Smart processing of the Inbox is great, but what about responsible email sending?

I love the topic of email and read articles with titles like “staying on top of your inbox”.

Most articles about email focus on processing your inbox and prioritizing which emails to read in what order.  Just yesterday Google announced Google Priority Inbox as a way to solve this problem.

Smarter processing of email is not the entire answer to our email woes.  We all need to be more responsible with sending email. Please do your part and start today!

Here are some examples of irresponsible email sending behavior:

1. “Thanks”
Most people feel the need to reply with “Thanks”, not as a sincere Thank You for something that was done but as a way to acknowledge that they have received your email.

Solution: don’t reply with “Thanks” ever, especially to email threads with multiple recipients.  Try this for a week and it will help, trust me.

2. “Thoughts?”
So often I receive an email saying “Take a look at this company, thoughts?”  Even though this is one of my favorite things to do, I dread these emails and they typically end up at the bottom of my inbox.  Using “thoughts?” implies some eventual response is needed but has no clear definition around what is needed.

Solution: ask specific questions about the company such as “Could ACME’s product be used to solve XYZ problem we are having?” or use your Project Management systems to have this conversation.

3. Attachments without context
I receive many emails with MS Word or Excel files attached that contain content that should not be locked up in attachments.  Examples are meeting notes, agendas and simple spreadsheets.  These emails often do not contain any context around the content in the attachments which is annoying in general but also makes finding these emails using search very difficult.

Solution: even if you used MS Word to take notes, spend a few minutes to craft a responsible email that is easy to read or use software like Evernote that lets you take notes and email them as text.

Here are some tips I have gathered that will help you be a responsible email sender:

  • Use “FYI” in the subject line – this implies you don’t need a response from the recipients, not even a quick “Thanks for sending this”.
  • Use “cc” the way it was intended – if you put a recipient as a “cc” you should not expect a response from that person, you are simply copying them so they can optionally follow the conversation.  If you want a response from them or require they follow the conversation then include them in “to”.
  • Use your Wiki, Intranet or whatever your company uses to discuss company wide ideas – when a discussion deserves thought and will last over several weeks.  This will help preserve the shelf life of the discussion and the contents won’t get buried in your email trash.
  • Use your project management systems for all project data – everything related to a project or client should be in a system like Basecamp or Rally.  Granted, these systems communicate using email, however by posting data to those systems you ensure it is in the appropriate place and recipients of emails from those systems can use filters within their email client to sort and organize their email more efficiently.
  • Use IM and the Watercooler to get quick questions answered – if someone is on IM or is getting a cup of coffee they are saying “it’s OK to interrupt me”. Use that as an opportunity to ask a quick question instead of sending an email that may not get answered until the next day.

Like many tools in the business world, email can be used for both good and evil.  Don’t be that guy that sends “Thanks for sending this” to 10 people on an email thread, be the responsible guy that lives in a world of Inbox Zero and helps others get there as well instead of adding to their never ending pile of email.

Related Articles:

How does Fred Wilson, VC Blogger, deal with email?

Empty your Inbox everyday, use Keyboard Shortcuts and other great tips from Michael Hyatt

Email Sucks. 5 Time Saving Tips (Kevin Rose)

Extreme Makeover: The Email Inbox Edition (Gina Trapani)

Why Email May Be Draining Your Company’s Productivity by Mark Suster

Related Posts from ktinboulder’s blog:

Being More Productive

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