Don’t send that email: business email etiquette
Despite your best intentions, email probably wastes a bunch of your time. Email overload drains your IQ. Unexpected emails knock you off track for longer than you anticipate. Part of the Central Desktop mission has been to turn email hell into work-together heaven. Even when you get to heaven, though, you’re probably still going to have to send some email.
We’ve all – well, almost all – come a long way since the days of abused priority flags and endless chain emails. Still, though, routine mistakes persist. Here are several ways to improve your business email etiquette (or congratulate yourself for already having good etiquette). Of course, there are some types of business email that you either should always send or never send… depending on the expert you’ve asked.
Never bury the lede
Are you requesting information? Relaying information? Put it right up front. Don’t get distracted with unnecessary background or convoluted explanations. You’re not writing a short story; you don’t need a beginning/middle/end or a compelling narrative arc.
Don’t scatter your questions
You’ve surely had the experience of asking someone three questions and receiving two answers. If you need multiple answers, make life easier for your recipient and group your questions together.
Write smart subject lines
To combat inbox overload, many people are starting to impose email usage rules on themselves; maybe they won’t check email between 10 and 12, or maybe they’ll only answer high-priority messages during that time. Letting your recipient know that a message is merely “FYI” is helpful. If your subject line contains the full message, throw in an “EOM.” If you began the thread talking about 2014 budgets but have since shifted to nailing down specifics for your summer company picnic, change the subject line so it’s easier to find when one of you is wondering “Where’s that email about the company picnic” a week from now.
Clean up your signature
It’s great that you’re readily available, but sometimes less is more. How many people really need your full shipping address? Save the inspirational Robert Louis Stevenson quote for your Facebook feed (better yet: don’t put it there, either); few things are worse than an erratically-spaced, italicized inspirational quote appearing eight times in an email thread.
“Sent from my iPhone” isn’t about status
OK, some people just want you to know that they have the shiniest new object before you do. But a succinct mobile signature lets people know that you aren’t just being a jerk by responding “k – thx” to a fastidiously constructed strategy doc. It also reassures your boss that you know how to spell even when you email her “Please refer to yesterday’s Powerpit duck.”
CONTROVERSY: to thank or not to thank
Personally, I’m never bothered when someone replies just to say “Thanks.” Quite the contrary. The same applies when I’ve assigned a task and recipients simply acknowledge that they’re working on it. For some people, though, these one-line emails cause immense distress. You’ll never be able to play this one right 100% of the time, but it’s worth figuring out whether your company in general leans one way or the other.
For more on the frightening effects of email run amok, check out our eight scary stats about email. For a more inspirational tale, read How cloud collaboration has changed my email habits.