Despite how much has changed in the last 20 years on how we communicate and gather information, there’s one thing that still stands strong and that’s email. Today, we’re sending over 100 BILLION emails per day. It’s still considered the “go-to” form of business communication. And oddly enough, while we were for the most part all trained to use a keyboard in typing classes, no one really has stopped to consider whether we should be trained to use other technology-driven platforms like email and social media. Now if you consider that email is the dominant means of communication in business, shouldn’t it warrant some set standard of practice?
Recently I’ve come across so many email blunders – whether its about knowing how to communicate via email, fine tuning how you come across emails, or even people confusing how their business should use email. There have been so many moments lately that I feel we need a brush up on basic email skills … or as I like to call it, the 10 Commandments of Email.
1. Though Shalt Not Think Less of Email – Email is critical in a fast-paced driven economy, and here’s why. First, mobile technology has made it possible to always be “on the go.” That, in turn, means that people not always available to answer your call – which brings us to our second point. Because we’re such a flexible workforce, we’re now also taking on two sometimes three different things at the same time. People are usually juggling two jobs, multiple projects, or dividing their time between work and other professional pursuits. These two reasons are probably why you’re seeing 100 million emails per day; it’s how people are communicating.
2. Thou Shalt Control Your Enthusiasm – Whether it’s an over use of exclamation marks or excessive use of emoticons, please control how “excited” you are on email. No one is THAT excited. A capable person, at least in terms of how we’re conditioned to identify capable people, is usually a little more reserved with their emotions. And if you’re strategically using emoticons or exclamation marks to bring some life into your emails, then please limit each to one per email.
3. Thou Shalt Pay Attention to Grammar – Stop being lazy. We know everyone has gotten used to punctuated language (courtesy of Twitter) and autocorrect (courtesy of Smart phones), but emails still require proper spelling, punctuation and the use of complete sentences.
4. Thou Shalt be Timely – Today’s workforce is expected to and rewarded for replying quickly to emails. As a standard rule of thumb, no email received during standard business hours should go unanswered for more than an hour. Of course, you can’t always reply in full but you can let someone know you’ve seen their message and you’ll just get back to it in a bit. The alternative – not answering your email punctually is like having a guest knock on your door and not having anyone home. The message you’re sending your guest is: don’t bother coming over.
5. Thou Shalt Not be a Digital Hoarder – At the present moment, I confess I have something like 30,000 emails in my box. Clearly, I have a problem. In a Time Magazine article, Google’s Eric Schmidt offers 9 rules for emailing and hoarding is one of them. His argument against email hoarding is based on productivity. Here’s what he has to say:
“How much time do you spend looking at your inbox, just trying to decide which email to answer next? How much time do you spend opening and reading emails that you have already read? Any time you spend thinking about which items in your inbox you should attack next is a waste of time. Same with any time you spend rereading a message that you have already read (and failed to act upon).”
6. Thou Shalt Click “Delete” – Emails are a lot like your wardrobe in that if you haven’t come into contact with it in a year, you’re probably over it. If you haven’t read an email from someone in a year, chances are you’re probably never going to read it…or need it. If pressing delete is still a problem for you, segment the process by searching for senders you know you need to delete emails from.
7. Thou Shalt Unsubscribe – On that note, if you haven’t read an email campaign from someone in a year, then you can probably unsubscribe from their mailing list too.
8. Thou Shalt Multitask Intelligently – Now, while you’re cleaning out your inbox, is a great time to listen to all those TED Talks that have been piling up on your Netflix queue or on your podcasts.
9. Thou Shalt Label and Filter – Luckily email has advanced enough to allow us to archive as needed. This next tip also comes from Schmidt who advises us to pay attention to the emails that need following up on. His advice: “When you send a note to someone with an action item that you want to track, copy yourself, then label the note “follow up.” That makes it easy to find and follow up on the things that haven’t been done; just resend the original note with a new intro asking “Is this done?”
10. Thou Shalt be Weary of Your Time – Even though you’ve been commanded to answer emails quickly, know that you don’t have to spend all your time answering emails. Your responses don’t need to be an essay. Keep responses brief and to the point – especially if you’re dealing with probing minds that want free information on things you otherwise charge your time for.