By Gemma Morris
2nd June 2015

“Too many emails.” It’s a problem we all share, and one of the biggest complaints in the modern workplace. Yes, email is an invaluable tool, but our over-reliance on it as a method of communication has reached a critical stage. Estimates vary depending on the source, but every study about email in the workplace arrives at the same conclusion: we waste an unfathomable amount of time writing, reading and replying to emails.

While we can all relate to receiving too many emails, have you ever stopped to ask yourself “Am I guilty of sending too many?” How can you make the most impact with your emails, take up less of your own and your colleagues’ time, and improve your workplace communications? Let’s take a look at some suggestions.

Is it quicker to say it in person?

Are you using email to replace having a proper conversation at work? If it’s an internal email, consider whether it’s about something that could be resolved face-to-face, or even with a phone call. If you’re looking to communicate a quick status or ask an easy question, you can accomplish so much more by having a quick chat with a co-worker. Too many emails are about issues that can be resolved in a matter of moments, as opposed to the lag time involved in writing the email, then waiting for a reply. What’s more, communicating in person with your co-workers helps to develop rapport and strengthen relationships, which can contribute to a sense of teamwork.

Can you de-escalate a situation?

Sometimes it becomes clear to us that despite our best efforts, the person we’re emailing doesn’t understand our meaning or has misinterpreted something. Before you become frustrated and spend more time trying to explain yourself, remember that written messages are notorious for not properly conveying tone. Too often, we read something in an email that the writer did not intend, and vice versa. On the other hand, our personal demeanour – through non-verbal cues such as body language, tone of voice, eye contact or even a smile – can calmly resolve a situation instead of escalating it.

Are you using email to prove something?

It’s the downside of being constantly connected in today’s world. We’re working more hours, including nights and weekends, than ever before. But we believe in working smarter, not longer. Avoid the temptation to email at off-peak hours if there’s no urgency. You may think you’d get points for proving you’re working late into the night, or that you’re always “on”. But if all you’re really doing is creating more work for someone else who has to read your email, you’re not fooling anyone – especially when you copy in the world and his wife. Frankly, managers hate that sort of thing; it’s a classic sign of lack of confidence in employees. And managers –if your team do this to you all the time, because they feel the need to prove they’re working round the clock, do you need to take a look at your culture? It’s worth thinking about.

Who is my audience?

Let’s face it – some people simply don’t read their emails. We all know that fast-paced or short attention span person who doesn’t have the time or the bandwidth to read a lengthy email, let alone plough through a long attachment. Maybe it’s a function of them receiving too many emails, but it could just be that email is not the most effective way to reach them. This is another example of knowing who your audience is and adapting your communication style to suit them – maybe a phone call or a meeting in person might be best. Why waste your valuable time writing an email that won’t get read?

Making the most of email

Whilst we all send and receive too many emails, sometimes they’re unavoidable. So how can we maximise the impact our emails make? Here are some quick tips:

  • Use a strong subject line, one that conveys the crux of your message. Avoid such vague headers as “Question” or “Agenda”.
  • Try to use Reply All selectively, and it’s okay not to respond to every email with “thanks”.
  • Keep it short and simple. Use bullet points, or 1-2 sentence paragraphs.
  • Make it clear what action is required of the reader.
  • For project management or task-orientated emails, consider some alternatives instead. Try using forums, IMs, project management software such as Basecamp, cloud-based file sharing or public social networks like Google+ to work together with your team.

Do you have any tips for reducing the amount of emails you send, or de-cluttering your inbox? Share your suggestions with us below.


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