Email makes it easy to communicate with people. You no longer have to get up and talk to people that are literally sitting right next to you, and picking up the phone to call someone is so 2003. But email isn’t just great for communication; you can use it to schedule meetings, plan projects, assign tasks, and share files. It’s like the Holy Grail of productivity.
That is… until your inbox decides to grow two emails every time one is deleted, sort of like the Greek Hydra beast. Or when you get caught up in a chain of CCs that’s 20 people long. Or when you have a meeting on top of a meeting on top of a meeting, which kind of defeats the purpose of even having a calendar.
And this is right about the time when that email of yours goes from beautiful and productive to frightening and confusing. And odds are, this is reality for the majority of proactive email users. Why? Well, for exactly the reasons listed above: email makes it easy to communicate, schedule, plan, assign, and share – AKA, the Holy Grail of productivity. But somewhere along the line of sending and receiving messages, people tend to forget the 1-2-3’s of proper email usage. So let’s refresh your memory.
You should never CC someone unless it’s absolutely necessary. It’s always okay to CC a person that’s higher up in the food chain than you are (just in case you need to cover your bases); however, if you CC another person or multiple people because you think that one day they might need to see this content, you’re going about email all wrong. Only CC people you know for certain need to see this information right now or sometime in the very near future. Unjustified CCs will only result in a flood of redundant emails that you’ll eventually have to waste time sifting through.
If you require an action on the recipient, then make sure this CTA (call to action) is clear. In other words, don’t bury your CTA in the middle of a paragraph. If at all possible (which it almost always is), separate your CTA from other content and differentiate it from the other text, either by bolding or highlighting it. You might see this as silly or unnecessary, but you’d be surprised by how much the other person will appreciate it. And plus, many people tend to scan emails because they receive so many. In the process, they miss important information. Bolded or highlighted phrases will definitely be picked up if a person is in fact scanning their emails.
Again, if you require an action on the recipient, always – ALWAYS – give a deadline. It’s easy to write a simple email that asks for a specific item and then to automatically hit send. But the only thing this will do is leave you questioning when they’re actually going to send you this item. You might end up writing another email, calling this person, or stressing for no reason. To avoid this, just give a deadline.
There’s a time and a place for emails that are more than a paragraph long; it’s called a book. The longer your emails get, the easier it is for people to misinterpret comments or for people to miss words and sentences altogether. Emails are designed to be shorter, so keep them that way. If ever an email goes from one paragraph to many paragraphs, then consider picking up that thing we like to call a phone.