100 billion emails are sent and received every day; email is inarguably the most popular business communication tool. It’s ubiquity, interoperability, immediacy, and simplicity, make it a very effective medium.
But, if not used well, email can backfire on you. Some of our email bad habits and practices turn email into an unproductive and inefficient tool.
Email can either be a boon or a bane, depending on how well and efficiently you use it. The problem is not really the volume of emails we get, but the bad practices and habits we stick to that can turn email into a messy affair.Suffering from email overload? (Who isn't) Learn how to fight off bad habits and conquer your inbox Click To Tweet
On that note, here are some email bad habits and practices to be wary of:
Power up your workday
Reach your goals faster with time tracking and work management.
1. Not prioritizing your responses
Not every email needs your attention immediately; you should sort and prioritize them accordingly. I like to apply the Pareto principle here, identify the 20% of emails that can bring you 80% of results, and center your focus on these emails.
If you keep attending to your emails, one after another blindly, without prioritizing, you will probably spend more time responding to useless emails.
There are a number of features and applications you can use to sort and organize your inbox. Using filters and rules is a good starting point and you can use techniques like email triaging to manage your email.
2. Using email for everything
Email is undoubtedly ubiquitous and simple-to-use, but that doesn’t mean you shoot out an email for everything.
Here’s a rule of thumb – if your email conversation has crossed 4 emails, then it is better and more efficient to pick up the phone and resolve it.
Our inboxes are bombarded every day with useless and useful information. If you want fewer emails in your inbox, you should send fewer emails. Email is a force for good only if you use it judiciously.
3. Making the email body too long
While in oral conversations, it is okay to not be too concise and elaborate your message, but for emails, you should absolutely make sure that you get to the point quickly.
The shorter the email, the less annoying it is to the reader. Even if you have a lot to say to the other person, keep the content structured.
For example, if I have to send an email with a lot of content I try to follow the Problem – Explanation – Solution format. This makes sure that I don’t drift away and stay on the point.
Most people don’t read everything written in an email; you can facilitate this by making your email easy to scan by bulletproofing it and by clearly indicating what actions are to be taken, for example, and save a lot of time for the reader.
4. Trying to manage projects with only email
A lot of miscommunication happens when you rely only on email to manage a team project. It can cause frustration along with time loss and energy loss.
Email was not exactly built for collaboration. It is merely a communication tool. In order to use email for collaboration, you have to pair it with right tool or software.
Instead of forwarding emails to assign tasks to your team members, you can use features like Shared labels to assign tasks with a click of a button. Depending on email entirely for managing projects is certainly not an efficient method.
5. Using wrong subject lines
You might think that a ‘subject line’ doesn’t really matter much, but it does. Even small factors like the length of the subject line, the words used in the subject line etc will completely alter your open rates.
Did you know that emails with subject lines containing 30 or fewer characters have the best open rates?
When sending an email, make sure the subject line is:
- Short, concise, and attention-catching
- Summarizes your email in one line
- Relevant to the content of the email
- Free of spam words
6. Using the Reply all or the CC option excessively
Set a rule for yourself and ask your employees to follow it as well – add people to an email chain only when it is crucial for them to be in the loop. Make this etiquette a norm in your workplace.
If you wish to remove someone from the email loop after having added them, you can use the BCC option to do that. For instance, say you introduced a friend of yours to a client via email, instead of you having to deal with all the useless extra emails between your friend and the client by remaining in CC, ask your friend to remove you from the loop.
Follow this email etiquette and insist others around you to follow it too, making it easier on everybody.
7. Never taking the time to clean your inbox
Having messy, chaotic, and overloaded inbox will certainly have an effect on your productivity and efficiency.
You may overlook important emails and may even forget to act on some emails because they tend to get lost in the high volume of messages you get every day.
How to tackle this problem? Tidy your inbox every day.
Here is a method you can follow – every time you read a new email do either of the 4 things:
- Do it right now
- Defer for a later time
- Delegate it to the appropriate person
- Delete it
This way you know what to do with each email and you inbox stays sorted.
8. Keeping your email alerts on
Every time you hear your laptop ping or your phone flash you are itching to open your inbox and see what new email you got!
Our brains are wired to respond to new stimuli, so we can’t stop ourselves from stepping away from boring tasks (like writing a document) to see what new shiny toy email might have in store for you.
But according to a case study by Loughborough University, it takes an average of 64 seconds to fully recover each time we’re interrupted by an email.
Multiply that by how often you check your email each day – that is hours of wasted time. Unless your organization needs to respond to emergencies keep your email notifications switched off, if you want to remain productive.
It is definitely counter-intuitive because we don’t really want to miss an important email when it lands in our inbox, but it is about forgoing short-term urges to build long-term productivity.
Remember that you will not miss any important emails by switching off notifications since you already scheduled a check-in time for your email.
9. Misusing words
Have you ever received an email that read ‘URGENT:….’ in the subject line, only to see it’s some promotional offer?! Quite annoying isn’t it?
Just so you can tempt your reader to open your email, don’t use tags like ‘URGENT’, ‘IMPORTANT’ etc. if it is not appropriate for the email.
No one likes to be misled. It’s completely inappropriate and bad etiquette to resort to such lowly measures.
10. Not controlling your email influx
An overloaded inbox, as I mentioned before, is a productivity killer. But unless you take conscious measures to minimize the incoming emails, you will be left with hundreds of emails to deal with every day.
For example, If you really pay attention, on a working day, a majority of your emails are from co-workers. For such internal communication purposes, there are certainly better alternatives than sending emails.
Here are some ideas on how you can control your inbox influx:
- Use tools like Unroll.me to manage your subscriptions and combine them into a single email.
- Ask your family and friends to use instant messages rather than email to contact you.
- Use a filter with the name ‘Unsubscribe’ to filter our all the promotional emails/newsletters.
There are also a number of tools that can help you conquer your inbox.
11. Long-winded email signatures
This is probably quite rare, but is still prevalent to some extent; Having email signatures that go on for 5-6 lines or more is a bad practice.
There is rarely any need for your email signature to contain more than a couple of lines. All you need to convey is your designation and a way for them to contact you or get to know more about you such as your website domain, your contact number etc.
Here are some things you can avoid:
- Multiple phone numbers
- Quotes and slogans
- Too many social media details
- Lengthy descriptions about your company
- Your photograph
Too many details and too long signatures clutter up the email making it hard on the reader to quickly process your email. Also, most people won’t bother to go through all these details so there is actually no point.
Become a master of email management
Email has significantly revolutionized the way we communicate at work and brought us a long way from the days of memos and stenography.
But it has also brought a whole new set of problems into the existence, some of which you might be guilty of, yourself. Having said that, the only real key you need to tackle email effectively is self-discipline and caution.
If you don’t take away anything else from this post, remember this, use email judiciously and clean your inbox every day or at least once a week.
Share your best practices on email management in the comments section.