Email is possibly the biggest time-suck for most of us. It's good to remind ourselves of the best practices now and then. I came upon this valuable post from 2011. The recommendations are as valid today as they were then.
Most people I know share a common complaint - too many emails! However, I observe many people creating extra work for themselves in their haste to plow through it all. The results include miscommunication, slow response times, and even more emails!
I'm generally on top of my emails and my inbox only contains the current day's messages. I doubt I'm any less busy than the average person, but I do follow a few simple tips.
- Think before you "Reply All"
A boatload of our extra email comes from people hitting the "Reply All" button, even when "All" of us don't need to see the message. Only use this feature when necessary.
- CC and BCC cautiously
A close cousin of the "Reply All" problem is the CC and BCC. Copy someone who doesn't need to be copied and you risk having them add more unnecessary emails to your inbox.
- Read carefully before responding
A lot of unnecessary email traffic comes from people sending partial responses to emails. In their haste to reply, they may miss a key detail. For example, I recently emailed a friend who invited me over for dinner to let her know I was available on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday. I asked her to choose the day that worked best for her and her husband. She replied, "We can't do Friday, but we can do Saturday or Sunday." Ugh - now I have to send a second message and she'll no doubt send a reply. Two additional emails would have been avoided if she had simply selected the day that worked best for her.
- Write concise but thorough messages
Think of a question your recipient may have about your email and include the answer in your message. A short, well-written email leads to less back and forth which ultimately reduces your email load.
- Describe what you want in the first paragraph
Make it easy for your recipient to understand what you are looking for. Put any request for action or information in the first paragraph of your message so it won't be missed.
- Email isn't for conversations
Look at the messages in your inbox and see how many are from the same conversation. Do you need to discuss something with a colleague? Pick up the phone and knock it out.
- Write descriptive subject lines
The subject line should give the reader a clear idea of what the message is about so he or she can determine how quickly to read it. A descriptive subject line also reinforces what you are asking the reader to do.
- Set rules to automate email management
Outlook and many other popular email programs let you set rules to automatically manage certain types of emails. For example, you can have all your email newsletters automatically routed to a "Reading" folder that you can check once or twice a week. This unclutters your email box and allows you to get to those lower priority items when you have a free moment.
- Use one program to manage all your email addresses
Many of us have multiple email addresses, but that doesn't mean we can't get all our messages in one place. This allows you to manage just one email inbox instead of several. I have rules set up in Outlook that route messages sent to my secondary email addresses to special folders so they don't get mixed in with messages sent to my primary account.
- Check email only a few times per day
Constantly checking your email every time a message arrives is a huge distraction and productivity drain. Instead, set aside blocks of time to focus on email and power through your messages. Force yourself to make a decision about each message (respond, file, or delete) rather than just leaving it sitting in your inbox for later. You'll find this approach allows you to write better messages, get fewer responses in return, and dramatically reduce the number of emails in your inbox.