The 7 rules for sending better emails

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Email. It is a topic that has been discussed and debated for a long time, and yet a lot of us still struggle with it. Now I take my daughter for horse riding lessons every Saturday. One person I noticed for a few weeks was the dad of one of the other girls. Each week he brought his laptop in, sat down, did not look up and beavered away over his keyboard. The whole time. When I approached him, he confirmed (with much pride) that he was “busy, busy, busy” and that he had “50,000 emails”. I think he might have exaggerated on the later but not the former. I am in no position to judge, believe me, but it did got me thinking about email etiquette. How do I receive fewer emails?

Perhaps I could tell everyone not to send them or just delete my account. A bit drastic on both accounts. There are things I could do in the way that I write emails that could impact the incoming rate though. If I send fewer emails or at least send them in a better way, then I will receive fewer in return.  I hear you ask whether it really is worth going over this well trodden track again – I think so and if not for you then just to remind myself. Here are the 7 email rules for sending more effective emails:
  • #1: Want to cut your incoming rate than reduce your outgoing rate

Every email you send has a high chance to be responded to. Not that this is a bad thing but it does mean that the more you send the more you will receive. A while ago I made a conscious decision to cut the number of emails I send and found it to work. It also helped me to make a conscious decision to ask myself if I should write the email in the first place (see rule #3)

  • #2: Don’t be enslaved to email 

So I used to be one of these people who had their email client open at all time. As soon as a new one came in I would be read to pounce. Even better was that I had two screens so now my email client could be open on one at all time. That is of course until I realised the impact this was having on my work and productivity. Doing this was such a big distraction. Now I check emails three times a day and only for a limited period. I don’t believe any of my colleagues or customers noticed but I sure did.

  • #3: Is email the best form of communication, no really?

There are so many ways to communicate but ask yourself whether, considering the reason or contact for that email, it is the best form of communication. Sometimes it is so much better to be old-fashioned and just phone someone to discuss that topic. That two-minute discussion is worth avoiding that email tennis game that no one ever seems to win. Then there are other services like Slack etc for more general discussions.

  • #4: Keep it as short as possible 

Like you, I get some incredibly long and detailed emails and at times I write them also. Why make the assumption that everyone has the time to read it. Keep it short and to the point. If the email becomes too long then you will have the risk that the recipient will open the email and then close it again with the intention of ‘will go back to that later’ (which they won’t. Surely if the email becomes too long then is it not time to pick up the phone or call a meeting instead.

  • #5: Get the subject line right – it is important 

So lets assume that I am writing an email to a person who gets… 50,000 emails. I want mine to be read and responded to (if I don’t then go back to rule #3). How do I do this? Certainly not by not adding a subject line or a poorly written one. When someone scans their inbox, give them a helping hand by writing a good subject line. The added benefit is that you will be able to search for it quicker later on. Lastly remember that more than half of the emails are read on mobile devices. These tend to show shorter subject lines so do not make them too long.

  • #6: Highlight specific actions and questions

If you are asking someone to action something then be specific and make sure it is clear. From time to time I will get a chase email or phone call from someone – why have I not responded to the email? When  I then read the email again I am left confused because they were not specific enough in what they wanted me to do, so I did not think I needed to respond.

  • #7: The FYI email 

How often do we all get these FYI email. Sometimes they are very useful and yet at other times not. Then there are times when you open the email to find those three letters at the top, you scroll down and find 5 screens full of an email trial. So before you send your FYI email think about the content first. Maybe you were involved earlier on in the trial and maybe you were very much part of that email tennis match, but either way you know the content well. This does not mean that the recipient will and don’t assume that they have the time to read through all these emails. When you send that FYI email, think about whether it would be helpful to summarise the topic in a few lines. This will draw the attention to the right part of email content. Perhaps even highlighting the main section of interest to the reader would be of great help to them. 
You are busy; they are busy; so make it easy for them by sending well constructed emails.  

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