Rules for Email Etiquette & Efficiency
Will Ross, June 6, 2017
The rabbit hole of email goes deep, often descending in a spiral of confusion. While all relationships are different and company requirements vary greatly, there are some quick wins to aim for and mistakes to avoid.
If you’re handling personal email, Inbox Zero is a good principle – clear all emails from your inbox before the end of the day, or else Snooze them and attend to the email at a date in the future (if you’re email client doesn’t allow for Snoozing, you’re missing out). Snoozing an email to the next day is totally fine – the key thing is you’re creating priorities and focusing on Important and Urgent as separate categories. Batching is another technique – allocate set times each day to read and reply to emails.
Those trying to co-ordinate email as a collective have it tougher. The key is to find consensus within your organisation, so that email becomes a channel for constructive conversation, driven by a common method that’s sensitive to different workloads, types and, crucially, optimal working times and timezones. The pursuit of email etiquette reduces the need for synchronous communication (Slack, Messenger, WhatsApp) – who wouldn’t be happy with this?
- Subject Line to include vital verbs – what is your demand? Use an imperative verb – “FEEDBACK:…”, “READ:…”, “REMEMBER:…”. As part of this titling of the subject, identify what topics don’t need to be done in email thread, those items that others might consider part of the project.
- Use opening sentence to outline the framework of the email. In military speak, this is your BLUF – Bottom Line Up Front.
- Number tasks to create a pathway toward progress.
- Be sure not to copy and paste text from a different editor and leave it within the email as an irregular format. This looks terrible when viewed by the recipient.
- Always sign off the email, even if just an initial. This completes the communication by having a fixed end point.
- State in the email the number of files attached.
- Create authentic titles for your attachments.
- State size of attachments, if 1MB or larger (mobile v. web download).
- Name attachments to provide a meaningful reference.
- If you’re including links to a piece of written content or a video, state its medium and timeframe – “800 words” or “4-minutes” respectively.
- Provide a link to documentation at the end of the email.
- Provide timeframe for the next step in the project.
- Indicate who can wait / do nothing, as well allocate tasks using @recipient_name.
- A five sentence email can convey a digestible amount of information. Think about the format of your email and keep it to a single mobile screen, or only a tiny portion longer.
- A few bold titles can be very helpful if your email can naturally be broken into a structure, especially where context is conveyed to set the scene for future changes or updates.
Get in touch if you have any questions or comments – firstname.lastname@example.org.