We’ve covered tips for managing email overload, but the reality is that many of us are partially responsible for our own email insanity. If we sent fewer email messages and made sure that the ones we do send are clear and effective, then we’d have fewer incoming messages to read, filter, delete, forward, and so on. Here’s how to write more effective emails.
Use a descriptive subject line
One of my pet peeves is when someone sends an email titled “hey” or “greetings” or worse, without any subject line at all. How will I know if your email is time-sensitive or if it might impact the project I’m currently working on? I don’t. Including relevant details in your subject line saves time and often save you from having to answer questions from confused recipients. For instance, titling an email “Staff Retreat Scheduled for June 5, 10am-6pm” is more effective than “Staff Retreat” or something silly like “It’s that time again!!” In some cases, you can relay the entire message in your subject line and save the recipient from opening the message at all. In that case, it’s courteous to include EOM (for end of message) in the subject line so they’ll know not to open the email.
Add the recipient last
How many times have you accidentally hit send before you finished typing or attached the document you meant to send? I’m guessing it happens more often then you’d like to admit. If you add the email’s recipient(s) last, you’ll never have to send a follow-up message saying “gosh, I’m sorry, here’s the rest of that email.” When I’m composing a response to someone’s message, and I want to take my time crafting a response, I’ll sometimes alter their email address slightly (perhaps adding a “.” at the end) so that if I accidently press send, Gmail will prompt me to fix the address.
Keep it simple
Nobody likes a long, meandering email message, especially if they’re reading it on a smartphone. If you find yourself going off-topic, then hit the delete button and remove anything that detracts from your primary message. Also use short paragraphs or bullet points, since they’re easily scannable and force you to stay on topic. If you were typing on an iPhone or Blackberry, you wouldn’t write a lot of fluff or exposition, so pretend you’re using a mobile device (minus the abbreviations and potential typos – you don’t want to look sloppy or lazy). When in doubt, remember that increased simplicity often equals increased productivity.
You know that classic snippet of dialogue with the old married couple where one says, “What would you like to do today, honey?” And the other says, “I don’t know – what you like do today?” Sending emails like that only prolongs the decision-making process. Depending on the situation (for instance, if it’s a job interview, you’ll let the recruiter or HR person take the lead), you can suggest meeting times and places to get the ball rolling. For instance, “our team needs to meet so we can update each other on X project – please let me know if you’re available next Tuesday at 1oam” is more effective than “when are you guys around?” If the suggested time doesn’t work for people, ask them to propose other times when they are available.
Avoid snappy comebacks
Unlike phone calls or meetings, email doesn’t give you cues like tone of voice or body language, so it’s easy to misconstrue someone’s message and assume that they’re blaming you for something or that someone is mad. Never engage in flame wars, though. It’s too easy to type an angry retort or a juicy bit of gossip and accidently hit reply all when your message was intended for one specific person. I know people who have lost their jobs over ill-advised email messages landing in the wrong inbox.
Avoid spammy words/phrases.
This isn’t such a big issue when you’re emailing someone you already have an email relationship with, but when you’re contacting a potential client or submitting your resume and cover letter for a job opening, you’ll want to avoid words and phrases that could be mistaken for spam. Otherwise, your carefully crafted email could wind up in the recipient’s spam folder. The list is constantly changing as spammers get increasingly sophisticated, but Microsoft Outlook published a pretty thorough guide earlier this year.
What about you? What email strategies have you found to be effective?
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