It’s probably not an email

If you work with a computer as part of your job and email is the preferred method of communication between people in your business then you’ll know how much of a pain in the arse email can be.

Sending an email to dozens of people is so easy that it is often the chosen method of someone getting the task or discussion it contains off their plate, even if only for a few hours.

Without any control over the matter you can have tasks assigned to you via an email and have your inbox full of multi-person unescapable conversations that there is no way of unsubscribing from.

This article is a little nod to the issue, and an education tool for you (we’re all guilty of sending as well as receiving too much email) and those who fill your inbox with tasks and spam. It contains a few tips and useful methods for reducing the load you put on others, and that they in turn put on you.

The first step is to stop sending email without thinking. For each email you send, you should first consider if it’s required at all using the questions below, and then confirm that every person you are sending it to actually has to be aware of it at this moment in time.

Do they need to know in the next hour? If it’s a relatively urgent message, then the email you are considering should actually be a phone call. If they don’t answer your call (they are allowed to be unavailable) then it’s an answer machine message or a text asking for a call back so you can discuss. Not an email.

Is it a discussion needing input from multiple people? If it’s a discussion – not a notification which needs no reply – then it should be either a conference call or you should be using an online discussion tool like a chat tool – if everyone is available but not close by – or a discussion forum – if people have different availability and can’t all be online at the same time. The many problems with email for multi-person (more than 2) discussion are that you can easily overlap your replies so that something is missed, you cannot clarify instantly if your message is misinterpreted and most importantly you cannot remove yourself from the multiple back and forth emails. An email discussion has no unsubscribe!

Does your message need diagrams or clear explanation? If there is a chance your message may not be understood clearly or it could benefit from you pointing at things on a diagram, then a face to face meeting or even a phone call would be a better choice than an email. It will take less time and ensure you don’t get the chinese whispers affect where you end up with something completely unexpected based on the words you used, and meaning your thought you had explained in your email.

Is it letting someone know about something that’s not urgent? There we have it. An email is good. Email is not guaranteed to be instant, so a delay in receiving it is possible. Don’t expect instant reading or replying to your emails. Even once we’d decided it is an email we can improve the quality of the email using short tags in the subject line and some basic rules.

Short tags in the subject can allow those receiving your emails to judge what to do with them at a glance, sometimes without the need to even open it, saving them some previous time. You’ll like it and so will they.

Is it a email that’s not urgent and doesn’t need a reply? Add the letters NNTR to the end of the subject line – No need To Reply – so they will know instantly that once they’ve read the message they don’t need to send do much as a ‘thanks’ email (which you would then have to deal with!).

Is the message so short it fits in the email’s subject line? Add the letters EOM to the end of the subject line – End Of Message – so they will know that they don’t even need to open the email! They can just read the subject line then delete it.

You might also choose to combine the codes. For example:

See you at 6pm at the pub EOM NNTR

If you have decided that it is an email, then put these ideas into practice…

Short is not rude. An email is not a letter, it’s more like a mobile phone text. Less words / sentences are a good thing and a brief response should be praised. How long should an email be? As short as possible but no shorter.

Is it a notification? If you are sending an email to multiple people, but you don’t expect a reply from them, put your own email in the To: field and add all other recipients to the BCC: field. This means that if someone does choose to reply it will only come to you and not annoy the other 49 people you sent the message too. It doesn’t matter if they all know each other or not.

If you receive UNSUBSCRIBE. This means someone wants out. They don’t feel they are needed in the discussion and would like someone else – because they can’t do it themselves – to remove them from the recipients list. Be nice and when you next reply, remove them.

The Email Charter is something you may choose to mention in your email signatures. It’s a list of useful rules to reduce the pain of email while making them more useful and productive. Including the link helps ensure your brief emails and subject line short codes are explained.

Hopefully these tips will be of some use to you. If you choose to implement them across your business then ensure you let everyone know about rules before you begin using them to avoid confusion and frustration.

So next time you’re about to hit send on an email to 10 people remember to consider if they all need to know about it right now, and if it’s even an email at all.

A little further reading if you would like…