Over the next few weeks, we’re going to look at the most common form of electronic communication – email. We’ll look at how to send better emails, become more productive, and look more professional.
Nearly 150 billion emails are sent every single day. As the infographic shows, a typical business person sends or receives 112 emails a day, which is enough to cause complete overload in anybody. To make things worse, 42% of them are ignored, and 50% are misunderstood.
That’s one heck of a lot of useless communication, wasted time, and unnecessary resources, so let’s start by looking at ways to cut down your email traffic. It may feel like you’re being productive if you’re sending out hundreds of emails a day, but you may just be making extra work for yourself and everyone else.
1. Do you really need to email all those people?
The great thing about email is that it’s so easy to send it to everyone. It just takes a few keystrokes and you can copy everyone who needs to know about something. In fact, many organizations and managers encourage lavish use of cc’s – just so they can “stay in the loop” or “keep an eye on the situation”. It shows that they’re communicating, and communication is good.
But much of the time, all that extra communication just adds to the confusion. The more people you send an email to, the less likely they are to do anything about it – they’ll all assume somebody else will handle it. And will things really get addressed any faster if you inform your manager, the entire sales team, and your manager’s secretary in addition to the person who’s going to deal with the problem? Probably not. In the best case scenario, it’ll make absolutely no difference. In the worst case, all those people will chime in and complicate things still further.
Remember, half of them won’t even read it. All you’re doing is overloading all those people with extra information, just to prove you’re on top of the situation, or to try and pass the buck so that someone else will take responsibility. Much of the time, you can – and should – just deal with the situation yourself. Only include those people who actually need to be involved.
In a future post, we’ll look at the etiquette of cc’s, but for now, simply ask yourself how many of those people really need to see that email you’re about to send.
2. Don’t use the reply all button unless you mean it
This follows on from the previous item. If you’ve received an email that’s also gone to a lot of other people, then think before you reply whether everyone needs to see your reply, or if you only need to answer the original sender (plus, perhaps, a few others).
The worst offenders here are party and event invites. They go out to 30, 50 or more people, and then everyone who was invited ends up getting all the acceptances, declines, and queries about what to bring, dress codes, and so on, even when they’ve already said they’re not coming.
The same situation happens when someone sends something to an entire department or company. You inevitably end up with two or three people discussing the issue, and everyone else has to suffer through their private conversation, whether it’s work-related, or a commentary on last night’s football or Game of Thrones.
Later this month, we’ll examine how to use bcc’s to reduce this problem. However, get into the habit of double-checking before you hit reply, and only use reply all if it’s really necessary for everyone to see your response.
3. Do your customers really want to hear from you all the time?
Most of the email in the world is spam. Nobody likes spam. But are you sending your customers more emails than they want? You may think of all those emails as important customer information, but remember that your customers may not be as interested in your business as you are.
Look closely at your customer email policy, and ask whether you’re perhaps overdoing it. What difference would it make to go from a weekly update to a bi-weekly or even a monthly one?
4. Talk to someone instead!
Perhaps most importantly, think about whether email is the best way of communicating with someone. Frequently, it isn’t. Email certainly has its place – it’s great if you need a written record of a conversation, or if you need to communicate with someone in a different time zone. Often, though, it’s an inefficient way to communicate: discussions get dragged out over days, and end up taking up far longer than they need to.
A face to face meeting or a phone call is often preferable, if it’s possible. You can often accomplish much more, and do it much quicker, dealing with a person directly than if you’re leaving messages for each other. If a fast response is important, try texting instead. You can always follow up with an email that summarizes what was discussed.
Alternatively, Skype, AIM, and other online chat services can work well if you need to get a group of people together to discuss something.
Before you send an email, consider picking up the phone instead. Or, if the recipient is in the same office, walk over to them. It’s always good to get away from your desk!
With a little self-discipline, it’s possible to cut your email traffic by as much as 90%. While not everyone will be able to achieve that level of success, it’s well worth trying to find ways to avoid adding to the email mountain. Remember, the less you send, the less you’re likely to receive.
If you’re a manager, put a policy in place that minimizes unnecessary emails, both internal and external. You’ll be amazed how much difference it makes.
Next time, we’ll continue our series with a look at images and attachments and the most effective ways to send files through email.