Most e-mail time management techniques look at ways for you to manage your inbox. But sometimes you contribute to your own inbox problem by the way you send e-mail to others. With a few simple techniques, you can improve the e-mail you send, which helps the person receiving it, but also reduces the need for replies and unnecessary discussion.
This is not just about being thoughtful and considerate of other people – although that alone is reason enough. It also helps your own productivity, because your e-mails will be clearer and easier to understand, so other people won’t have to keep writing back asking for more information.
Agree on the protocol
If most of your e-mail is sent between a few people, agree how frequently you (and everybody else) will be checking e-mail, so you have the appropriate expectations and don’t fall into the trap of checking e-mail too often “just in case something urgent turns up”.
Put it in context
When somebody receives your e-mail, you don’t know where they are, when they are reading it and what else is happening in their day. So don’t assume they will remember anything about any earlier discussion. Give them enough context to be able to understand this message fully. Include relevant text from any earlier messages, ensure the subject line is appropriate, and re-read it carefully before sending it.
Ask for an action
Don’t make the other person guess what you want and when you want it; ask for it. This is especially important if you’re a leader or manager, because team members might view all e-mails from “the boss” as very important and very urgent. This usually isn’t the case, so don’t divert them from other work unnecessarily.
Use different messages for different topics
Don’t combine multiple topics in the one message. It makes it harder for the other person to read, understand, act on, and file for reference. Even adding a trivial request (“Oh, and where should we go for lunch tomorrow?”) to a message immediately complicates it for the other person, because they now have to reply to two completely unrelated requests.
Send less e-mail
Consider whether you really do need to send it. Don’t send e-mail to ask questions that you could ask Google or internal documentation; don’t send e-mail to more people than necessary; think twice before you hit Reply All; consider whether a long drawn-out e-mail discussion should really be resolved some other way; and of course, don’t use e-mail for emotionally sensitive topics.