For a while, ‘inbox zero’ and the abolition of email were all the rage. That all seems to have died down now, as people realise that email is something of a necessary evil.
And yet, so many of us still do it badly – not only on the writing and communication front, but on something that perhaps is seen as old-fashioned now: common courtesy.
So I thought I’d remind everyone of some basic tips for more effective emailing.
1 To receive less email, send less email. Sometimes picking up the phone or walking to your colleague’s office will cut down on email and get the job done better.
2 Answer your emails – and do so within 24 hours. That’s global best practice – even if you just reply to say, “I don’t know the answer to this right now, but I’ll find out and get back to you by…” Ignoring emails for days on end is rude and unprofessional.
3 Aim for no more than five sentences. If you need to say more than that, a meeting or a phone call is a better option.
4 Acknowledge receipt. It takes two seconds to type “Thank you,” when someone sends you something you’ve been waiting for. You know your mother taught you to do that, so don’t let her down.
5 Never email when you’re angry. It’s all too easy to burn bridges when emotion is running high. Take a moment – you have 24 hours. Think things through, bounce them off a trusted colleague (but not literally, please), and then reply when you’re calm.
6 Take 30 seconds. That’s all it takes to read through the mail again and find any errors, or adjust the tone – a crucial cause of misunderstanding. Remember when you write there are no other cues for interpretation, like tone of voice, gestures, facial expressions or body language. The recipient only has your words.
7 Set a slight delay on your outbox. That way if you suddenly remember something you meant to say, or realise there’s something you shouldn’t be saying, you have time to edit before the email leaves your outbox.
8 Invest in some business writing training. Today we write more than ever, and no one every teaches us how to do it. But it can be learnt – and it can cut down on wasted time and improve productivity. It’s a great tool to have in your business skills toolbox.