With the weather at a balmy 72 degrees, spring cleaning fever struck at our house this past weekend. Closets, garage, library. New hangers for the suits. Unworn clothes donated to charities. New organizers for the odds and ends. Updated photos in the frames.
Like my closets and garage, maybe your inbox could profit from the same kind of audit. When and what should you stop communicating?
Yes, you heard that right. From someone who typically advocates that executives and managers should communicate, communicate, communicate, some people mistake sending information as a substitute for real communication—that is, translating that information to make it relevant to the recipient.
But that’s an entirely different topic. My focus here is suggesting communication tasks to stop doing so that you have time, energy, and attention for the more important. At least once a year, do a communication audit and decide what you can stop sending, reading, or meeting about:
Stop sending all those transmittals that basically say, “Here it is”: If you’re sending a routine report, spreadsheet, or update, there’s no need to bore your reader with a template transmittal that says nothing new. Just attach the document with an informative subject line about what’s attached: “Attached—April Update on the XYZ Project.”
Get off others’ distribution lists: If you routinely get reports, journals, ezines, spreadsheets, or meeting minutes that you no longer want or need, reply to tell the sender you no longer have need for them or simply unsubscribe. That’s far better than letting your inbox fill to overflowing, dragging them into a folder to read when time, and feeling stressed because you’re always “behind in your reading.” The bonus for others is that if everyone opts out, they’ll no longer have to prepare the report.
Verify that your own outgoing documents are still needed: Just because someone asked you to compile a report or spreadsheet two years ago doesn’t mean they still need that information. The document may have outlived its purpose. At least once a year, send a note to the requester to verify that the information is still necessary.
Eliminate formal performance appraisals: Both bosses and their employees dread them. If you do them well, they take time to prepare and to document after the actual discussion. Feedback serves both people involved far better when given immediately and informally throughout the year as occasions arise.
Rework confusing templates and forms: If you use template emails or letters to communicate with customers or coworkers in other departments about routine processes, do they accomplish the purpose? Are they clear or do they generate questions? If you use forms to collect information, do people complete them correctly? If not, what can you do to improve the form and eliminate follow-up calls and rework for yourself?
Add answers to frequently asked questions to your website or intranet in a FAQ section: Stop wasting valuable time repeatedly explaining routine information.
Record standard information with an extra menu selection on your phone greeting. If you routinely find yourself giving out the same information about directions to your building, hours you’re closed for lunch, or payment plans, record that information and make it a menu option on your phone for callers to select at will without distracting you from more important projects.
In short, make spring cleaning an annual event—even if it happens in the summer, fall, or winter.
Dianna Booher, an expert in executive communications, is the author of 46 books, published in 26 countries and 20 languages. Her latest books include Creating Personal Presence: Look, Talk, Think, and Act Like a Leader and Communicate with Confidence, Revised Edition. As CEO of Booher Consultants and as a high-caliber keynote speaker, Dianna and her staff travel worldwide to deliver focused speeches and training programs to address specific communication challenges and increase effectiveness in oral, written, interpersonal, and organizational communication. www.booher.com