You can’t control how everybody uses e-mail, but if you’re leading a team, business or other organisation, you can educate your team members about good e-mail practices. And because much of your regular e-mail happens within the team, getting this right can make a big difference to your productivity.
Here are some simple rules you can adopt in your team to increase productivity and effectiveness.
Don’t use e-mail when it’s urgent.
The whole point of e-mail is that you can carefully compose a message, send it to somebody else, and they can deal with it when they are ready. E-mail was never designed for instant responses! If something is urgent, don’t rely on e-mail. Use the phone, instant messaging, or your own two feet to walk over and talk to them.
If everybody knows they don’t have to check their e-mail every five minutes just in case something urgent comes up, it makes them all more productive.
Set clear expectations about response times.
That said, it’s appropriate to agree on what response time is acceptable. Five minutes is unrealistic, but so is five days! Perhaps you will agree that you must respond within 24 hours (excluding weekends), even if it’s just to say, “Yep, I got this, and will reply in full by [date]”.
Respect their time and attention.
As a team, you might agree that you don’t send e-mail at certain times of the day, don’t reply outside working hours, and so on. Just putting these rules in place means there’s less temptation for people to constantly be checking their in-box.
It’s not always easy to play by these rules, because it’s tempting to just shoot off an e-mail whenever you need to, without thinking of the recipient. But you can get the best of both worlds by using e-mail software that allows you to schedule e-mail to be sent at a future time. For example, if you have an agreement that you don’t send e-mail after 5pm, you can send the e-mail at any time but schedule it to be delivered the next morning.
Agree on shorthand for internal e-mail.
Within your team, you can agree on certain guidelines to make e-mail processing easier – for example:
- An e-mail subject starting with “FYI” means no action is required.
- Adding the word “Thanks” to the subject line means it’s just an acknowledgement with no additional content.
- Adding the word “(High)” to the subject line means high priority.
- If somebody is in the Cc list but not the To list, no action is expected of them.
If everybody in the team adopts these rules, it can save a lot of time.
Use other collaboration tools.
Make use of other tools when they are more appropriate than e-mail. For example:
- If you use Slack or HipChat in your team, they are better than e-mail for real-time conversations.
- Instead of circulating interesting articles by e-mail, everybody posts them to the team wiki.
- When arranging a meeting, use calendar scheduling tools rather than relying on a series of back-and-forth e-mails.
Which of these ideas can you use in your team?
It’s easy to be overwhelmed by e-mail, and you certainly can’t control it all. But adopting some of these ideas – even those that seem trivial – can save time, increase productivity, and reduce frustration within your team.