Emails have been around now for almost thirty years. Hard to believe, really. In 2016, more than 150 million emails were sent every minute of every day. That number has risen to over 190 million in 2018. Emails have replaced telex—for us old enough to remember—faxes, and phone calls and are now the number one way to communicate daily.

I believe most companies have failed in helping employees deal with the sheer volume and have also not properly trained them in email etiquette. As with speaking and writing, there is clearly a right way and a wrong way to work with emails. 

We all have a number. You check your emails in the morning and your inbox has several new emails. There is a certain number of emails where we feel we are in control, and then there is a number where we instantly panic and feel out of control. This unfortunately can send your head off to a very bad place first thing in the morning. Make sure your number is realistic and learn how to be ready for that number. 

Managing emails can be as simple as using color-coded flags for different priorities or setting up folders to work within. Each person has their own preference, but it is imperative to have a system and work that system well. Follow the 4 Ds of email management: delete it, do it, delegate it, or defer it.

Email etiquette is pretty much a worldwide issue now, but I think there are also some simple ideas that can help us control the daily influx of messages: 

  1. Be concise and follow the KISS method: keep it simple, (you know the rest). I prefer to use bullet points as opposed to long-winded paragraphs. Keeping in mind the number of emails we get, the quicker we can work our way through them, the better. I also suggest that if an email thread goes beyond three back-and-forths, pick up the phone. Emails are not for stories; they are for the sending of information. 
  2. Emails have no emotion, body language, or voice inflection. What you are intending to say can be construed as something else with none of the emotion. Be careful what words you use. And I always suggest re-reading your email before you hit the send button. 
  3. Be consistent and follow a format. Every email sent reflects you and the company. A proper greeting, proper spacing, and proper grammar are essential. A standardised signature is also recommended
  4. Watch your spelling as spell-check does not catch everything. Once again, your attention to detail matters, and a poorly crafted email looks unprofessional.
  5. When writing an email, type the recipient’s name last. This ensures that you don’t accidently hit send prior to your email being completed and checked. Make sure the name in the greeting and the recipient’s email address are for the correct person. 
  6. When replying to a heated or angry email, make sure you wait to respond. Often, we respond in a way that is not intended. A cooling off period is suggested. 
  7. “Reply all” should be used sparingly as most of the time you only need to respond to the actual sender. Replying to all just fills everyone’s inbox unnecessarily. 
  8. When using your out-of-office message, make sure it is current and provides a solution to the person sending you the email on how to get an answer in your absence. 
  9. When responding to an email, make sure you are answering all the questions asked, not just the first ones. Be sure to read all the way through the email, then answer. This saves on the back and forth. 
  10. Never flip an email. When dealing with confidential information, it must be clear what is going to whom. Cut and paste, then send. I am sure over time we have all flipped something to someone that was in error. 
  11. One rule we have in our office is that every email in your inbox must be, at a minimum, read before going home. If there is an emergency or something critical for that day in your inbox, then you are sure to see it. 
  12. Everybody seems to want answers immediately, and it is impossible for us to respond to everyone that fast. A quick response to someone saying you have received the email and will get back to them as soon as you can get the information will alleviate some stress.

Emails are not going away, so we need to manage and use them to our benefit so can save both time and grief.

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