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Getting the Most out of Email

Updated: Feb 21, 2022

The average employee receives 121 e-mails each day, and for many of us, it’s far more than that. We could spend our entire workday doing nothing but responding to e-mails. Granted, most project-specific e-mail is necessary but much of what we read is not…and research shows that only 34.1 percent of e-mails are actually opened.

Every e-mail you send adds to, or detracts from, your reputation. And when you fail to respond to your e-mails, that also detracts from your reputation and makes it harder for your coworkers to complete their work.

Here are some simple protocols to make our e-mail process more efficient and effective.

When you should use the phone or in-person conversation instead:

  • If the conversation does not require a paper trail and is only between you and one other person, consider calling to discuss. E-mail is no replacement for human interaction.

  • Never use email if you there is conflict, anger, frustration, miscommunications or misunderstandings. Take a deep breath and wait before deciding how best to proceed. If there is a disagreement or misunderstanding, say “I think there’s been a misunderstanding” and try to clarify, calmly, in e-mail. If that doesn’t work, and especially if emotions escalate, pick up the phone or walk over to the person’s workspace to make sure everyone is aligned. If in doubt, check in with a mentor or colleague before responding in person.

  • Should your e-mail require a detailed response or input from several people, consider setting up a meeting or conference call to discuss.

  • For topics requiring immediate attention, consider a instant message, phone call, or text instead.

How to write e-mails that are more likely to be read:

  • Write concisely. Long e-mails are less likely to be read.Use the “To” line for the people whose attention or response you need.

  • Use the “CC” line for those who need to be aware of the discussion but are not expected to respond.

  • Ensure the subject line accurately summarizes the e-mail and update the subject line if the conversation changes. If you are forwarding an e-mail, it is now your responsibility to confirm the title is still pertinent to the message.

  • Be clear about what you would like the recipient to do with the information in your “Subject” line. For example, begin with "Please respond by ____," "Action needed: ______," and "FYI: ________."

  • Introduce yourself if the recipient doesn’t know you or provide a refresher if it’s been a while.

  • Use “BCC” if you're sending a message to a group and you need to protect the privacy of your list.

  • Make your e-mails easy to follow. When referring to a document, attach it or include a link. Label attachments with the project, document title, and revision date at a minimum.

  • Include screen shots to ensure your audience understands your point of reference. By making it easy for your audience to find the information you’re referencing, you will get faster response times.

  • Proofread for spelling and grammatical errors before sending.

How to avoid annoying people with e-mails:

  • Avoid “Reply All” when responding to group e-mails. Consider whether “all” need to see your response. Responding to the sender only will often be the best course.

  • Avoid single word responses such as “Thanks” or “OK.” Respond only if you are advancing or contributing to the communication.

  • Also avoid sending personal, confidential, or other sensitive information via e-mail.

  • Do not use e-mail for expressing anger, making passive-aggressive comments or disparaging remarks, or issuing reprimands.

  • Before forwarding or adding people to an e-mail thread, always review the previous messages to confirm that sensitive or internal discussion is not shared. And rather than requiring an individual to review an e-mail thread for the relevant context, recap the summary details in a separate e-mail.

  • Avoid “information dumping.” When attaching several files, be sure to include a quick synopsis of the information so people can prioritize without reading through the entire e-mail and attachments.

How to manage your e-mails more effectively:

  • Respond to your e-mails in a timely fashion. Consider allocating time during the day to respond to e-mails that are not critical.

  • Whenever you are out of the office, use the out-of-office reply feature and provide complete contact information for your replacement for each of your projects. Indicate when you will be back in the office.

Remember that e-mails are forever. Be professional, organized, and accurate in your communications.

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