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I was recently listening to a friend vent about being asked to volunteer her time at an organization we are both passionate about. She was recruited to play a key role in a pivotal 2021 initiative for this organization. The request to volunteer came in the form of an email delivered Monday, January 4, 2021, a day when her kids were still home from school and she was attempting to balance work and home responsibilities. Everyone was coming out of holiday mode and getting their plans in place for the week/month/year. Overwhelmed, she closed the email, feeling frustrated and a bit guilty. The email was crucial to the success of a really great project, but the timing of the communication might have truncated the overall success of the initiative. Key communication considerations could have made a difference. This is because when and how you communicate will impact the overall message.

Timing Consideration is Time Well Spent

Thankfully, driven by her commitment to the cause, my friend did revisit the request and ultimately accepted the role. But, as we discussed, there were probably others asked to play a role in the initiative who never returned to their Monday email. How many times have you received an important communication late on a Friday afternoon? Was the sender, though honestly simply trying to get something off his to-do list before the end of the week, limiting his potential? Would he have been better served holding the communication until Monday afternoon when his audience was more engaged? Did he give appropriate weight to the timing of the task, or was he simply driven to complete a task, shoehorning in a communication that would have been more effective in achieving goal attainment had he given appropriate weight to the timing.  

Technology Can Do the Thinking and Execute the Smart Timing

Social sites like Facebook have algorithms that will tell you when the best time is to post for your business. Email platforms like Hootsuite and Mailchimp will also guide you to the best times of day to deploy emails and post blog content to garner optimal interaction.

I’m passionate about setting personal boundaries to optimize personal productivity, but I know there will be times when we choose to spend time on the weekend getting caught up. Contrary to what you may believe, most supervisors and clients will not be impressed with you sending them an email over the weekend. And, many will not even read it over the weekend. If you oversee a team, members may feel compelled to respond when they see an email come in after working hours or over the weekend. This could convey your disregard for personal boundaries. Instead, try using a software scheduling tool to queue the email for appropriate deployment timing.

  • Automater is an Apple Utility available on all Macs
  • Gmail has a scheduling tool
  • Outlook has a send later function

Give Thought to How You Want to Communicate

Got something to say? Bursting at the seams to get it out there? Or maybe dreading to relay something you know isn’t popular or something that is uncomfortable? When it comes to platforms for communication there is no one-size-fits-all. And, to be certain, some “sizes” might do more damage than good. There are volumes of books on effective communication, but I’ll share some basic points here I believe to be most relevant to our discussion today. These are ones we can tie directly to personal productivity.

When Verbal Communication Trumps Written Forms

Texting has become socially acceptable in most business, and can be an efficient way to convey information. And email is still a staple communication tool. But there are times when a phone call, virtual meeting or face-to-face encounter is the best option. Consider the following:

  • If you have sensitive information, such as bad news or constructive criticism, it is better to pick up the phone and call the person(s). Sensitive information isn’t designed for texts, chats or email messages.
  • If what you need to communicate could result in an extremely long text or email, pick up the phone, walk over to the person, or schedule time to talk face to face. We all deal with information overload; messages can get lost in the text. We’re conditioned to quickly scan written information looking to grab the info nuggets. (Which is one reason why bulleted points are so effective.) And many of us often naturally scan long email text for questions we may need to answer. But in doing so, we may jump past other information we could benefit from.
  • If you find you are having a hard time drafting a written communication, this should be your clue to go verbal. Choose instead to use a phone call, video conference or in person meeting. A “hard time” might be putting something in context or anticipating what the recipient of the communication might counter with or question.

Beware of the Pitfalls of Social Media

As I’ve written previously, I do see value in social media, but my endorsement comes with caveats, the first being that these platforms can be a huge time suck with devastating effects on personal productivity. When you choose to post on social media:

  • be sensitive to the wide range of readers who may come across your communication.
  • don’t assume everyone you intend to reach regularly visits social media platforms.
  • remember that your personal posts can influence your professional reputation.
  • unless it is a part of your business, steer clear of politics.

When we are Using Written Communication

Well-written communication is crucial in modern business. Effective team communication can be the difference between a successful, productive team effort and a poor, at best, or tragic, in its worst form, collective output. When writing:

  • Use a strong, descriptive subject line for emails.
  • Keep email messages short and to the point. Consider separate emails to cover distinct topics.
  • Keep paragraphs short.
  • Use bulleted points.
  • When topics meander from the original email, use a different subject line or start a new communication string.
  • Text messages should always be short. Go ahead and make the call if you’ve got something lengthy to communicate.
  • Avoid using a return to start a new “paragraph” in a text. Many recipients read the text without opening it and may not realize there is more in the body.
  • Keep in mind that anything you put in writing can be forwarded or saved.

With Any Mode of Communication Consider Your Audience

Always consider the audience when putting your communication together. It may be something on your to-do list, but, by design, the communication will impact the recipient in some way. Where will the recipient be when they receive the communcation? And how would you anticipate your audience’s frame of mind to be when receiving the communication? If you’re deploying something on a Friday afternoon, will what you send be helpful to someone getting ready to transition into a weekend? Will it even be read? Perhaps it does make sense if there is an early Monday morning meeting the recipeint should be prepared for, but, because they may be off email by this time, a text might make more sense.

Also consider holidays and significant news events when deciding what, when and how you communicate. The term “tone deaf” has taken on new meaning in our modern age for this very reason. A post complaining about the cancellation of your weekly gourmet food delivery service isn’t likely to go well if you’re in the middle of an ice storm and your audience has no heat or electricity. An email admonishing a vendor for missing a deadline will win you zero points if said vendor has had to shut down production due to an outbreak during a national pandemic. Calling a client in a city facing a crisis and making no reference to the crisis will convey a lack of empathy and could be poor timing simply given the circumstances.

Thoughtful Consideration Will Improve the Output of Your Communication

Business is built on collaboration and communication is the heart of successful collaboration. When you’ve got something to say, don’t let how or when you say it take from the overall message. Key communication considerations will make you a better communicator. You will be more influential, effective and, yes, even entertaining, if that’s what you’re going for, if you think about your audience, anticipate their frame of mind and consider the overall context.

Sara Genrich is a Productivity Consultant, an Evernote Certified Consultant and the creator of the Organizing@Work for Success Workshop.  She’s committed to providing real-life solutions so her clients have time to focus on the things that really matter.

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