Back to the Basics of Business

When asked about his secret for success, Lee Iacocca – the American automobile executive and former CEO of Chrysler Corporation – is often credited with saying, “I open all my mail and I return all my phone calls. The rest is luck.”

The quote emphasizes the importance of staying on top of one’s communications and responsibilities, and suggests that success in business can be aided through the seemingly simple or even mundane protocols of the workplace.

Let’s think about that for a minute. 

In today’s world, we often find ourselves in endless, back-to-back meetings, neglecting our own workload and leaving precious little time to reply to important emails or accept phone calls. 

A Harvard Business Review article states:

“We surveyed 182 senior managers in a range of industries: 65% said meetings keep them from completing their own work. 71% said meetings are unproductive and inefficient. 64% said meetings come at the expense of deep thinking. 62% said meetings miss opportunities to bring the team closer together.”

With little or no time between meetings, actually doing our work and truckloads of email, how do we stay on top of business communications like email and phone calls?

Of course, mail is a different thing from mail in Iacocca’s day. Our in-boxes are stuffed with solicitations, spam, group email where everyone is simply cc’d for the sender to cover their own, umm, bases. Many of you have taken vacation for a week only to return to 300-500 emails – or more! 

As far as returning phone calls, it’s hard to tell if an unknown number is a call about extending your car’s warranty or something important like a potential new client. 

Industrialist and philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie said, “Time is the only thing we can’t get more of, and once it’s gone, it’s gone forever. That’s why it’s so important to make the most of every moment we have. In business, this means being organized, efficient, and focused on the tasks that really matter.”

So, how can we better manage our “in-between” time?

For backlogged email, these tips might help:

  1. Set up an out-of-office message before you leave.
  2. Weed out the advertising and other unnecessary stuff first.
  3. Use filters for high-priority senders.
  4. Make a catch-up folder.
  5. Practice “last in, first out.” 
  6. Resist the urge to delay responses.

And for phone traffic?

  1. Update your Voice Message while on vacation 
  2. Make sure your voice Mailbox is cleared of backlogged messages regularly
  3. Make sure your important numbers are logged into your phone and answer if you can rather than letting the call go to VM
  4. Return calls promptly to get them off your “to-do” list

You may not be able to limit your daily meeting time, but you may be able to better manage email and phone calls. In the end, it’s the email and phone calls that will create business connections, strengthen communication skills and reveal opportunity.

Remember this:

“Success in business requires training and discipline and hard work. But if you’re not frightened by these things, the opportunities are just as great today as they ever were. The phone call, the email, and the letter will always be the basic tools of business. If you master their use, you will master business.” ~ Richard Branson