Communication is EVERYTHING! From investors and customers to partners and your employees, how you communicate affects not just who hears your message, but also how they feel about your mission.
Communication is the sister of leadership.?—?John Adair
There are a lot of perspectives and opinions about how often, with whom, and where we are supposed to communicate. At the end of the day, there’s no such thing as right, but it is evident that if you aren’t communicating and connecting ALL THE TIME, that you’ll be leaving opportunities on the table.
I don’t want you to leave ANYTHING on the table in 2017, so here are the ways I’ve hacked my communications in order to get the most out of every day and every medium.
Let’s dive into Part 3 of this series!
Where do you add the most value?
We need to start here. Are you a salesperson? Consultant that’s 90% client facing? A VC that reports to LPs, but needs to be in front of founders 95% of your time? Or a founder that is managing investors, customers, and employees all at once?
Depending on your answer, you’ll find that your required communications mix varies dramatically. Throughout my career, I’ve had to move between all of these priorities and have been struck by just how different the day to day communications needs are in every profession.
Here are my 2017 tips for managing the various communication mediums and the diverse requirements of the people you must interact with daily.
- Email is a necessary evil… and I hate that I’m admitting this
Email is miserable. I literally dread looking at my inbox, but after trying every extreme from being hyper-responsive to literally ignoring my inbox for years at a time (sorry Mom), I’ve come to the conclusion that if you don’t stay on top of e-mail, that you miss deals and all sorts of other opportunities. I’m not willing to do this any longer, so I’ve had to learn how to get on top of this dreaded daily drudgery.
Tip: Archive EVERYTHING! I’m not kidding. Similar to to-do lists, e-mail is a never ending reminder of stuff you ‘should’ get to. It’s like having a 10,000 pound, digital gorilla on your back that never goes away.
Even just planning to archive email made me feel like it was more possible to stay on top of it. Once I started actually archiving my work email box, I felt so much better! I made one mistake though… I archived 2 years, minus one month. I thought I could get to at least the last month of emails… right?
Tip: I wasn’t kidding. ARCHIVE ALL OF YOUR INBOX. If it’s important, it will fine its way back into your inbox. Do yourself a favor and hit the reset button. Since I archived my entire inbox, I’ve been at inbox zero at least 2–3 Xs a week! I’ve NEVER been at inbox zero and it feel gooooooood.
- Close your email client (webpage or native app) and open it at scheduled times throughout your day
I now schedule my day between three distinct flows: 1) work / meeting blocks, 2) email, and 3) social / creative blocks.
Work blocks are 1.5 hour blocks of time that I assign to a single function. I also use these blocks to swap for meetings when needed. I’ve also cut my meetings down to 30 minutes (guess what… nothing happened… except I got more time back in my day 🙂
Social / creative blocks are 21–30 minutes and are meant to still be productive time, but can be more random / less focused. Sometimes I use it to check Whale, Twitter, etc. and other times I work on my weekly content development or just read / watch a blog. It is simply meant as a break that reenergizes me for the next work block.
Email… ugh, email. Ha. I really hate it, but it’s important. So I dedicate these 2–3 blocks of time each day to open, focus, and plow through email. I’ve had to be a lot more ruthless. I will either instantly respond, instantly archive, or pin and schedule to come back to my inbox at a future time (if you’re not using an email client that let’s you push email into the future, fix that… I use Google’s Inbox but have also hear that Boomerang works). Make the decision as to what you need to do in order to get the email out of your inbox and just do it. Stop overthinking email!
- Unsubscribe or ‘unroll’ your emails that aren’t from a person (e.g. digests, newsletters, alerts, promotions, etc.)
All of us are on a TON of email lists, whether you remember signing up for them or not. Good news! There’s something you can do about it. Unroll.meis a free service that will go through your entire inbox and let you decide if you’d like to unsubscribe or ‘roll up’ the emails that really aren’t important into a daily digest that you receive once a day vs all day long. You can even schedule when you get it (AM, Noon, or PM). This puts you on email offense vs. being available whenever any company wants to send you their message or offer.
