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Following Email Etiquette

Following Email Etiquette

    In Simplifying Your Information Intake, we looked at strategies to reduce the amount of email you need to deal with, and how to deal with what’s left much faster. Anyone who undertakes the task of clearing out their inbox for good and getting a handle on their email habits inevitably discovers that the biggest reason email is plaguing so much of their time is the amount of unnecessary or badly written email being sent their way by others.

    Here at Lifehack we like to help you become more productive, but there’s something to be said for helping others become more productive – after all, if you can make the life of your coworkers, friends and family a bit easier, isn’t it more likely they’ll return the favor?

    So, in this article we’ll look at the email etiquette that you can follow to inspire world peace and harmony and end famine. Email can make life so much easier compared to the inconvenient snail mail or the inefficient phone call, but it can also be the source of all sorts of stress. Perhaps if everyone followed these guidelines, the world really would be a happier place!

    Use Descriptive Subject Lines

    Well-crafted, descriptive subject lines are essential to being able to process email quickly. If you have to open each email just to figure out what it’s about, you can’t prioritize their responses as efficiently. While you might think the email you’re sending is the most important for the recipient to reply to, it may be way down the list for them – they know what they need to get done with the most urgency, so let them be the judge and state plainly what the message is about.

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    Ask yourself if you’d understand the purpose of the email based on the subject heading alone before settling on one, and make sure it is concise, clear and scannable. Don’t use awkward phrasing or unusual words, because they take more time to re-read and understand, hence increasing the amount of time it takes your recipient to process the message.

    Brevity is Your Friend

    Have you ever received one of those emails that never seems to end? The one that goes on for pages and pages, yet by the time you finish you feel like you’ve learned nothing?

    Have you ever sent one?

    I bet the answer is yes on both counts. We’ve all received them, and we’ve all been guilty of sending them at least once or twice before. But there’s also the serial ramblers who do this every time they hit the Compose button.

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    In 90% of cases, email that is more than a page long is too long. Unless you’re explaining complicated concepts or providing detailed instructions (because they’ve been asked for or need to be communicated for a reason), then get back to the core of your message and communicate it quickly.

    In my experience the kind of person who sends an opus for each email is the kind of person who assumes everyone is less intelligent than themselves or feels the need to explain completely irrelevant things. For instance, if you’re a graphic artist, you don’t need to explain the techniques used to create an image for a client when you hand over the work. They don’t care; that’s why they hired you instead of figuring it out for themselves.

    But Don’t Be Too Brief

    Context is important; when you deal with email all the time, it’s easy to forget what you’ve sent out in the last few days. When people remove your message from their reply completely, or fail to include key details in a message, confusion ensues and more back-and-forth is required to sort it out.

    When replying to messages, clip off as much of the previous email as you can while keeping key sentences quoted in your reply. Ensure you provide contextual details that may seem self-evident to you, but not to the recipient – this is especially true when you’re emailing lecturers. Your course is not the only one they teach, most of the time!

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    Don’t CC if You Don’t Have a Reason

    Ah, the terminal case of misplaced carbon copies. Before you inflict this painfully irritating malady on someone, you’ve got to go back and have a good look and ask yourself if it’s necessary. From experience, I’d say about 90% of messages I’ve received where I’m not in the To: field but the CC: field were completely and totally useless to me.

    “Just keeping you in the loop” is a frequent reason given for doing this, and while there are sometimes cases where this is a good idea, for the most part you shouldn’t send someone an email unless you want them to take action on it

    Reply-All Isn’t Always Necessary

    Someone asks their whole mailing list for advice. The whole mailing list uses reply-all to give said advice. You get the pleasant surprise of tens, hundreds, or even thousands of totally unwanted emails. Reply-all is there for a reason and can be useful, but it’s yet another feature of email that’s rarely used for any good reason at all.

    Whether the boss sends you and three other guys an email asking what time the serial bus arrives (I’ve read too much Dilbert) or your 13 year old niece/daughter/cousin/sister has sent out yet another chain mail and you want to tell her off, don’t use reply-all. Don’t punish anyone more than they already have been!

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    Use BCC for Bulk Mail

    Speaking of little girls who make liberal use of the forward button, if you absolutely must send a bulk mail to your address book, always, always use the BCC field. It’s a basic privacy measure and not only prevents your recipients from receiving endless spam as a result of your carelessness (who doesn’t already?), but shows your recipient you have respect for their privacy and some intellect.

    I always feel somewhat more amicable to a mass-mailer who has bothered to use a BCC, even on an internal email.

    And, of course…

    Don’t Use The Forward Button

    The good old forward button. Whenever you receive a once-in-a-lifetime offer to have your love interest call and ask you on a hot date, it’s the forward button that lets you send it on to fifteen people and have it come true. Sounds like something you do often? In that case, I really hate you.

    If it’s not chain mail, it usually boils down to another case of “just keeping you in the loop” that’s not usually necessary; don’t bother unless someone requires the specific information in the forwarded message to complete their job.

    Email can be a massive waste of time. Help others cut their email time down and you’ll inevitably spend less time on it yourself.

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    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    No!

    It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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    But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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    What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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    But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

    1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
    2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
    3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
    4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
    5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
    6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
    7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
    8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
    9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
    10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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