Before e-mail, SENDERS shouldered the burden of mail. Writing, stamping, and mailing a letter was a lot of work. E-mail bludgeoned that system in no time. Now the RECEIVER shoulders the burden of filtering, reading and responding to the endless stream of e-mails we receive on a day-to-day basis.
Taming e-mail means training the senders to put the burden of quality back on themselves. What's the best way to train everyone around you to better e-mail habits? You guessed it: You go first. Set the example, be the role model. Demonstrate a policy for a month, and if people like it, ask them to start doing the same.
Top Tips for Mastering E-mail Overload
Shifting the Burden Back to the Sender
1. Use the Subject Line to Summarize the Message: People scan their e-mail inbox by subject. Make your subject rich enough your readers can decide whether it's relevant. The best way to do this is to summarize your message IN the subject line.
2. Give Your Reader Full Context at the Beginning of the Message: Too many messages forwarded to you start with an answer, Yes! I agree, without offering context. You're expected to read through a thread of several messages to figure out the core of the issue and what is expected from you. Start your e-mail with enough context to orient your reader. Make it easy for the reader to understand the purpose of your e-mail and to respond effectively if a response is being requested.
3. Make Action Requests Very Clear: If you want things to get done, say so. Clearly. There's nothing more frustrating as a reader than getting copied on an e-mail and finding out three weeks later someone expected you to pick up the project and run with it. Summarize ALL of the action items at the end of a message so everyone can read them at one glance.
4. Limit Distribution Only to Relevant Parties: Avoid the temptation of Replying to All or sending to a Group List if there are parties that really do NOT need to receive the e-mail. Choose your recipients carefully and expect the same from your team members.
5. Use the Phone if a Dialogue is Required: Sometimes a phone conversation is much more effective and less time consuming for dealing with certain issues, particularly when a back and forth dialogue is expected. Ask yourself the question: Is an e-mail really the best way to handle this matter?
6. No Reply Necessary: Let the recipient know, by including the phrase No Reply Necessary, he or she is not required to reply to your message. Many people feel compelled to reply, sometimes out of courtesy and sometimes because they do not know what the sender expects. Take the burden of reply off the recipient whenever possible.
7. Always Describe Attachments: When sending an attachment to a recipient, a file or document, always include a brief description within the body of the e-mail of the attachment. Don't force the recipient to download and review a document if he or she does not need to.
8. Always Include Your Full Signature: Make it standard practice to include your full signature at the end of all e-mails. This includes your name, company name, phone number, etc. Make it easy for the recipient to get back in touch with you in the easiest way possible for them. Sometimes putting your phone number in the subject line is great when you need a quick reply to something important.
9. Highlight Important Information: Use bolding or CAPS to highlight important information in an e-mail. Keep your e-mail brief and to the point as a matter of practice.
Andy Robinson is a leading authority on career success and 15-year career coaching veteran.