Despite predictions that email will soon be dead, corporate employees are still said to send and receive more than 100 email messages a day. (And 70% of email is thought to be spam, or “unwanted commercial email.”) Email also has the potential, as Fast Company notes, to drain your soul, and the souls of people to whom you send email because the constant interruptions keep you from other, more rewarding work. Here are some tips on using email effectively.
1. Before you start typing, consider your objective, writes Katie Smith Milway in Harvard Business Review. “What do you want to achieve with this email? Is your purpose to inform? Request input? Ask for help?” This also helps determine the content of the message. “Your objective will inform the message, including what to write, who should receive it and when to send it. Also think about whether it should come from you, or someone with more seniority.”
2. It’s also important to structure your message in a way that makes it more obvious what you’re trying to say and what your goals are. A giant block of text won’t get read by anyone, and it will be harder for people to see what they’re supposed to learn or do. Milway suggests using bullets and bold text (including the names of the people you mention) to get people’s attention (but don’t overdo it). “Structure your email so the most important request or information is at the top, then put it in bold.” That goes for requests you’re making of them as well, she writes. That way, it’s also more likely to show up in the preview panes of their email systems.
3. Check your “To:” field, especially if your company has lists set up. Otherwise, you might find yourself sending email to people other than whom you intended. (Even Microsoft is reportedly guilty of this one.) And if you’re in charge of setting up these lists at your company, think about how easy they could be to type accidentally, and name your lists accordingly.
4. Make sure your messages are sent out before lunch starts, and before the end of the day, so they don’t arrive while people are gone.
5. Pausing to think about what you’re saying is fine, but remember to actually send the message.
6. Even if you’re CCing people on purpose, take it easy. “People often copy multiple people on emails to get it off their plate, but this is a sign of laziness and actually distracts everyone else by creating noise against the tasks they’re trying to accomplish,” writes Ilya Pozin in Forbes. As a rule, if you receive an email where many people are CC’d, do everyone a favor by BCC’ing them on your reply.” (Should you CC your boss? It depends on the culture of your company, Milway writes.)
7. On the other hand, be careful about BCCing people who aren’t on the original list or to whom you’re making some sort of snarky comment — if they reply to it, their reply could go to everyone.
8. While it might seem that email saves time, the back-and-forth can actually take more time if people aren’t understanding each other or need something explained — and particularly if the discussion is hostile. In fact, research has shown that email can actually escalate conflict. A good rule of thumb? “If your email chain goes beyond two replies, it’s time to pick up the phone,” Pozin writes.
9. Use your subject lines intelligently by having them actually reflect what’s in the email message. “Hi,” “status,” and the infamous “hey” aren’t really useful. “Most of us already use our subject line to predict the ‘what,’ e.g. ‘Re monthly financials,’” Milway writes. “But it’s also the place to build a personal bridge: ‘Re monthly financials, per Peter’s request,’ and to indicate urgency: ‘Re monthly financials, per Peter’s request. Need feedback by Tuesday.’”
10. It sometimes happens that email conversational threads, particularly among more than two people, go off in different directions. That’s fine. But change the subject line when they do, so people looking for the outcome of Meeting #2 don’t have to know that you actually have to look under the subject line of Meeting #1 to find it.
11. At the same time, don’t change subject lines just for sport; that can end up forking the discussion and making it more difficult for everyone to follow.
12. Finally, it should go without saying in a business environment, don’t forward memes, jokes, political commentary and similar items. Aside from wasting resources, it could give people a negative opinion of you if they don’t agree with your humor or viewpoints.
Now, everyone go out and email this to everyone you know.
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