Are you using Email efficiently?

Be accurate and concise

Think about if you are answering the question if it is in response to an email and stick to the facts. It is easy to drift off to opinion conjecture and here say which can provoke arguments in directions you neither intended nor have the time for. Stick to short and well structured sentences which are unambiguous so as not to give rise to misinterpretation. The less verbose the better- you are not writing groundbreaking literature or trying to impress people with the scale of your vocabulary.

My general rule is if an email is more than 1 page long then it should be written in a separate attachment.

Don’t mix too many diverse issues in one email

If you want people to focus on the points in your email then structure them so that they are clear and encourage constructive responses. For example, don’t mix HR issues with operational issues or IT issues. This way you get the mind of the recipient of the email concentrating a particular subject matter. The added advantage you have is that when you are searching email later for a specific subject it won’t be buried amongst a myriad of other subjects.

Prioritise responses/actions

There is always a tendency to respond to the last email and work your way backwards chronologically. I tend to take a batch of emails say for previous morning and mark them in priority terms – then deal with them on a business priority basis and definitely not on the basis of which ones are easier to deal with.

Check the tone of your email before sending

It tends to be that written communication appears more harsh or formal than verbal communication. Written communication does not afford you the ability to add tone or emphasis. Therefore, it is worthwhile to quickly review your text before sending to ensure it has the intended emphasis and tone so that points have the correct perspective. This is particularly pertinent when trying to gain agreement with someone or a company – when you are trying to be clear and unambiguous the wording can be direct/inflexible. Of course there are occasions when this is exactly what you want to say and this is ok.

If you are asking for action, comment, feedback etc – make it clear this the case and when you expect a response

Don’t leave an email in a state whereby the recipient(s) are not sure what the purpose of the email is. Is it imparting information? Is it requiring an asset from someone? Is it requiring a specific action by someone? Are you expecting something to happen within a given time? Are you asking for a decision to go ahead with something? All sounds obvious doesn’t it but you would be amazed at the level of email that comes under the ‘confused’ category which wastes lots of time.

Only send/copy to the people it needs to got to

How many people have received an email with many copied recipients and many really do not need to be copied on this subject? Why does this happen? Is the sender expecting everyone on the copy list to respond? Is it for information?

Whatever the reason make it clear exactly why you are sending this to the recipients. One of the most insidious reasons for copying someone into an email is to highlight someone else’s mistakes. This can trigger an email ‘mushroom’ with people justifying their actions, it does not demonstrate a team ethos – in fact it tells me more about the sender’s character than anything else… so, think about what you want from sending the email.

Structure your email folders logically and maintain them

My recommendation is to think about the directory structure for your emails as early as possible after the email account has been set up. Try to reflect how you work when creating your directories for example key clients, suppliers, finance etc. Don’t make the system over complicated with too many sub directories Suggest no more than two levels or it takes too long to use and maintain. Once you start a system stick to it or things will quickly get messy. Of course, over time the structure will grow and this is where sensible archiving is required.

Wrap up

The issues mentioned in this article only touch the surface on how email can deliver real benefits to your business if used properly – and this is true for any size of business.