10 Tips for Conquering Email

conqueringemail

What affects productivity at work the most? What do we spend the most time doing both during work and out of the office, that takes away from our tasks and breaks our mental flow? The answer is email.

It’s a never ending spiral. When someone sends you an email, you have to take the time to respond, and then they take time to respond to you. One email creates a chain of consumed time, and we deal with lots and lots of emails on a daily basis. Obviously the solution isn’t to kill email – how would we circulate silly GIFs? Just kidding. We can take the time to improve our emailing etiquette however and be more considerate and efficient when blasting out messages.

You might think I’m joking with this blog post – but as an organization, we’ve taken steps recently to reduce the amount of time we spend emailing each other – it can really add up.

The Email Charter website contains a really succinct explanation of why email is such a problem. They’ve also provided solutions to the problem which I will take the time to talk about.

10 Tips for Conquering Email

1. Respect Recipients’ Time

If you read the problem section, you know that it takes more time to read an email than it does to write one. Why is that? If you send an email short and sweet like this, it may take you at most 2 minutes to write:

Dear John Appleseed,

We’ve finalized the client proposal, please take some time to review the 4-page pdf attached. If you don’t mind, could you also watch the video on their About page to make sure our proposal matches their mission and vision.

Cheers,
Emailer

It takes much longer than 2 minutes to go through a 4 page document and watch a video. If there’s more than 1 recipient on that email, each person takes that much time to go through the email and in the company as a whole a lot of time is wasted. Sure, these emails are necessary. Just make sure you are getting the point you want to get across without any extra fluff.

Re-read the email before sending it and make sure you are minimizing the recipient’s time.

2. Short or Slow is Not Rude

If someone takes a while to respond, they’re either busy, or taking the time to put that email together. They’re not just blatantly ignoring your email. It’s okay to take time to respond. Don’t just send out yet another email (unless it’s been an understandably long time of course).

3. Celebrate Clarity

Try to state what the email about is in your subject line and how important it is. Don’t use really long complicated sentences in the subject line, most email software, whether it’s on the web or desktop or mobile, truncates the subject line. Be succinct.

Some of the examples on this Email Charter website include using status categories like [Info], [Action] and [Time Sens] to give the reader an instant idea of what the email is about. I’ve started using [High], [Medium] and [Low] to denote priority levels in the emails I send across.

4. Don’t Use Open-ended Questions

When you respond to an email, don’t send back an open-ended question like “Thoughts?” or “How can I help?”. This requires the other person to write up yet another detailed email. Instead, you can include what those thoughts of yours were:

“Can I best by a)calling b)visiting or c)staying right out of it?” is an example provided by the makers of this email charter.

5. Don’t Include Everyone

Only cc people you really want to include in the thread or need feedback from. We’re quite guilty of overloading the cc field here at Treehouse, partly because we have group email accounts. So if there’s something that’s relevant to half the teachers at Treehouse, it’s easier for me to type the entire group email than each teacher’s individual email addresses.

Also, think twice about replying all. Company birthday emails – no need to hit reply all and clog up everyone’s inbox over and over again. Every single person has to either read the email again or take the time to delete it.

6. Tighten the Thread

When you reply to an email, there’s no need to include the entire previous email thread. Copy and paste the part that you want to move forward with or need clarified. This saves the recipients time, especially if there’s many of them (no unnecessary cc’ing!!).

7. Minimize Attachments

The original charter labels this “Attack Attachments”. That sounds a little too negative. Keep attachments to a minimum if possible. Attachments are hard to search for and get lost in the clutter, wasting even more time for all of us. If it’s a small amount of text, try including it in the body of the email so that you can read as you go.

Also, when sending attachments, make sure it’s in a format that people can probably open. Photoshop, Illustrator and other specialized programs may seem common to you, but you never know who doesn’t have it and then has to run around hunting for a solution to open your attachment. Believe me, it happens.

8. Use Acronyms

If the email is just a few words, put it in the subject line. This saves the reader from opening up the message to read a one liner. Use things like EOM (end of message) and NNTR (no need to respond) in the subject line to let your recipient know that the subject has it all.

9. Cut Contentless Responses

This is pretty simple. If you’re responding just to say “Great!” or “Thanks!” you really don’t need to. Once in a while that’s fine, but thanking them for every response probably hinders a sender more than it makes them feel appreciated.

10. Get Away from It!

Close that browser window! Quit that program! Don’t spend so much time answering emails and get more work done. If the question is really pressing, you can walk up to your colleague, assuming you’re in the same office of course. Or you can check your email every so often.

Conclusion

I try to check my email for 5-10 minutes every hour and a half. I only answer what’s pressing and leave the rest for the end of the day. So far it’s been great!

Just think, if everyone took the time to improve their emailing etiquette and respected each other’s time, we wouldn’t be getting those crazy-hit-the-deadline emails because we will have all that extra time to get our work done!

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Pasan Premaratne

Pasan Premaratne is an iOS development Teacher at Treehouse. Catch him on Twitter at @pasanpr.

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