Is your inbox overflowing? Are you frustrated that the emails you send seem to create more ‘noise’ than ‘clarity’? While emails are great for sharing information and ensuring everyone is ‘in the know’, they can also be soul-destroying time-wasters.

Did you know that the average person spends 17 hours a week just dealing with emails? ⅓ of their time in the office, and ½ of the time while working from home – and 30% is for emails that are neither urgent nor important, according to recent research by Carleton University (in Canada) amongst 1500 highly-educated Baby Boomers and Gen Xers.

While a barrage of emails may infer there is lots on the go (and there often is), they can also be overwhelming and unproductive. If we’re all feeling this way, why do some people still not ‘get it’? The truth is, emails aren’t exempt from the conventional etiquette that governs human interaction.

So to start making your emails work for you, here are some simple guidelines from Heléne Lindsay, our Head of Customer. More than just guidelines, these insights will highlight the importance of effective communication – an essential human skill. If it’s not for you, then share them wildly with colleagues or other stakeholders that would benefit from lifting their email game.

Email is not:

  • A means to showcase your ‘team spirit’: Do not ‘reply to all’ when an FYI is sent about a business win or personal celebration (baby, birthday, etc). If you really have to, send a response to the relevant individual only.
  • A way to cover your tracks: Don’t CC everyone on an initial two-way communication as a means to prove you are ‘on the ball’.
  • An alternative to talking: Emailing someone who sits across from you is just silly. Unless you need tangible proof of action, just talk to them. It saves inbox overload, streamlines the process, and provides a meaningful moment for real human interaction and connection.

Email is:

  • A one-to-many tool to convey important information around a bigger business initiative (e.g. strategic direction, new policy or process, team gathering, etc)
  • A means to invite contributions or request feedback or actions from various parties, whilst ensuring all stakeholders understand the bigger context.
  • A channel for imparting or requesting information that isn’t time-critical.

Here’s how to make it:

  • Use ‘Reply to all’ with respect: Your default setting should be ‘reply to sender’. ‘Reply to all’ should only be used when you’re sure all will derive benefit.
  • A new discussion point = a new email: Don’t mix messages by using an existing email thread to address a different topic. It’ll only result in confusion, time wasting and commercial loss.
  • Reduce ambiguity to get the best outcome: by reducing ambiguity with clear action points and personalised context/expectations: Make it crystal clear upfront why recipients have been included, and what is expected of them.

Final thoughts to consider

In real-life interactions, we would never interrupt a conversation or expect someone to appreciate a long story just because we deem it worth sharing. We understand that effective communication is about relevance, context and value. So why do we believe it’s acceptable to do otherwise in the digital world?

So in future, think carefully about the emails you send. Will they add value to all recipients, is the intention to move the business forward or simply cover your butt, are you making it easy for the recipients to understand what is required from them? If your email doesn’t add value to the reader, then don’t make them read it.

Now go forth make and make your emails work for you – effectively!

Heléne Lindsay,

Head of Customer at Red & Yellow School, lover of Bedlington Terriers,

hater of illogic, and avid reader of the written word, from novels to cereal boxes.