Email dominates every waking minute of our day – but only if we let it. Instead of pursuing the elusive and utopian Inbox Zero, try these incremental changes to restore some sanity to your professional email correspondence. Master these tips and your professional network will thank you.
- Remove that comically long email signature after the first message. This makes it easier for you and others to scan a long email string for a specific piece of information buried somewhere in the conversation. If anyone needs info contained within your email signature they can still find it by scrolling down to the initial message.
- Use deadlines to help others understand your intended timeline for completion. Include a simple sentence like, “My goal is to have this complete by 4 p.m. today.” Avoid vague phrases like “ASAP” that tend to create confusion regarding expectations for completion. Communicate specific deadlines to make sure everyone is on the same page.
- Use the Drafts folder. Not sure about the tone of an important message? Worried your message might come across the wrong way? Save it to the Drafts folder and revisit the next morning or even the next week. After sleeping on it for a few days you might think better of sending the email and opt instead for a phone call or in-person meeting.
- Consider batching your email times so you can focus on important-but-not-urgent projects. Completing long-term projects requires periods of uninterrupted focus, and constantly checking and replying to emails makes this nearly impossible. Unless your job requires truly constant monitoring, have the confidence to close down the email and focus on one thing at a time.
- When emailing a group, specify which recipients you are expecting to take action. The more people copied on any given message the less likely anyone will respond. What often happens is everyone assumes someone else is going to answer the question or complete the task. This is similar to outfielders having a protocol for handling fly balls that land between positions. Clearly stating what action you expect recipients to take will also avoid unnecessary follow up emails.
- Avoid using Bcc except for rare occasions. Using the blind carbon copy feature is perceived by many as devious and even conniving. Be transparent about your communication and avoid using the Bcc feature. The rare exception is when you’re emailing a large group and don’t want to expose everyone to a potential reply all chain.
- Assume your message will be read by people it was not intended for and keep this in mind as you’re drafting the message. Out of convenience — and sometimes out of carelessness — people will forward emails to others you did not intend to read the original message. This can cause confusion and embarrassment for the original sender who wrote the message specifically for the intended recipient. Similarly, practice good email etiquette and ask the original sender before forwarding to new recipients if you have any doubts about the intended privacy of the message.
- Stop sending non-urgent emails after work hours. Replying to emails at 11 p.m. is not impressing anyone — you’re only contributing to the work/life balance issues that tend to bubble up in any professional work environment. Clarify expectations with colleagues and supervisors ahead of time. If replying outside of work hours is not expected then don’t make the problem worse. Relax, decompress, and pick it up the next day. Everything will be fine.
- Don’t be the first to reply to a group email. Let someone else initiate the perpetual reply all email chain, unless the email is specifically addressed to you. By the time you get around to answering the initial email it will likely be resolved without any involvement required of you. More often than not an email sent to a large group is merely for informational purposes. Chime in to an existing conversation only if you have something substantive to add. Of course, use your best judgment in all situations. There may be occasions where the sender wants to have confirmation of receipt.
Do you have additional tips for effective email communication? Leave your suggestions in the comments below.