19th August 2017

Using Email Effectively: How Sloppy Emails Ruin Your Productivity


FWD: FWD: Re Bill


The big event is approaching. Contract attached.

(No subject)

Wait a minute – WHAT? These emails were just sent to me, and I have no idea what any of it means. To make matters even worse, these are just a FEW examples of friends and colleagues not using email effectively that arrive daily. And almost immediately upon arrival, they turn my inbox into a slovenly mess.

In writing my book, Work Simply, I did a lot of work to understand how we are using email effectively – or not. I discovered that we’re all bogged down by the sheer volume of email. And it takes a lot of time for us to slough through that volume because these emails are unclear, ambiguous and flat out sloppy. Discerning exactly what we need to know or do and determining if a response is needed requires a lot of our attention and focus.

These sloppy emails waste your time. And they cost you hours each week. Which means they’re also costing you money.

So, when you feel like you’re drowning in a sea of sloppy, thick, unclear mud in your inbox, how do you begin to clean up the mess? AND then, how do prevent it from reoccurring?

Automate your responses to unclear messages. When you receive an email message that is unclear, vague or just causes you to say ‘WHAT?’, send a response asking for additional information or clarification. To do this quickly, use a text expander software app, like FastFox for PCs or Text Expander for Mac. A text expander works in any program, including your email platform, and allows you to insert commonly used text with just a keyboard short cut. No longer will you waste your precious time typing out a response, you will reply automatically within seconds.

Craft more effective email messages. Dramatically reduce the volume of email messages you receive by crafting more effective email messages that are understood upon opening and do not require multiple back and forth emails asking clarifying questions. To craft more effective email messages, answer the following four key questions in every single email you send – who, why, what and how.

Who? This breaks down into two sub-questions: “Who needs to respond to, take action on, or make a decision about this information?” Put their name(s) on the to: line. “Who needs to know this information?” Put their name(s) on the cc: line.

Why? Look back at the names on the to: line and the cc: line. For each name, ask yourself, “Why is this person involved in the project? Why am I emailing them? Why do they need to know? Why does this information matter to them? Why does it matter to the broader organization?” Then think about what you know about those individuals—their interests, needs, backgrounds, and communication styles. Make sure the tone, style, and content of your email matches up—just as you would choose appropriate words, tone, and body language if you were sitting across a table from them and discussing the topic in person.

What? Ask yourself a series of what questions to help shape the content of your email. “What is the purpose of the email? What are the main points to be communicated in this email? What are the key facts? What references or research data need to be included? What must everyone know?” Do not hit the send button until you have included every piece of detail required.

How? Ask yourself, “How do I want recipients to respond?” Describe this explicitly in your email. If there’s a deadline, say so. If you want an email response, say that. If you need suggested dates for a meeting, names of possible project participants, a list of questions or key ideas to be considered, or any other specific input, describe it. Never assume that people will understand what you want—tell them as straightforwardly as possible.

Use the subject line to improve email response time. Please, never let yourself hit the send button while the subject line of your email reads RE:RE or FWD:FWD, or some cryptic phrase that relates to a prior email message. Why? Because when you send an email like this, you’re sending a message into the world with an unclear purpose. Do not be part of creating the email pigsty we have come to expect and accept. The subject line of your email message is your topic sentence. It clearly states the topic of the email. A clear subject line is essential if you want to communicate effectively and improve both the quality and response time on the email messages you send. Make sure the subject lines on your email messages reflect the current topic, purpose or desired outcome. When you respond to an email you’ve received, change the subject line to make it current and clear. Consider using some of the following standard email subject lines:

Action Required – DATE

FYI – 3rd Paragraph Client X Mention

Update: TOPIC

Reply by – DATE

NRN – No response needed

EOM – End of message

The last subject line above (EOM) is an especially powerful one. Here’s how it works: when you have a short, simple message to convey, type the entire email in the subject line of the email, and put EOM at the end. (For example, “Tuesday marketing meeting moved to 2 p.m. EOM.”) Now your recipient does not have to open the email message, saving them precious minutes.

It is time to take back control and clean up the pigsty that is disguising itself as your inbox.

What can you do now?

Download a text expander app. Not only can you use this for your emails, it works in all programs so you can save hours each week by eliminating typing out commonly used phrases, sentences and paragraphs.

Before you send that next email, do a quick check: does it answer the Who, Why, What, and How questions? If not, make the appropriate changes before pressing send.

Change the subject line on the next email you receive to the current topic of that email.

Sign up for my Tame Your Inbox online course to combat email overwhelm once and for all!