Updated: Aug 28, 2020
If you are an employee or even a co-owner of business, you might be looking for a way to reduce the number of emails you are receiving without completely overhauling the way that your workmates communicate with each other.
If you work in a job where you have a desk and a computer, then I probably don't need to tell you that keeping on top of your emails feels like a full time job. In our previous post we stepped through some statistics on emails (for example, the average office worker spends two and a half hours a day reading and replying to emails). We also went through some instructions for checking how many emails you are sending and receiving a day, so that you understand the scale of the problem.
You receive what you send
I also don't need to tell you though that you are wasting precious time and energy on emails everyday, and the time spent on those emails does not correlate with the importance of the emails. We have previously spoken about apps that make remote working easier, like Slack and Asana, which also have the benefit of reducing the time spent reading and dealing with inter office communications. However, you might not be in a position to get everyone in your organisation to use these apps, and some emails come from outside of your organisation anyway.
So what can you do about the deluge of email?
You can start by emailing people the way that you want to be emailed. There is plenty of information encouraging us to speak to people the way you want to be spoken to, dress to reflect the way you want to be treated, and listen to others because it is an important part of being heard. The same applies to email. Regardless of your position in the office or work environment you do have some control over the tone of emails coming into your inbox, because you control the tone of the emails you send.
What does this mean? Well it probably depends on your actual job, but here are some things to consider in relation to your email communications.
Is it open ended?
While not all emails need to be demanding or authoritative, your emails also shouldn't consist of a series of open ended questions back to the other side. The email version of what do you want for dinner, I don't know what do you want for dinner, doesn't help anyone. You can make a suggestion without being totally assertive, for instance rather than asking "When should we meet?" (which is likely to cause a number of follow on emails) you could say "Should we meet at 2pm this afternoon?" This still allows the other person to say no, but hopefully they will say yes and this saves some time emailing back and forth.
Do you know what you want?
Have you actually decided what you want to achieve through this communication? That might seem like a silly question, but part of the problem with quickly shooting back an email is you haven't really thought about it. If you were to add this email thread to your to do list, what would the title or goal be?
If you haven't decided what you want then the other side will never figure it out.
Don't simply run around putting out spot fires, pause and think about what you are trying to achieve. This will help you to communicate more clearly and naturally suggests to the other side that a clear response is required.
Is it too casual?
As part of the immediacy of email professionals have drastically changed the way that we communicate in writing. Faxes were immediate and yet they still required you to type something, print it off, hopefully read it after you print it, sign it and then send it. Most emails that we send during the day have very little thought or planning go into them. This isn't a great business model for you, and it invites emails in return that have equally negligible thought or planning, emails which you then need to invest time in reading.
Very few professions are well served by shooting out quick written communications with little thought or editing. This isn't just a question of changing the nature of the emails you receive, but also doing a better job of communicating yourself. When I was still working full time in a traditional firm I used to endeavour to prepare an actual letter, on letterhead, even if what I had to say was short and I was attaching the letter itself to an email. It encouraged me to edit, it discouraged the other side from shooting back a one line response, and it did not take that long. This set a very different tone for my written communications. Whenever I would get busy and emails were getting out of hand I would return to this policy, and wonder why I ever stopped.
You may not use letterhead but the idea remains the same. Don't simply type a sentence and shoot it off. Have some process for taking a step back and ensuring that your tone is not too casual and that you have actually checked what you have written.
Is it too short?
If it is a one line email then do you really need to send it? As email has no tone very short emails can often send the wrong impression.
If you send a one line email will you be sending another five different one line emails to that same person throughout the day? Is there a way to short circuit this and encourage more comprehensive communication, such as a telephone call? Fishing through a long series of one sentence emails back and forth is a waste of time and likely to lead to confusion.
If a series of one line emails is likely to ensue then this should probably be a phone call, or if it is a colleague and you work in an office environment then use it as an opportunity to stretch your legs and go and chat to them. Again the solution depends on your actual job situation, but email should not be treated like instant messenger. It isn't set up to do that and it is an inefficient use of this method of communication.
Is it brief?
I just asked you is it too short, what am I talking about?
Email is not the place for a long pieces of writing, people will not read them. This medium of communication does not lend itself to lengthy communication and the receiver is unlikely to have committed to reading a long communication. They will start reading, then skim most of it, then put reading it on their bottomless to do list or simply respond without reading it properly.
If it needs to be more than 200 or 250 words then it should be it's own letter, or if you do not use letters then at least it's own email with it's own subject header.
Should you start a new email
Even if it is the right length for an email look at the subject line of the email, is it relevant anymore?
Long threads of email are difficult to follow, and starting a new email thread gives you the opportunity to set a new direction using the subject line. Do you need a new subject line?
So what now?
We could say so much more about how to write a good email, but that really isn't the point of this post. The point of this post is to set a different tone in your email communications, a tone that encourages others to also use their emails in a productive manner.
I would love to hear how that works out for you, and whether you have any other tips?
Financial disclosure without emails
Sick of doing financial disclosure by email? Do you want your client to provide information in a systematic fashion rather than drip feeding you information, that is drip fed to the other side, and then they send you a series of emails with differing attachments?
Check out our two way disclosure portal, financial disclosure without the emails. The other side has access to all of the features of the two way disclosure portal without signing up to FamilyProperty, making it more likely that they will use the portal and you will avoid random emails with poorly named attachments. Check it out here.