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How To Fight The Reply-All Tornado

Pim de Morree
Written by Pim de Morree June 22, 2022

So, we write a monthly column for MT/Sprout, a Dutch media platform. Last month, we wrote about how our agendas are always packed full with meetings. We followed that with this month's column about how replacing all these meetings with e-mail is not a good alternative. Why? Because there is a big chance you will waste even more time and money. Allow me to explain.

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You probably know the quote: "I survived a meeting that should've been an e-mail." You can buy coffee mugs, notepads, and even official certificates with that text. In our previous column, you read that although we are definitely skeptical of too many meetings but we don't have mugs on our desks saying so.

That's because while there are indeed far too many meetings in our agenda, e-mail is just not a good substitute. In fact, there's a good chance you'll waste even more time going the email route.

To prevent this from happening, we suggest two things: don't check your email and stop clicking reply all.

Reply-all

Imagine: you are focused at work, getting things done (though no one has notice yet), and inching closer to accomplishing some big goals for the week.

Then you decide to check your email.

You have eight new e-mails—six of which you immediately recognize as completely ignorable due to who sent them.

One particular email from a colleague was sent to you plus fourteen others. You immediately realize that this email is not relevant to you either, so you let it go.

At that same moment, the first reply to that email comes in. And although it is not related to your project, you know you don't really agree with what they said. You ignore it for the most part, get a cup of coffee, and then get back to work.

When you come back, you see that two more people have replied. They "strongly agree" with the first previous email. What? Are we really going to do this? Before you know it, you yourself have replied to let them know that you see it differently.

Congratulations: you have now become an active part of the reply-all tornado that has absolutely nothing to do with what you want to achieve for the rest of the day. Yep, you're now going to be checking your email for all the meaningless, distracting replies, because what if someone has a response to what you said? What if it veers off into something else? What if it turns into a weird, irrelevant, passive aggressive argument? Doesn't matter, you're now locked in.

And now your productivity has been wiped out. Thanks, reply-all.

Fifty emails a day

And now for some numbers. Research shows that it can take up to 20 minutes to get engaged and back to work after being interrupted by email.

At the same time, the average employee receives and/or sends more than 50 emails a day. And it's not too uncommon for that number to reach 100. That is bad.

But even if it were only 10 emails a day, that's still 10 potential opportunities to be distracted.

Don't check your email

Back to the reply-all tornado. Could you have prevented that? Well, yes, you could have prevented it by not replying. But you know what else could have prevented it? Not reading the first email at all.

That is why we decided to add the task of checking our e-mail to our agendas. We turn notifications off and refrain from viewing our inbox for the rest of the day.

We have experimented with different times of day and we recommend checking your email at the end of the day. Because you are more tired and perhaps even a bit over it, which makes you more critical.

This means you are less likely to say yes to all kinds of requests—or reply with a full essay, including subheadings, in which you roll out your detailed, exhaustive vision of the company that literally no one asked for.

With this approach, do we ever mis something? No, not really. You do sometimes have people who expect an answer to their e-mail in less than a day, but those are exactly the people you can keep waiting a little longer. They'll live.

Also, are you regularly annoyed because a colleague always responds to your e-mail at a certain time of the day? Then you should assume there is something wrong with how you communicate, because your colleague is not doing anything wrong.

Is your message worth 40 euros?

In case you decide to respond to emails in your inbox—within the dedicated time you have reserved for it in your agenda—for heaven's sake: don't use the reply-all button.

Just don't do it. You distract all those people from their work. If it's 14 people, that means up to 280 entire minutes of distraction.

If you converted this amount to the average hourly wage in the Netherlands, it would cost around 120 euros. Now make it even just a third of that amount, then ask yourself: is this message worth 40 euros? We don't think so. Do you?

Use your desk instead

Reply-all essentially means you are demanding the attention of all recipients. So, before you hit the reply-all button, ask yourself: Would it be appropriate to stand on my desk and shout this across the room for everyone to hear?

If the answer is no, then don't use the reply-all button.

And if the answer is yes: then by all means, go stand on that desk! That's definitely more fun for everyone.

How To Fight The Reply-All Tornado
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Run better meetings

Want to learn concrete steps on how to run better meetings?

You can take it all in through our recently released, on-demand meeting course we've (profoundly) titled "Run Better Meetings" at our Corporate Rebels Academy. We recommend you take a look.

Written by Pim de Morree
Pim de Morree
As co-founder of Corporate Rebels I focus on: researching, writing, speaking, and building our company.
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