7-ish Reasons Why Email Drives Me Crazy

The whole goal of email is to be more efficient, but few people are. As a person who works in a tech-savy environment (and prefers email as a medium of business communication), I get SOOOO frustrated when people suck at email. But so many people are terrible email communicators. More communication isn't always better communication and a thoughtless response is worse than no response at all. If used improperly, email doesn't streamline your workplace communications, it actually creates additional, unfruitful work. Here are 7-ish things we can all do to be less terrible at professional email communication:

1. Have A Clear, Pertinent Subject Line

Subject Line: Re: Fw: Re: Fw: Re: Fw: A/R Meeting Content: Here is the login for our clients new website….

Be a dear to the folks on the other end - provide a clear subject line. This would allow the recipient the opportunity to prioritize their inbox more effectively.

A clear subject line also helps group emails in treads, or conversations. This may seem tedious on the front-end, but when you start searching through old email for a particular message, you'll be thankful. While we are on the subject of threads, it's important to be thread-minded. Keep your subject lines consistent with the content of the email. If your subject of your content changes, so should your subject line. Just start a new email. Also, if you owe someone an answer on a past conversation, don't just respond to the last email communication you had with that individual. Find the email concerning the question and respond to it. It's the decent thing to do.

Keep in mind, Chicken Little, your email is not always the most important email they will receive today. If you waited to the last minute to address an issue, that is your fault. Take ownership of that.

2a. Communicate An Action

An email sent to a team of people: '...Let's get started'. Ok, who starts? And what is the first step? What's the plan?

A good email has a clear call to action or purpose. Email communication usually revolves around solving problems or accomplishing tasks. Thus, your email should assist in this goal. A terrible email leaves you saying, 'So, what do we do next?' Good emails transfer to-do's to recipients. They should reduce options, not create them. If you want to introduce multiple options with no clear course of action, call a meeting. Use email to eliminate options and hone in on the solution to your problem. Email is a poor avenue to simply stir the pot.

2b. In Group Emails, Assign Responsibility

An email sent to a team of people: '...Let's get started'. Ok, who starts? And what is the first step? What's the plan?

Sending an email to multiple people, without assigning individual responsibility is a waste of time. It almost always falls upon deaf ears. Typically, the likelihood of individuals waiting on others to 'respond first' is directly proportional to the amount of work involved. For each question or task assigned, identify the responsible recipient. You probably already know this information, or you wouldn't be copying them to the email in the first place. Just make sure the individual is also aware.

4. Be Short & Sometimes Sweet

Blah Blah Blah Blah. I don't care.

I'm reminded of a line from one of my favorite movies, Ocean's 11: "Don't use seven words when four will do." You're wasting both your time, and the readers'. Magnify that by 100x per day and you've got some substantial time to reclaim.

Within the office, email isn't a 'Dear Diary' kind of a thing. It's a professional communication tool. This is particularly true of internal email communications. Take some advice from Sgt. Joe Friday: "Just the facts, ma'am."

5. Confirm Receipt

The website is down. Please look into it ASAP.

If someone writes you a significantly important email, a quick 'Thank You' or 'Will do' reply is a quick & easy way to confirm that you have received said message and put everyone's uncertainty to rest. It's not always necessary, but sometimes the situation requires it.

6. Be Timely

You email me a question. I respond with an answer. I don't hear from you for 2 weeks. Then you email back looking to restart the conversation.

It's always important to be timely in your email responses. I suspect that 24 hour response window is plenty sufficient for most people. If you are in a customer service or management position, you may need to be more prompt. With smart phones & laptops, that should be plenty of time. Besides, if you don't respond in the first 24 hours, there is a slim chance you will ever respond.

7. Know your audience.

The next time someone forwards me an email that I was copied on initially, I might scream.

A professional emailer always knows their audience. They pay attention to who received their email and who their response is directed to. Zappos, who is internationally recognized for their workplace environment, takes great pride in embarrassing people who accidentally 'Reply All'. It's such a fun way to encourage people to be more cognizant of their email audience.

It's time to take your email communication skills to the next level. By becoming more concise and communicating more effectively. You can save yourself time and save your company money.