Cutting down the number of emails we have to deal with

At Oblong Leeds where I spend half my time, we were having an email crisis.   The number of emails circulating takes more time to deal with that the time available.  We discussed possible solutions and I’ve produced a digest of some of the points.

We each receive about 5o emails a week – all of which have a reasonable level of importance.  My other business activities probably double the amount and so this is a very real issue.  Not only is the volume of emails frustrating, but you can actually put a financial cost on the amount of time these things consume.  It seems reasonable therefore that we should all make an effort to write emails with care and see them as costly.

Feel free to download our sheet of tips here

or read them here…

Do you need to send an email at all?

  • Reduce the number of emails you send.
  • Speak to the the person/group instead.
  • Can the issue wait until the staff meeting?
  • Would other communication tools be more appropriate or effective? Google doc, text message, facebook, the website?

Who actually needs to read the email?

  • Only send an email if it is relevant to every recipient.

Will they immediately get what you’re on about?

  • Put the most important information in the first paragraph.
  • Make clear whether the email is sent for action or information.
  • Make it clear what action is required – make bold of different colour.
  • Avoid abbreviations and assumptions about what readers will understand.
  • Structure is important so give it some thought.

Is the subject and nature of the email really clear?

  • A clear topic line and a short opening paragraph which makes the topic clear and what is being expected of the recipient. Position important information like this at the beginning of the message.
  • Use short paragraphs to make them more readable. Stick to an economical business style as much as possible.
  • One topic per email.
  • Avoid multiple topics in one email.
  • Use the subject line effectively.
  • Think of flags in the subject line  ACTION, URGENT, KEEP (don’t over use).
  • For short messages just use the subject line ending with EOM (end of message).

Can you find the email by searching for it?

  • Make the subject searchable – use key words, project titles etc.
  • Cut the clutter
  • Discussion strings can be confusing with information buried a long way down. Edit if this makes it clearer.
  • Take time to check and edit down the email.

Tone of voice and style

  • Anger and emotion should be avoided in an email. Use neutral, professional language and tone. Don’t use email to tell someone off.
  • Try not to mix styles of email. An email for factual reference need not be cluttered with a chatty opening.
  • Do this for clarity even if you are busy, it’ll save other people’s time.

Response time

  • Avoid answering emails immediately, build in thinking time.
  • Do not expect recipients to deal with an email straight away.
  • We might, though, expect a short acknowledgement of receipt.
  • Get closure on email discussions as quickly as possible.
  • Check emails at regular intervals across the week.