I think that we can all agree that time is one of our most valuable assets, and anything that wastes our time should be avoided.
I’ve been assessing those areas of my life, both work and personal, where I’m wasting time. I’ve been carefully looking for inefficiencies in my own life, including instances where I create inefficiencies in the daily lives of others, and I’ve identified one of the most common sources of wasted time:
Consider this my Email Manifesto. I’m documenting my email best practices that can save all of us time and energy! I practice these methods today, and find that they enable me to communicate more clearly and efficiently, and help minimize the back and forth that is common when communicating by email. Not only do these email best practices save me time, but they save time for the recipients of my emails as well.
Like many of my best practices, I consider this a living document. I encourage you to make it your own. Include your own best practices on how to use email more efficiently. Share them with coworkers, colleagues, and friends. And share them with me !
THE TO: LINE
Email efficiency starts with choosing the right recipients. While it may not take much to add another recipient to your email thread, it takes time and energy for the recipient to read through your email.
Be thoughtful in who you choose to email. Only send an email to those who need to be included in the conversation. There is nothing more annoying than receiving an email with the lunch menu for the New York office, when you work in the Chicago office.
Consider: Should you be emailing this at all ?
Not every document should be emailed. Far too often we send emails, when they really should be documents which are posted in a shared drive. Instead of emailing that status sheet to the entire company, consider posting it to a shared drive. Not only does this ensure that it is available for everyone at any time, but it also removes one more redundant email from the inbox.
(Don’t) Reply All
A majority of the unnecessary emails I receive are from colleagues who are replying all to an email. Replying All to the email from Frank in facilities letting the company know that the air conditioning has been fixed says more about you than it does about Frank. Do everyone a favor; just email Frank and his supervisor. You may think that you’re showing your “company spirit”, but what you’re actually doing is diluting the value of the other emails that you send that are actually important. Quite frankly, no one cares if you agree or not, and no one wants to know what you want to have for lunch. You can help others avoid “replying all” by putting your recipients on BCC, making it impossible for them to communicate with anyone else but you, the sender.
Use CC properly
Similar to carefully choosing the right email recipients, it is also important to signal to the recipients your expectations of them. Beyond giving clear instructions in the body of the email, a good way to provide a “hint” to the recipients is in your use of the To and CC fields.
I use these fields very intentionally to signal to the recipients my expectations of their role. The “To” line is meant for people who should have an active voice in the conversation, or have specific action items. The CC line is meant for those people who are “just there to listen”. They just need to know about something, but have no actionable next steps on the topic.
It may take some time to train those with whom you actively communicate, but once you do you’ll find this similar process can save hours of time reading and answering emails.
Don’t require your reports to CC you on everything. Trust them to do their jobs; then check in on them regularly to make sure that they are hitting their goals.
THE SUBJECT LINE:
The subject line is arguably the most important part of your email. It should be clear, consistent, and succinct.
Want to get encourage more response to your emails? Use powerful subject lines
Subject Line :
- INTERNAL CONFIDENTIAL
These will help recipients prioritize your emails against their other daily action items.
I often say “Pronouns Kill”. It’s my way of exaggerating a point; using pronouns more often than not leads to miscommunication. So in business, I try to limit their use. It takes a little effort to structure sentences without abusing pronouns, but once you get the hang of it you’ll eliminate any chance that your email will be misinterpreted and that the recipient might ask for clarification.
Provide clear summaries and next steps
If your email is lengthy, provide a short overview up top, and then a “background” beneath it. I like to provide an “Overview:”, or use “TL:DR” (too long: didn’t read) to summarize the topic.
Future Proof Your Emails
Write each email as if there was no way for the other person to respond. Concisely include all of the relevant information (who, what, why, when, and how), and include the dates by when you need the response.
Include those attachments
Don’t expect the recipient to go digging through your emails to find the latest version of the document you attached four emails prior. Think in terms of what will make the email easiest for the recipient, and just resend it.
Maximize the Features
Have a question for the company? Use the Survey feature instead of emailing a response.
It’s not what you say; it’s what people read.
Be thoughtful with the words you choose. Always include all of the relevant details. Don’t assume that someone remembers the topic, or your previous thread. Provide recaps to keep it easy on the reader. Don’t make the reader dig through threads to understand context.
Guide the Reader
Use Highlight to help the reader find the section where you have questions.
I hope that these tips help save you, and others, a lot of time!