For many white collar government workers, a large part of your day is spent on email management – writing emails, reading emails, responding to actions in emails.
But we never get any tips on how to be successful at email.
So here are my 13 tips:
1) Respond to every email within 24 hours – You send an email and you don’t know if the other person received. Some people take the approach that if they don’t have an answer to the item in the email, they’ll go track down the answer before responding which could take 4 days. I disagree as during that time people wonder if anything is happening. That’s why you have to respond to every email even it the answer is “Got it. On it” or “Thanks for update”
2) Email signature – Have an email signature that minimally has your name, your email address and phone number and that is shows up for all emails sent. How many times have I been on an email thread and I’ve wanted to find the person’s phone number to call them and it’s not there cause the email signature is not up
3) Write good titles – “Re: Fwd: Re Meeting” VS “Still on? Coffee Meeting – 9am today, Corner Bakery” – people are moving fast and it’s easy to miss the last email in a thread. Re title the email with a good title.
4) Move up the communication hierarchy – If you haven’t heard back on an email, don’t wait around. If you need a super quick answer, move to phone or stopping by someone’s office.
5) Resend the same email – If you haven’t heard back on an email (and it’s been 3 days) and it’s not an emergency, I always literally resend the same exact email. People are busy, they may have not seen it.
6) Your inbox archive strategy – Find an inbox strategy that works for you. Some people use folders, some rely heavily on search. Personally I’ve done both – key is you need an inbox archive strategy when you try to find something for 3 months ago that you can.
7) Clear call to action – You know that long rambling email with lots of information. In the end, I get confused what did you want me to do. If there’s one clear action you want me to do, I recommend it standing on paragraph by itself with ask underlined.
8) Lots of bullets & paragraphs – You are not writing an 8th grade essay with 5 straight dense paragraphs. Assume people are skimming (not reading) your email. Make it skim friendly – lots of separate paragraphs/spacing. Make your information in bullets or numbers (here’s the 4 next steps – 1) 2) 3) 4) )
9) Shorter the better – You don’t need a lot of fluff – your message gets buried and people don’t have time for it. Keep your email as short as possible.
10) Find your email checking strategy – Don’t be that person checking email every 2 minutes at dinner or that person where people come to you and say “did you ever get my email?”. Find the best email system for you – some ideas include turn off your email when you are in the zone for 30 minutes, leave your blackberry away at dinner with family (but perhaps check it twice a night at 7 at 10). At the simplest, have a strategy.
11) Cc’ing strategy – My first cc’ing strategy is “ask your boss – do you like to be cc’ing on emails for peripheral awareness? Or do you find it annoying?” I find that’s what cc’ing comes down to – some people like to see for peripheral awareness, others really dislike it.
12) Nail the basics – If you are sending a work formal email, make sure to nail the basics (spelling, capitalization, grammar) – business professional. This can change if you are in an informal environment, but start formal.
13) Add yours – what am I missing?