DO: Follow up a phone conversation with an email restating action items agreed to on the call.

DON’T: Follow up the email with another email asking for a status update on the first email.

Email makes our lives much more efficient. In the business world, it’s probably also the Number 1 reason why things don’t get done. I try to only use email if I am sending an attachment, following up a phone call, or trying to get someone’s attention anyway I can. I might also send an email if the message I am sending is not critical or if my intent is to stall. In any other case I am going to pick up the phone. Here is why:

1. Email is avoidable - Sure, phone calls are as well, but less so. For some reason, people have a greater tendency to pick up a ringing phone, even if it means interrupting the work they are doing at the time.

2. Email piles up and can easily get overlooked or lost - I hate to admit it but sometimes I will check email on my smart phone when traveling or having lunch and will forget to follow up on information I received. It’s also easy to mistakenly delete an email or just pass it by. I’ve seen people with hundreds of unread messages in their email - those people will probably spend less than a minute on each. In most cases I want their attention for a longer amount of time.

3. Phone calls are much more efficient - Phone calls can replace 8 to 10 email exchanges over the course of several days with a 5 minute conversation.

4. Emails are informal - Email does not convey intent or importance the way a phone call does. Overall I find that email sets the tone not just in communications but in the overall project as well. If I am working with a supplier or business partner that prefers to communicate via email it tells me they are taking a passive approach to the project we are working on together. I’m going to find a way to use that situation to my advantage, or better yet, find a supplier that is proactive.

Conversely I find that if I use the phone for most day to day communications with the people I work with, they take me and the project I am working on much more seriously. Not to mention you also get much less scripted information out of the person you are talking to, which can often lead to opportunities.

Email does have a role in project management - the primary purpose is to document a conversation or provide supporting materials (reports, spreadsheets, etc). And no, recent college grads - texting is not the same thing as a phone call. Even if you put an OMG at the end.
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Joe Payne

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