Thirty (30) suggestions for better e-mail effectiveness

Here are 30 suggestions for how you and your colleagues can use e-mail more carefully and cope with the rising tide of it more effectively.

  1. Train members of the department on e-mail effectiveness (See my post of July 20, 2007: Capital One.).

  2. When you start to type the name of someone in the “To” line, prior names beginning with the same letters may pop up. Make sure you don’t accidentally choose the wrong name.

  3. Clearly describe in the Subject line the contents of any message you send.

  4. If you are sending confidential information, check first with the recipient to make sure his or her e-mail is truly confidential.

  5. Put your main point in the first paragraph, like a journalist starts with the guts of the story.

  6. If you are beginning your third or fourth meaty paragraph, consider a memo or a phone call (See my post of Dec. 28, 2006: quote on email effectiveness.).

  7. Limit how often you attach files. Instead, link to the document or copy it into the message.

  8. Address separate topics in separate emails; don’t jam a group of unrelated topics into one message (See my post of Nov. 28, 2007: break up multi-topic emails.).

  9. Keep your signature line simple (See my post of Dec. 26, 2008 #4: grotesquely long signature block.).

  10. Use spell-check, especially when sending e-mail to clients.

  11. Bypass email for some collaborative tasks. For example, use an online word-processing tool such as Google Docs or Adobe’s Buzzword.

  12. Pick up the phone and call someone, even if you have to leave a message.

  13. When you are responding to an e-mail, it isn’t always necessary (or desirable) to reply to everyone who received the e-mail. If you “reply to all,” make certain your reply should go to everyone and not just the sender.

  14. Make “reply all” more difficult so people don’t hit it unthinkingly.

  15. Respond immediately to an e-mail if you can answer it within two minutes. Move other messages to appropriate folders and delete the messages that you don’t need to keep. This is a variation on the hard-copy acronym of TRAF: trash it, respond to it, act on it, or file it.

  16. Be consistent in how you reply. Top-posters reply to a message above the original text; bottom-posters, the opposite. Interleavers reply within the original text; copiers pick out what they want to reply to and copy it above their response.

  17. Don’t hit reply too often. “The fewer messages you send, the fewer you are likely to receive” (See my post of June 16, 2006: activity-based costing and reply-all.).

  18. When you respond to several points in a long message, excerpt the points being responded to (See my post of Feb. 25, 2009: isolate the topic of your email reply.).

  19. With a long e-mail chain, it’s easy to forget what was written at the beginning (bottom) of the e-mail. Before forwarding the chain, always check what’s contained in the earlier parts.

  20. When you forward a long message, delete the extraneous stuff from long chains of messages.

  21. Consider a rule along the lines of “lawyers will not read e-mail two hours before or two hours after normal working hours in the jurisdiction in which they are located” (See my post of June 21, 2006: email restriction.).

  22. Read your e-mail no more than three to four times each day.

  23. Put limits on your viewing time. If you only devote 10 minutes to your inbox when you turn to it you should become more discriminating in how you use your time.

  24. Use your software’s preview function so that you can quickly dispatch unimportant messages such as chain letters, jokes, and messages copied too promiscuously.

  25. Flag or tag messages that are very important. This tagging might be done with color codes or flags but it lets you keep track of what is crucial.

  26. Try software that helps tackle the inundation of email (See my post of Jan. 18, 2009: six email packages.).

  27. If the thread of a discussion changes, rename the subject line so that readers pick up on the new direction rather than the out-of-date topic.

  28. Drop attachments that have already appeared, unless you add a recipient or the attachment needs to be available so readers can make sense of the message.

  29. Go on a “bacn” diet. Bacn (pronounced bacon) is e-mail that the recipient has subscribed to or agreed to receive but has low value; prune your bacn.

  30. Create filing folders and name them with nouns, such as “Morrison case” or “Will Superfund.” Don’t use adjectives, such as “Urgent” or “Low-Priority” because your filing decisions will vary by your mood (See my post of Nov. 7, 2007: file e-mails adeptly.).

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