Email can be overwhelming. This is likely an understatement for anyone working in organizations. I consistently hear people receiving 100+ emails a day. And everyone seems to be important requiring a response or at least a review. But does it really?
I’ve been collecting some gems from people who’ve been tackling email management. There is no magic answer. The emails just keep coming, and truthfully, many contain good information and show the dedication and commitment of the people within your organizations.
Here are a few points that may help as you create the system that works for you. The last two points, 7 & 8, are one’s that have the potential to dramatically reduce unnecessary email. Pay attention to what you send, you might be the creator of an unnecessary flurry of emails. While convenient, email isn’t always the best method of communication. Have conversations with your team and in your organization around how email is used and handled. Make the time to take the time to manage email. Don’t let it take more of your time and energy than necessary.
1. If you can say it all in the subject line, do it. If you are simply giving someone permission to go ahead with something, or you are telling them you got something from them, and you don’t need to go into any more detail, the message would be: Go ahead with XX. Some find it useful to respond in all CAPS in the subject line or to separate their response from the subject with a colon. You and your team can decide what works best.
2. Do not mix information, discussion, and instruction emails – and use appropriate acronyms in the subject line.
• If urgent and you want their immediate attention, label URGENT
• If it is a “for your information, label FYI
• If you’re starting a discussion thread, put DISC
• If the decisions have been made and it’s time to give instructions, put TO DO
Distinguishing the messages allow people to quickly focus on what is most important and leave the FYI messages for later. This is also an opportunity to establish agreements and guidelines on how the organization manages email.
3. Do not use email as a venting opportunity about a person or a situation. When you are close to a situation and invested in the outcome, it’s easy to become more emotionally entrenched than you realize, and it’s easy to rant. It’s also a very dangerous practice. Keep in mind this email can end up places you did not originally expect. Emails can be seized in the case of a legal dispute, and an unedited venting email is not something you want to see in court. Think about what you would say if you knew that the person you were writing about was going to see this message. Or as one of my dear colleagues Neil Scotton says, “Think about how your message would be on the front page of a newspaper or on the evening news.” Decide to have difficult discussions on the phone or in person, not via email. Let the person or group know you’d prefer taking the discussion offline.
4. Recognize when it is important to stop the email thread and call a meeting or make the phone call. Email is great for sending information and giving instructions, but there are times when it is important to stop the email thread and have a conversation. Also, remember we all have different ways of processing information. Some people write, while others need to talk things over.
5. Don’t think out loud to your staff, customers, board members or others via email. Thinking out loud causes people to interpret instructions or assignments that you may not be intending. If you are thinking something through, and want participation, call a meeting. If you have thought it through and come to a conclusion, write a “TO DO” email that tells them the conclusion/decision, explains why the decision was made and then assigns responsibilities.
6. Make subject lines consistent. Subject line might start with the name of the project, then the actual subject describing what’s in the email. Consistency in how subjects are labeled allows for easier sorting.
7. Do not use “reply all” unless they really do all need to know. This can be intentional as a cover your butt practice or unintentional with not thinking before selecting reply all. Either way, this results in busy people to spend time reading emails that can be perceived as urgent and requiring action as simply FYI and more often than not, unnecessary for the majority on the list.
8. Think about the real message a person will get, before you send the message you think you’re sending. If you are forwarding an email article or link to someone because you think it is interesting, label it as FYI. Before you even forward, think about whether this is going to enhance someone’s work or distract them.