- Set expectations to everyone you need to communicate with
This one is tough because everyone you ‘need’ to communicate with has their own expectation of how often and which medium you should communicate through. The hardest for me was training my family and friends that I WILL NOT respond to my personal email addresses. It’s been almost three years now, so we’ve settled into other mediums like WeChat and Facebook’s Messenger, combined with a Sunday evening call w/ Mom.
With my staff, I made the mistake of not being clear about my dislike of email and a silly workaround emerged. My team would message me on WeChat to tell me that there was an email that I needed to respond to. That’s stupid and after too long, I realized that I needed to fix this inefficiency in my company’s work flow. This was MY mistake as the leader. Even if I don’t want to use email, which would be my prerogative, it’s my responsibility to set an alternative workflow and expectation with my team.
Externally, to customers or potential customers, is the most challenging expectation to set. You never know what deal may come in, so wholesale dropping email as a possible medium to get in touch has major draw backs. I thought that Dave McClure’s solution was the best I’d encountered (read below), but, I’m starting to second guess this now.
It’s important to set expectations, which this auto-responder does very well, but you also miss out on possible opportunities (unless he’s secretly watching this inbox as carefully as he does his Twitter DMs :). Based on his success to date, maybe Dave’s figured out something I haven’t… will have to ask him next time we hang out.
- Live asynchronously, meaning, communicate ON YOUR OWN TIME
This may seem obvious, but I’d bet that 95% of you reading this will have left the article before you got this far due to a notification or pop-up alert of some sort. This habit is SUPER destructive and sets a TERRIBLE precedent for anyone you need to communicate with. By reacting rapidly to inbound communications, you’re saying ‘I’m available anytime for you to INTERRUPT me!’
TIP: Turn off ALL notifications or, change your notifications so that they ONLY come in when you decide to open your device. I like to use Badge Icons only. Make sure to turn off the Alert Style When Unlocked at the bottom. Everyone always misses that part. Now do this for EVERY app on each of your devices.
You can apply this concept of living asynchronously to other aspects of your life too.
- Use voice memos vs live phone calls, emails, and texts
I do this ALL THE TIME. So many people are surprised to receive their first voice memo from me and ask me why I use this medium. It’s easy. I can say more in 60 seconds than I can type and my voice tells you a LOT more about my intention, mood, etc. than text. It also has the added benefit of working across time zones, which I have to do every day. Try it and let me know what you think.
What about all the other communication mediums?
Do yourself a quick favor and make a list or count how many different communication platforms you use every day. You’re probably like me and have 10+ different apps / platforms that you try to stay on top of daily. IT’S INSANE!
- Slack (5 organizations)
- Instagram (yes, now we have messages here too!)
- Snapchat (yep, messages in snapchat…)
- Medium comments
- Youtube comments (messages are coming soon too)
- Skype messages (why do people use this when you’re not in a call?)
- And all of the internal tools you use to talk to your colleagues like Asana, Salesforce, etc, etc, etc…
Tip: Prioritize the apps you want to invest your energy in and put them all in a single folder on your first home screen of your phone. Pro Tip: put it near the bottom left corner (or right depending on your preference) where your thumb can easily reach so that you open it more often and can check these platforms using one hand. Scrolling to other home pages or hunting for apps will decrease the attention you give them dramatically.
The problem is that all of these mediums aren’t going away. It’s actually more likely that we will have more, not less, by the end of 2017. The only way I know how to keep on top of all of the ways people want to connect with me is to make sure to find the time in the day (hence my social work blocks in my daily calendar). You also can get super efficient at using each app.
- LEARN THE GESTURES!
Every communication app has a slightly different User Interface (UI), but nearly 100% of mobile applications today utilize gestures, or swiping motions, to allow users to more easily access all of their features. These gestures allow you to quickly open, action, and move onto other platforms, so take the time to learn them now.