Eight Strategies for Effective Email
Communicating With Grace and Efficiency
Email is one of the most important communication tools that we use. It's instant, effortless and ideal for reaching people scattered across the globe.
The problem is that we often don't use email as effectively as we could. We expect instant replies; we write long, rambling messages that confuse the reader; or we send a flurry of mail that recipients are never likely to read.
In this article, we'll discuss some strategies that will help you to use email more effectively.
The Importance of Using Email Effectively
Although email is extremely useful, it can eat up a lot of your time and energy if you don't use it effectively.
For example, how much time do you spend reading forwarded emails that have nothing to do with you or your work? Or how often have you had to search through your inbox for an email that required your immediate attention, which the sender hadn't flagged as "urgent"?
Below, we've outlined eight strategies that will help you use email more efficiently. (Our articles on managing email effectively and writing effective emails have additional tips for managing and writing your emails.)
1. Using Email Fields Correctly
When you choose your recipients, it's important to use "To," "cc," and "bcc" correctly.
Only use the "To" field for recipients who need to take action, or to include people who are directly affected by the email.
The "cc," or "carbon copy," field is for recipients who need to know about the message, but don't necessarily have to take any action.
Use the "bcc," or "blind carbon copy," field when you want to send an email to a large number of people, but don't want to reveal the names and email addresses of everyone on the list.
2. Being Selective With "Reply to all"
The "Reply to all" feature gives you an effortless way of replying to everyone included in an email thread. However, you should only use it when you're sure that your response is relevant to each person.
When you give feedback to, or criticize, one person, never use "Reply to all." If you have to share bad news or give feedback, start a new email and send your comments directly to that person.
3. Avoiding Email Tennis
We've all played email tennis before. It occurs when people shoot messages back and forth – often in a short amount of time – to pin down the date of a meeting or to ask and answer questions.
You can avoid email tennis, and save time, by giving your recipients options in your initial email.
We need to schedule a time to meet this week. I have Wednesday morning at 10:00 a.m. or Thursday afternoon at 2:00 p.m. available. Does either day work for you?
Imagine what would have happened if Layla hadn't given Sam any options. He might have wanted to meet on Monday, for example, and Layla would have had to reply that she was unavailable.
Give your recipients as much information as necessary in your initial email, and keep it simple. This will save time and frustration, and it will allow you to wrap up the exchange quickly. Alternatively, pick up the phone and talk to the person directly.
4. Being Courteous
Make sure that you go through your inbox regularly, and respond to emails within a sensible time frame. This is a simple act of courtesy and it will encourage others to reply to your emails in a timely manner.
How regularly you should check your mail depends on the nature of your work. Typically, a good way to manage your inbox is to check it, say, three times a day.
Sometimes you can waste time by replying too quickly. For example, imagine that a colleague emails you for your advice about a problem. A minute later, she writes to let you know that she has solved the problem on her own. However, you don't see her reply until after you've drafted a lengthy response to her initial question.
If you need to send a detailed response to an email but don't have the time to pull the information together right away, acknowledge the message and say when you will respond fully.
Last, use your out-of-office setting when you are away from your email for a day or more, regardless of whether you are on leave or in meetings.
5. Flagging up Urgent Emails Where Appropriate
Emails that are top priority should be flagged as "urgent" in the subject line, before the topic heading, so that the recipient knows that she needs to prioritize them.
Subject Line: URGENT Please Revise by 12:00 p.m.
However, always make sure that email is the best way of sending urgent messages. For example, if the recipient is out of the office and doesn't check her emails, she is unlikely to read the message by 12:00 p.m.
Therefore, you might want to use instant messaging or telephone the person if you have an urgent message.
6. Signposting Clearly
How many times have you received a forwarded "FYI" email from someone and have had to scroll down through several exchanges to discover the relevant information?
We've all had to do this at some point. It's frustrating and it wastes time.
Do your recipients a favor and summarize what they need to know when forwarding "FYI" emails. This signposting is particularly useful when you send attachments. List the key points from the attached document at the top of your email, so the recipients can see at a glance what's in there.
Subject: Summary of February 12 Meeting Notes
Here are the key points from today's meeting:
- Project deadline changed to February 17.
- Omar will take over as group project manager during Chad's leave of absence.
- Liam Nelson will join the team as IT project manager.
I've also attached the minutes if any of you would like a more detailed look at what we discussed today.
All the best,
7. Sending Thank-you Emails
How many times have you sent an email that just said "thanks!"?
Everyone wants to feel appreciated, but, while it's important to express your gratitude for someone's hard work, sending short "thank-you" emails back and forth isn't efficient. When you are sending a lot of thank-you emails to someone, a better approach is to send just one, longer "thank-you" message.
I wanted to thank you for all your hard work this week. Your communication has been great, and I really appreciate your quick responses. This project will be a success with your assistance!
Alternatively, you can say "Thanks!" in your email subject line, and follow it with "EOM," meaning "End of Message."
Thanks for the prompt delivery of the report! EOM
You can also use "NTR," or "No Thanks Required," when you send an email. Just make sure that the people you communicate with know what this acronym means.
That's done. I've attached the final document. (NTR!)
8. Sending Confidential Information
When you must send confidential information, remember that email is not 100 percent secure. Once you have sent an email, the recipient can forward it to anyone.
Don't put sensitive information in the body of an email. Instead, why not save it in a locked file or secure, password-protected folder?
Alternatively, convey confidential information face-to-face, or by phone/VoIP.
A good rule is to assume that recipients won't treat emails as being private.
Email has become an important communication tool, which is why you should know how to use it effectively.
When you write an email, make sure that you use the "To," "cc," and "bcc" fields correctly. Ensure that it includes all the necessary information, so that you avoid the back-and-forth of "email tennis." Also, summarize long emails at the beginning, so that your reader can quickly grasp what he or she is about to read. Last, use the "NTR" acronym, which stands for "No Thanks Required," to reduce unnecessary "thank-you" emails.