Friday, January 06, 2012

Why such a short reply?

A physician friend with whom I have been corresponding wrote, after I sent a short reply to an email:

You have perfected the CEO art of short, succinct emails.  All CEO's I know can do this.  I can't.  Do they teach that art in CEO school?

My reply: 

It is a post-graduate course.

So, here's my philosophy on email, from the work environment, which tends to run over into personal stuff.  I never wanted to be the bottleneck in something that was going on.  I always figured that a quickly delivered short, responsive note was better than a delayed expansive one.

Also, when you get 500+ notes a day, it is important to answer each one as you read it.  If you hold it to think about, and then read it again, and then respond, you have doubled your intake folder and used up a lot of time.  This is a fundamental rule of time management: Whether a paper or electronic letter, or a phone message, deal with it the first time you read/hear it.  (Unless it is something that really requires a lot of research or thought.)

Also, email has now changed.  Its past virtue was that it was asynchronous.  No one expected you to reply right away.  Now, everyone has a PDA, and there is an expectation that you will be in touch all the time and responsive immediately.  If you don't give an answer, the person sends you another note 15 minutes later, asking if you got the first one.  Again, you have now doubled your inbox.

(This is one reason I rather publicly threw away my Blackberry when I was a CEO:   I wanted people to understand that I was not always available.)

Unfortunately, this has now carried over into personal emails, too.  If I didn't answer relatively quickly, you  would wonder if you offended me, or if I perceived you as unthoughtful, or whatever.  So, I tend to reply quickly and concisely.

Finally, as friends, we have lots going on back and forth during the day.  Just as would be the case if we were together, some responses during the course of the day would be short and some long.


e-Patient Dave said...

We've discussed this before - a CEO has people to whom things can be delegated, which creates the luxury of quickly dispatching everything that requires contemplation. Yes?

I'm wondering if there's a deeper level to this, which the delegatees can use too. We can all avoid saying more than needed, but is there another level?

Anonymous said...

Dave, I think the deeper level is to move away entirely from email as a primary form of work communication (home, is something else - one may keep in contact with many friends far and wide in that way). Dr. Halamka on his blog has discussed this same issue, and there is increasing 'data' on how using email becomes an end in itself rather than actually doing any work during the day.

I think if Paul or another CEO wants to use email as a way to say 'yes, go ahead and do it', then that's fine, but for anything more complicated than that, my experience was, pick up the d___ phone.