There was much-ballyhooed edict from Greg Dyke when he took charge of the BBC.
Fans of W1A need not look away now.
“Cut The Crap,” Dyke declared.
An order, of sorts, after balking at an organisation full of well-meaning individuals but where emails and meetings and endless communication trials threatened to grind the important business of the day to a halt.
It had become impossible to sort out the wheat from the chaff. Thousands of hours of valuable time wasted. Simply because of TMI – Too much Information.
And even though it’s now been a quarter-century since the inbox was popularised, the problem is getting worse, not better.
While 306 billion emails were sent and received each day in 2020, the figure is expected to increase to over 361 billion by 2024.
And yet how much of that electronic ping-pong is instantly deleted – or simply left unread.
An astonishing 40 percent of employees wish they received less traffic into their email management software, according to a survey conducted by Adobe.
Add to that shock figures from email marketing platform Reachmail which discovered that 70 percent of us check work email after 6pm, and 58 percent will respond to it within one hour – outwith normal business hours.
The same wastage applies to meetings and phone conversations. According to a New York Times poll, 67 per cent of those have no clear agenda heading into meetings and 64 per cent of us do not contribute to the ones we attend.
So what are the rules of the game to have a more productive work schedule and a less crowded Trash?
1. Less is More
Stop! Don’t send it.
Scroll back. It’s that easy.
Not all of it obviously. But think twice before even hitting ‘Compose’. So many business communications are undertaken with great intentions but zero purpose.
Is there a valid outcome from the action? That’s an intrinsic part of the decision-making process in so many other aspects of business and organisational life.
The reality is the fewer emails we send, the less we receive. To reduce email traffic, start with yourself.
In particular, those needless acknowledgements like ‘Thanks!’ or ‘Received!’ which compel someone else to cut away from their work to deal with a message … of no use, whatsoever.
But the greatest gain? Mind your ccs. If someone doesn’t need to be copied in … then don’t. Even if they were on the original correspondence.
There’s a phrase for messages that aren’t relevant: Junk Email.
2. Make some rules
For the good of our work-life balance, answering emails and messages in bed at night which could otherwise be dealt with in the morning is unhealthy. We should all recognise the importance of switching off.
Using an out-of-office isn’t just for holidays. An auto-response will manage expectations too, lifting the pressure that comes with feeling the world will fall apart if you don’t answer straight away.
There are alternatives. Like deploying an inbox management service or a virtual PA to filter out the urgent from the unnecessary. Some companies have found that a better approach to email can add thousands of hours per year to their collective productivity. Which means more time for valuable work.
Have a weekly clear out too. As Kirstie and Phil keep telling us, it’s vital to de-clutter on a regular basis if you want to retain space and avoid carrying excess. If you’ve an email overload, set aside 15 minutes each week to delete and delete some more and move the good stuff into an organised folder.
3. Get to the point
Waffle is the enemy of engagement. Our brains – even the Nobel prize- winning kind – only have so much processing capacity. Our attentions only last so long.
Better, thus, to make one point well and hammer it home than attempt to make six and conjure up such an overload that no-one remembers anything of note.
Reveal. Reinforce. And Repeat. Make every single word count. Whether it’s in a meeting, a presentation or an email, remember that we are all time-poor and that clarity saves precious time later on.
The panacea is when everybody understands first time. So by keeping it simple and focusing on a single point of emphasis rather than several at once, your chances of an effective business communication rocket upwards.
Sometimes, a second pair of eyes can help. Outsourced document production will prepare interactions like Powerpoints or manuals and really hone in on the messaging and what you want your outcomes to be.
4. Avoid cascading
A term beloved in one major UK bank before it came to its senses. Remember your audience and deliver communications specific to them.
A grand pronouncement by a chair of the board to his executive team will have vital strategic knowledge. But subsequently, that needs translation to convey what it means in practice for a client-facing team member – so that the all-important customers aren’t the ones left bamboozled.
Playing a game of Chinese whispers won’t pass on the correct information. Neither will a grand pile of steaming jargon. Instead, it creates an opt-out from colleagues when it comes to taking on board important news and learnings.
Don’t forward on and assume that it is message received and understood – and acted upon.
Re-write or explain the points which matter specifically to the person in front of you.
5. Don’t bore me, tell me a (interesting) story
There’s nothing worse in life than feeling bored.
Nothing kills good communication more easily than being dull and lifeless, whether it’s a memo, a speech or a document.
Even in the work environment, we want to be thrilled and surprised. It motivates and enlivens. Pricelessly, it ensures what we say is remembered long afterward.
It doesn’t have to be a funny cat video or a witty anecdote to make Michael McIntyre purr.
But in business, as much as life, make me smile and I’m buying it.