly articulating, in multiple ways, what you want to see in the culture of your organization. You need to be the catalyst by being the change you want to see. If you don’t start crossing the silo lines by being more transparent with information that can be shared, being inclusive in your mindset and more effectively interactive in meetings, don’t expect others to execute what you aren’t doing yourself.

TEAM EXERCISE this week:

Before your next team meeting, distribute these questions so that your team members have an opportunity, as do you, to consider their answers. When you get together do a round and allow each member to comment on the one that they think is affecting your organizational progress the most.

  1. What priorities do you or your department have that are not aligned with another’s?
  1. Put yourself in the place of the other silo—what would make that silo realize that your need was a priority?
  1. What information do you or your department have that could be useful to others?
  1. What information or assistance do you need from another silo that you are not getting?
  1. In what areas would increased collaboration and giving up some autonomy be more beneficial for the company than maintaining your individuality?

(Questions excerpted from How Excellent Companies Avoid Dumb Things by Neil Smith with Patricia O’Connell. Copyright © 2012)

Will you develop the skill of courage this week?

It can be scary. That moment when truth needs to be spoken to someone you work for. It can be down right terrifying to be in front of a board or group of your peers and need to deliver information and an analysis that you know they are not going to like and maybe not agree with.

Do you have the courage you need?Courageous action can have a big payoff if executed with careful deliberation and properly preparing to take it, though. Courage can look and feel a whole lot like stupidity.  Time may be the only measure of which one it was.

John McCain had a solid definition of courage: “That rare moment of unity between conscience, fear, and action, when something deep within us strikes the flint of love, of honor, of duty, to make the spark that fires our resolve.”   Google’s definition of courage is short: the ability to do something that frightens one.

Simply put – courage is all about feeling fear and doing it anyway.

Courage in business equates to high-risk decision-making, which tends to make some people run far away from it.   Successfully using courage can be a skill you can learn and that will improve with practice. Harvard Business Review posted Skill of Courage article in HBR“Courage is a skill” that you might find interesting and helpful.

To develop the skill of courage TRY THESE practices:

  1. Start with the end in mind. What is your desired outcome? Where do you want to be in 5 years? Will taking a particular action move you closer to what you ultimately want? Will taking action gain respect from those that can advance your career aspirations? Does the action have to be high-profile or can it be more subtle?
  1. Consider the power balance: Who is in your supportive power networks? Have you established a base of power which has nothing to do with your position? Are you building, establishing and influencing those around you? If you want or need to make a bold move, having strong networks in place can help.
  1. Weigh risks and benefits: To best calculate these you want to consider questions like, why are you pursuing this action now? Am I being impulsive? Do you need more preparation? Would waiting a day or two be beneficial or make a difference to the outcome you are hoping to achieve? Are you ready to take this risk from an emotional and mental perspective?
  1. Contingency plans: Do you have a plan if it doesn’t work? Are you prepared to try again? When? Are you prepared for the consequences? Will you or your team loose credibility? If you fail, is it possible to convert it into something positive?


Have your team consider these 12 qualities of courageous people from Inc. magazine: http://www.inc.com/ss/jeff-haden/qualities-remarkably-courageous-people

  1. Do you have the courage to believe the unbelievable?
  2. Do they have the courage to be patient?
  3. Can you say “no” to things that are not the right fit?
  4. Will you take an unpopular stand?
  5. Will you ask for help?
  6. Do you have the courage to show genuine emotion?
  7. How about the courage to forgive?
  8. Can you stay the course?
  9. Will you lead by permission and gaining respects from others?
  10. How often do you succeed through others?
  11. When do you say you are sorry?
  12. Do you have the courage to take the hit?

What action does your team need to make, or not make, that will take courage this week? How might you and others support them to build the skill of courage?

Testimonial from Mike Cagle, Executive Vice President, MB Contractors

Mike Cagle, MB Contrators“Sometimes it just takes the right tool and person to help you unlock your potential.  I had tried many of them before.  Then I met Lynda.  The techniques she uses and the way she teaches them have had a big effect on me and our company.  There’s no magic behind success, just faster paths than others.  What we learned has become our path to continued growth and success.  I hope it will for you, too.”   Mike Cagle, Executive Vice President, MB Contractors

How will you relate to others this week?©

The Power of TED*

Lynda’s Launch List

Making Shift Happen
by:  Lynda McNutt Foster

Relating to others has a great deal to do with your thoughts, feelings and behaviors according to David Emerald, author of The Power of TED* (The Empowerment Dynamic).  In fact, his research and concepts were recently endorsed by the internationally acclaimed author of Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert. HERE’s the post Elizabeth wrote about David.

There are two types of mindsets.

The Problem Orientation that results in the Dreaded Drama Triangle of roles that includes Victim, Persecutor, Rescuer and looks like this:

  • “Why me?”
  • Blame and Frustration
  • “It’s not my fault/responsibility”
  • Powerless
  • Burnout (anyone relate to this one raise your hand high!)
  • Perpetual fire drills (Can anyone say Quadrant I?)
  • Things don’t get completed and “Continuous Partial Attention”
  • Drama

The Outcome Orientation that results in the Empowerment Dynamic and includes roles like the Creator, Challenger and Coach and looks like this:

  • “I/we can do this.”
  • Satisfaction and energized
  • “What’s the next step?”
  • “Creative Exhaustion” (The good kind!)
  • Learn from mistakes (no more blame game)
  • Empowerment

Making the shift from a mindset of the Problem Orientation to one of empowerment can take some time and focus.  Intellectually knowing what to do and actually doing it can be quite the hike.  Progress, not perfection.

EXERCISE for your team this week:

1)  In what areas are you Outcome focused? These are people, projects and situations that team members feel empowered to create the outcomes they want to see.   When do team members are energized by the obstacles that arise and see opportunities and possibilities?   When are they feeling and thinking like a Creator while coaching and challenging themselves and their team members?

These are the “bright spots” that we discussed in last week’s Launch List article.

2)  In what areas are you Problem focused?  These are situations, people and projects that you always seem to react to and feel anxious about.  You pivot from frustration that manifests into persecuting yourself or others, or maybe rescuing or looking for a rescuer, or jumping right into the victim pool – yuck!

These are the areas where you need to ask yourself and team members, what do we want?

See if one of the bright spot areas can be applied to one of the problem focused areas.  Be creative.  Realize that you might not be able to see all angles of the situation from your perspective.  You might need outside assistance to find solutions to the situation.  Asking for help is a sign of intelligence and strength, not weakness.

BONUS TIP:  EMAIL FREAKOUT.  This is defined at the moment AFTER you hit SEND and you realize there is no way you should have done that.  No way to turn back the hands of time and get that puppy out of the cloud, right?  WRONG.  Thanks to my super smart and helpful friend, Joe Cluster with Goodwill Industries of the Blue Ridge, he helped me find a way to delay your sent messages so you COULD stop them before you made a really big mistake.


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