In a recent business owner survey we conducted with several thousand of our business owner clients it became very clear that email had eclipsed phone calls and meetings as the single biggest time distraction in business. It’s addictive; it’s never ending; and it’s overwhelming.
Here are our top 10 e-mail best practices we think every company should adopt.
1. Use powerful subject lines to streamline the time it takes for your team to process and find e-mail.
No more blank subject lines, or “Hello . . .” Instead, you and your team should make your subject line a clear, concise description of the e-mail. This helps you screen messages and it helps you later search for e-mails you need to find after the fact. If you are forwarding the e-mail, don’t be lazy; redo the subject line to make sense to your recipient and ask that your team do that for you too.
2. Use the “1-2-3” system for your subject line.
1 = Time sensitive and important. Read and take action ASAP
2 = Action required. Read and take noted action in a reasonable time frame.
- 3 = FYI. No action required. Scan for content when convenient.
Here’s how this might look:
2: Notes from Franklin call 2/5/15 (This tells recipient they need to take action on the e-mail.)
- 2 Mark; 3 Sarah: Two follow-up items still needed to complete Sullivan Project (This tells Mark he needs to take action and Sarah that this is just FYI for her.)
3. Don’t mass “CC” or “BCC.”
Only CC or BCC if the person really needs the information. Remember, it’s not just that one e-mail, but all the subsequent e-mails in that chain that you’ll likely include that person on.
4. Turn off your auto send-and-receive function (or at least reduce the frequency it downloads new e-mail).
Contrary to the way it feels, you don’t need to see every e-mail the instant it comes in. Also, turn off e-mail alerts (audio and visual). Instead, intentionally check e-mail when you choose versus when someone hits send to you. E-mail alerts only promote compulsive behaviors that kill productivity.
One business coaching client shared that this one tip alone increased his annual income by over $100,000 per year.
5. To get less e-mail, send less.
The more you send, the more you get.
6. If you’re involved in a frustrating back-and-forth conversation by e-mail due to hazy understanding on either side, just pick up the phone or speak in person.
E-mails are not good as a nuanced conversation tool and it shouldn’t replace all conversations.
7. In replying to a long conversation thread, pull up the key information to the top of the e-mail.
Make it easier for your recipient to quickly get what you are communicating. Also, if you are creating a longer e-mail with multiple items, consider numbering your items to make them easier for your reader to follow and respond to your e-mail.
8. If you think the topic may be a sensitive one, or that the reader may be upset or offended by your e-mail, don’t send it.
Talk with them instead (even if you then send a summary or confirming e-mail after).
Never say something in an e-mail that you wouldn’t be willing to say directly to the person you are speaking to in the e-mail. This goes double for your team. Quickly deal with any inappropriate e-mails.
9. Don’t use e-mail to manage your “tasks” or to manage your team’s tasks.
Use a project list on a spreadsheet, or a shared task management or project management tool instead.
E-mail is a poor place to keep a running list. What comes today is washed away by what comes later today (let alone tomorrow).
There are simple, inexpensive project management tools available online and on mobile devices that allow you to list, categorize, prioritize, and share your open action items. It’s a worthwhile investment to prevent tasks and follow-ups from falling through the cracks.
10. Learn your top five e-mail recipients’ preferences.
Just sort your “Sent” folder by recipient and pick out the five people your send the most e-mail to. These will likely be internal team members.
Ask them if they prefer wide or shallow e-mails (i.e., one e-mail per subject as it comes up, or a grouped e-mail that has more items in one single e-mail). When are their e-mail-free times? What do they want to and not want to be CC’d on? What are the three things they like best about how you communicate with them by e-mail? What three things would they like you to do differently about how you communicate by e-mail to make their life better? Then reverse the conversation and share your e-mail preferences with them.
Consider aging your e-mail before you respond to get less of it.
If something isn’t time sensitive or a critical relationship, consider waiting a few days or (gulp!) a few weeks before you reply. We’ve all had the experience of immediately replying to an e-mail only to get a reply to our reply ninety-four seconds later. (If you like answering right away, consider using the “delayed delivery” option in most e-mail programs to answer now but send the e-mail later.)
I hope you liked these 11 email tips that I think every company should adopt. Learn time saving tips for your business in the upcoming webinar, 6 Time Tactics to Free Up 8+ Hours per Week to Grow Your Business and Get Your Life Back!