The worst advice we’ve ever heard about email

Tired of your unruly inbox? »

email advice facepalm

Email has been a leading form of communication in the business world for years, and yet many of us still don’t use it properly. From email etiquette to creating an effective email workflow, there are a lot of things we do wrong and these bad email habits waste our time and stop us from getting results.

If you want to up your email game and simplify your work life, stop listening to this bad advice.

Your subject line doesn’t matter.

I’ve heard this a number of times in regard to emailing coworkers (not related to sales or email marketing, where the subject line is of course paramount). Do your recipients a favor and use clear, informative subject lines. It improves their ability to prioritize and get things done, which ultimately helps you get what you want.

Is something urgent? Start the subject line with “urgent.” Is there no need to reply? Include NNTR. Can you fit the entire message in the subject line? Add EOM, which stands for end of message. “Urgent: Need quarterly report by Friday (EOM)” tells me exactly what’s needed, that this is a priority, that I don’t have to open the email, and that I don’t have to write back.

You need to respond to every email.

Just because you receive an email from a real person does not mean you need to reply to it. There are several times when this is true, and we wrote about them last week (Stop Responding to Every Email You Receive—Here’s Why.) In general, this comes down to a simple question: are you wasting your time or the recipient’s time by sending it?

You don’t need to respond to any email.

On the other end of the email reply spectrum are those who don’t feel the need to respond to any email. There are a few potential issues with this approach:

– It can lead to even more email in the way of follow-ups.
– It can lead to harsher evaluations from colleagues.
– It can lead to missed business opportunities now and in the future.

Before moving on from an email that might deserve a response, think about whether your silence will be detrimental to how people perceive you or to your company or department’s performance.

It’s more respectful of the recipient’s time to email than call.

This can be true when something is not urgent. If it is urgent, as in it needs to be done within the hour or even by the end of the day, it’s far more respectful of your colleague’s time to inform him as soon as possible. Otherwise, what happens when the end of the day rolls around and the person realizes you needed something 10 minutes ago but is already on his way out the door? As a general rule, if you require a response or action that day, send an instant message, call, or speak in person, don’t email. On the flip side, please think twice before walking over or calling if a matter isn’t urgent. These disruptions take coworkers away from tasks that are pressing now.

Keep your email open so you don’t miss anything.

There are very few jobs where leaving your work email open is necessary. For most of us, it’s just a distraction, and a bad one at that, as studies have shown it increases stress levels and decreases productivity. This is why we strongly advocate the Scan-Block-Ask approach to email. The Block portion says that you block off specific times for email each day, for instance, an hour in the morning and an hour after lunch. Outside of those windows, close email and remain focused on accomplishing real and important tasks. You should also turn email notifications off. If you think a lack of email availability will be an issue with coworkers or clients, then tell them about how your new approach makes you more efficient and effective and ask them to call, text, or IM with urgent matters. You can also set up VIPs in some email apps and enable push notifications for only these senders.

Replying right away comes across as desperate.

One of the interesting things about digital communication is that there isn’t a clear or universally accepted amount of time for replying. Some worry that replying to an email right after it was sent looks desperate, but if you’re in your scheduled block of time and receive a message that you do need to respond to, just do it. There are of course times when a delayed response can be strategic, but it’s generally not the case. Understand that leaving an email in your inbox for later causes you to waste additional time and focus on it, slows down the conversation being had, and makes it far more likely that you’ll forget to reply entirely. Stop worrying about what others will think, and start getting things done.

Colorful fonts and quirky email signatures make you memorable.

This might be true, but it’s not the right kind of memorable and can ultimately detract from the effectiveness of the emails you send. Keep it simple, especially for work email, and think about using text links to send people to your website or social channels. We suggest text links because images within the body of an email sometimes show up as attachments or are hidden by default.

It’s okay to use your inbox as an archive.

Leaving old messages in your inbox goes against logic. You don’t put snail mail back into your physical mailbox. You throw it out immediately, act on it and then file or trash it, or put it in a to-do pile for later. Treat your inbox the same way to enjoy a more organized and distraction-free life.

The moral of the story? Never use your inbox as an archive. Sign up for an email service that will clean it out, then enjoy a focused state from that day on.

Organize all email into folders.

Folders used to be necessary for email organization. This simply isn’t the case anymore. Most email clients let you search all of your mail at once and do so by sender, subject line, email contents, and more. Because of this, there is no need to fret about organizing every single email into the perfect place. Most can simply be archived, saving time and brainpower.

CC the entire office to keep everyone in the loop.

Please don’t frivolously copy people who don’t need to be included. It’s annoying. Beyond that, like many the bad email habits, this practice wastes your time and the recipients’ time. If you’re paranoid that others don’t know what you’re doing all day, you’re either not doing work or need a different system for filling people in. If it’s the former, we can’t help you, but if it’s the latter, then use a task manager or send daily or weekly recaps to the appropriate parties. Finally, when one of these email threads does get going, don’t be afraid to remove recipients after the exchange is no longer relevant to them.

Fix your inbox in 2 minutes? Yes, please »

And there you have it—some of the email worst practices we see on a daily basis. Have friends who commit these email faux pas? Help them be more productive by sharing this on social:

Share on Facebook »
Share on Twitter »
Share on LinkedIn »


Leave a Reply