9 Tips on Being Great at Work Email

What percentage of your day do you spend reading and writing email? Raise your hand if it’s over 10%? 25%? 50%?

Short answer – we all spend way too much time in email – yet we are rarely given advice or training on how to do it well.

Which honestly is weird – a Starbucks barista gets training on their job – from working a cash register to making drinks. But most of never get email training.

So here are 9 email tips pulled from my experience, reading articles on work email, and a great discussion thread on email tips on GovLoop:

1) Insist that people sending me e-mails use *descriptive* subject lines; A “descriptive” subject line need not always be lengthy, even, just accurate and with enough information to allow the reader to judge the e-mail’s likely subject in a general sense. Think “Need Budget Answer by COB”

2) Never put the “to” addresses in an email until you are ready to send it. Do that for all email, all the time and you are a lot less likely to push the button by accident or send the snarky reply you don’t really mean to.

3) Call people if it looks like you will be e-mailing back and forth forever.

4 – The old 1-2-3 rule.

(1) – Delete messages that are just for info or don’t require action – 10% of e-mails

(2) – Deal immediately with items that take 5 minutes or less – 80%

(3) – File long-term items that require follow-up or require research/in-depth analysis in a To-Do Box – 10%

5 – Use plug-ins

I use Rapportive plugin – shows you everything about your contacts as you write them (picture, Linkedin, Twitter, etc)

I also useBoomerang (Outlook has a feature like this as well) to schedule emails. I especially use that when I am sending emails at weird times and don’t want folks to know. One also awesome feature of boomerang is you can have it automatically resend the email if the person doesn’t respond in X number of days (which is big these days as people flooded in email)

6 – Aim to empty my inbox each day as suggested by Robert Allan in his book “Getting Things Done.”

7 – Use Instant Messages or Text Messages for short inquiries or quick answers. Much faster and efficient because they are in real time.

8 – Search vs Folders – Some people live and die by their email folders and use them all the time. With search improving on email, others simply answer or delete and use search to find old emails they need (what I do)

9 – Write concisely with the ask up front and bolded/underlined. People write long epic emails with tons of details. Here’s a great post on “why long emails suck” – it takes too long to read, it doesn’t get to point, too many questions, and in end – I won’t respond (which is the big problem). Another great philosophy on this is the “5 Sentences email approach” advocated at http://five.sentenc.es/

What’s your email tip?

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Henry Brown

I found that expending a little effort on the front-end to encourage the senders of the email to me to engage, in the very least 1 and 9 tips paid dividends in that not only did I get more efficient at dealing with email but the team that I was working on were dealing with email much more efficiently thereby enabling the team to be at least somewhat more productive

Michael McCarthy, APR

Point #3 can save a lot of time. I read of one company that had a day each week when people could not use email. It forced people to make that face to face connection that handles some issues quicker – and it also helped build social connections within the organization that helped create better team work.

David B. Grinberg

Great post, Steve. Another helpful tip falls under Time Management. If possible, schedule time blocks each day that you can devote to reading and responding to non-essential emails — rather than have them pile up in your inbox or become dated.