How to use email

As a public service, I offer ten rules of email. Apply them and be happy. Ignore them and others will suffer.

How to read email

Consider the source.

Before reading even the subject line, read who the message is from. This helps put the message in context.

Consider your place.

Are you in the To line or the Cc line? Is the message addressed to a large group of people? If you are the only one in the To line, then consider the message important. If you are in the Cc line, you probably don't need to act upon it. If it was sent to a mailing list, then it can probably be ignored.

Read from the bottom up.

Scroll to the bottom of the message to see where the thread began. And even the most recent message can be read backwards. The call to action is usually in the last two sentences.

Move messages out of your inbox.

Once you have acted upon a message, move it to a folder. If you can't act upon it right away, move it to an "open issues" folder.

Organize folders by issue, not by sender.

It's easy to set up rules and folders by sender, but it's not terribly useful. Email threads involving different people will get fractured. It's better to keep emails on a common thread and about a common issue in the same folder.

Create one folder for open issues and another folder for closed issues. Whenever a new issue arises, create a new subfolder for it within open issues. When the issue is resolved, move the folder to closed issues. If you have a multi-stage process, create a folder for each stage. For example, I have five parent folders named "0 Open", "1 Checked In", "2 Test", "3 Production", and "4 Closed".

How to write email

Don't manage through email.

Email is far to easy to misinterpret. If you allow for interpretation, your employees are guaranteed to take it in the worst possible way. If you have a problem with one specific employee, call him to the carpet. If something is important enough to say to all your employees, it should be said in a company meeting where they can ask questions.

Don't reply to all.

Don't be "that guy".

Delete all but the last two sentences.

After reviewing your carefully crafted message, summarize it. Then delete all but the summary. The email should contain only a call to action and enough supporting material for the recipient to follow up.

Give tangents their own thread.

If the subject line or set of recipients no longer fits, start over. Include only the people who care, and pick a subject line that fits. For example, if you receive a request to review a document, don't reply to all with your comments. Instead start a new thread with only the sender, and identify the issue in the subject line.

Call your audience to action.

Always let the recipient know what you expect them to do. Make this the first (and prefferably last) sentence in the message.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.