13 Jul “What If You Had To Pay $1 For Every Email?”

overloaded with email on phoneDuring a routine day at work, my colleague Brian stopped by to say hello and talk about a few day-to-day items on his list. As we were wrapping up our discussion, I rudely checked my email. As he started to walk out, he paused and asked me a thought-provoking question: “What if you had to pay $1 for every email?”

I immediately stopped what I was doing and started to ponder the question. What if I really had to pay $1 for every single email that I sent or read? I thought, “Would newsletters end? Would Skype, Facebook Messenger, and Google Hangouts become even more popular?” As I continued to think about it, I remembered two really embarrassing email moments.  I’ll share them with you only to make a point.  No judging.

Back in 2010, I was having a conversation with someone in accounts receivable about an invoice that we had to send to a company. We corresponded back and forth through email regarding a situation for at least 6 solid days. Unfortunately, at the end of those emails and six days later, we still hadn’t come to a solution. Have you ever found yourself trapped in this type of email conversation?

The next day, my boss politely called me to schedule a time that the three of us could meet in person, in order for him to help facilitate a discussion. Before we met, he printed a copy of our email string, stapled together the papers, and then used it as our handout.  Truth be told, it actually looked more like a book. (The email string was 20 pages long.)

After the meeting, my boss privately and respectfully asked me a pointed question.  “Would you do anything differently next time?” I painfully admitted, “Definitely. I would have had a 15-minute phone conversation first, which would’ve saved me the efforts of 6 days of email, as well as the time we took for this in-person meeting.”   He smiled, and I smiled,  and we left it at that.

Today, I ask myself, “What if I had to pay for $1 for each email that I sent or received?” If I would’ve been asked this question back then, I would’ve saved $20. Additionally, our email string wouldn’t have went past a simple “Hello, can you send me some days and times that work for you to schedule a phone call about this issue? Thank you!”  

My second email fiasco was in 2014.  I was frantically going back and forth between emails, colleagues dropping by, text messages, customer conversations, and voicemails. The end of the day was rapidly approaching and I had yet to complete that one very important task that I needed to accomplish. Have you ever found yourself in that same agonizing predicament?

My must-do task was to send my managers and my team leads an updated list of each of their own respective departments’ secure human resources information. The updated list included compensation. Instead of a sending each manager and team lead their own separate document, I regrettably sent the entire document to all 10 of them. Unfortunately each manager and team lead could see everyone else’s compensation. When I realized what had just happened, I put my head down and felt like a complete idiot.

I started to think about what I would do differently the next time. Clearly, I needed a change to prevent something like that from happening again. I realized that because of the importance and the urgency of my task at hand, I definitely should have just shut my door. My door would be closed the next time.

Today, I would ask myself, “What if I had to pay $1 for every email that I sent or received?” In this situation, 10 recipients at one time would’ve been $10. If that was the case, I probably wouldn’t have hit send so quickly. Instead, I would’ve carefully performed each step to send 10 different emails to my 10 unique managers and teams leads.

Don’t misunderstand,  I’m not saying email is bad. Could you imagine what life would be like if we had to send all communication by hand with the self-licking stamps? In fact, I strongly believe that the advantages of email outweigh the downside. The greatest benefits of email are increased efficiency (speed of delivery, no business hours) and reduced cost (no print costs, less meetings)… so I’m a fan.

On the other hand, email creates busy work (checking constantly), a chance for a lack of clarity (written poorly), and unintentional perceived emotions.

Again I ask… What if we had to pay $1 for every email that we sent or received? Would we minimize some of our self-inflicted email wounds? Would we send and receive less SPAM? Would we stop bcc’ing people to rat them out? Would organizational work-flow change for the better? Would productivity increase? Would we have less busy-work? Would we  “take a minute” before hitting send? Would we actually collaborate in person or over the phone with real live people? Would we once again start talking about email as being a positive thing (like we did when it first became popular in the late 90s)?

ACTION: Ok. So maybe we’ll never have to pay $1 for every email. But what if you simply asked yourself that question before you sent every email? Grab a post-it note and a pen. Write the following question on the post-it: “What if I had to pay $1 for every email that I send?” Stick the question on your computer monitor. For the next 21 days, make it a habit to think before you press “send.”

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