Email consumes an inordinate amount of our time these days – one-third of our work day, apparently – so we thought it might be helpful to review some email tips and etiquette suggestions to make your time spent in Outlook, Gmail, et al. more efficient and effective. Without further ado, here they are:
Never forward anything without permission.
Whenever you receive an email from someone, you must assume that if nobody else was CC’d or otherwise included, then they are not meant to read the contents of the email. It is most polite to ask about forwarding the information if you feel the contents could benefit another party.
Assume everything you write will be forwarded or made public.
Many an employee has suffered the consequences of forgetting that email is easily shared, and thus a terrible method for venting or bringing up inappropriate matters at work. Don’t make this mistake.
CC has the power to publicly shame someone, whether that’s your intention or not.
CCing is like inviting someone to be witness to a conversation. Ask yourself whether it’s necessary, and if it is, it’s best to make it clear that the email thread will be a group conversation and act accordingly. Be careful with criticism and negativity when other people are copied on an email.
Strengthen and clarify subject lines with one-word categories, such as “request” or “confirmation” along with relevant information such as dates, time and locations.
By placing keywords in your subject as to the nature of your email, not only are you being more efficient with the information you’re sending, but you’re also increasing the likelihood of the person opening the email and taking action.
Adopt shorthand for your subject lines (NRN – no reply needed or EOM – end of message, etc).
To keep email exchanges brief and on point, it can be helpful to employ some useful shorthand for your subject lines, like: “Delayed on metro, will be about 15min late EOM”.
Check your tone when writing an email.
It’s particularly easy to misinterpret tone in written communication. Without any context provided by facial expressions or vocal intonations, the possibility of misreading a line increases greatly. Sarcasm almost always falls flat and is a bad idea.
The best way to encourage less email is to send less. Don’t use the “Reply to All” and “Cc” features, or group distribution lists unnecessarily.
Reply All and CC are often used without much thought as to whether they’re necessary. Take a second to think about what’s appropriate before hitting send.
Try to write shorter messages.
Value your own and other people’s time by cutting to the chase – but remember to still be polite.
Check your emotions before writing.
It’s natural for things to occasionally throw us off kilter emotionally, but always remember, while your emotions are temporary, emails are permanent. Do yourself a favor by getting centered before composing your emails – your vitriolic rant is most likely to come back to bite you.
Use exclamation points sparingly.
It’s okay to convey eagerness and excitement from time to time – just not too much!!!
Use attachments sparingly.
As a rule of thumb, you shouldn’t have more than two attachments in an email. Attachments are just a cumbersome email addition and often get overlooked by recipients who don’t want to bother with downloading and then opening them in another program. Links to Google Drive or DropBox are often preferable, or just copy and paste most important parts from the documents you’re sharing.
Stick to one topic.
It’s pretty common these days to treat emails as our task list – so people will tag emails accordingly. If you cover multiple issues in your emails, you are likely complicating things for your recipients and yourself.
Use a signature.
People get a ridiculous amount of email these days. Make their life easier by including a signature in your emails with all your important details, like name, position, company, LinkedIn profile link, and other relevant items.
Respond in an appropriate time frame.
As a rule of thumb, most emails shouldn’t take more than 24 hours for a response, and if they do, it’s probably best to let the other person know there may be an extended timeframe for your reply and, if appropriate, explain the reason.
Use a vacation auto-responder.
If you will be out of the office and not responding to emails for a number of days, it’s best to use a vacation auto-responder to inform people who email you.
Don’t use email for complicated or touchy subjects.
These types of conversations deserve phone calls or in-person meetings to make sure no meaning is lost or misinterpreted in written communication. So if there’s a new product design you want to discuss, setup a meeting via email with a few bullet points, but don’t lay out the entire design. Likewise, if there’s crucial feedback you need to give to a co-worker, do so in person for the best results.
Schedule email checks.
One study showed that people check their email on average 36 times per hour at the workplace. Depending on the responsibilities of your position, it may be more effective to schedule a few specific times throughout the day to check your inbox. It can apparently take up to 20 minutes to refocus after an interruption like reading a new email after we get that alluring pop-up notification on our computers.
Hopefully the email tips above give you some food for thought the next time you open up your ever more bloated inbox. For more helpful advice, check out our post which asks, “Are you doing too much with email?”
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