Flawed advice: Only check email twice a day.
The problem: For many professionals, this suggestion is unrealistic. While you shouldn’t feel the need to read each email as soon as it arrives, if you only check your inbox twice a day, you may miss out on critical information to keep projects moving or be unaware that priorities have shifted.
The alternative: Check your email when it makes sense for your situation. Maybe that’s once an hour. Maybe it’s four times a day. It depends on your office environment and expectations. The key is that you are intentional about it. You have to instill the discipline to remember, “I am the master of my inbox – not the other way around.” Here are two simple tips that can help:
- Jot down your day’s to-do list before checking your inbox in the morning. As new tasks come up during the day, having that concrete list will help you make better decisions about where they fall amongst your priorities.
- Turn off the sounds and visual pop-ups that indicate a new message hit your inbox (phone included!). Otherwise, that urge to immediately see what’s new may take over, quickly making you feel like a human Ping-Pong® ball.
Flawed advice: Keep emails to five sentences or less, regardless of the recipient or subject. (http://five.sentenc.es/ and the like)
The problem: Keeping emails to five sentences is a worthy goal, but sometimes there are perfectly valid reasons for sending a longer one. Plus, if you have to sacrifice your email’s tone or leave out contextual details in order to be that concise, you aren’t doing yourself or your readers any favors.
The alternative: To keep your emails easy to follow and easy on the eyes, try these tips:
- The purpose of the email should be clear within the first 1-2 sentences. Don’t make people wait until the end! For any subsequent paragraphs, start with the main idea and then go into the details. Use the closing to make next steps clear.
- After you’ve drafted your email, look for words and phrases that can be shortened or eliminated without changing your meaning. For example, the phrase “in the event that” can be shorted to “if.
- Stick to one thought per paragraph and use bulleted lists to make your content more digestible. People’s eyes glaze over when they see one ginormous block of text. Give them some white space and they’ll be much more likely to read the email.
Flawed advice: Stop using “Reply All.”
The problem: Although “Reply All” gets abused, it can actually be very helpful if you’re trying to maintain a specific distribution list. It saves time and ensures you don’t accidentally forget someone. If the people on the email are either engaged in or need to be aware of the conversation, then using “Reply All” is fine.
The alternative: Be mindful of when you use “Reply All” instead of automatically clicking it. You want to pay attention to who’s getting the email and ask yourself if they really need it. Sending a personal message to just one individual? Probably not a good time to use “Reply All.” You can check out my other tips to avoid “Reply All” evil here.
By now, you’ve probably noticed a pattern. Inflexible rules usually don’t work for email. We’d all love an easy, auto-pilot solution, but as long as we’re communicating with humans, it just isn’t that simple. Fortunately, we have amazing brains that can help us read the situation and make good decisions. Let’s use them!
Do you disagree? Have a tip you want to add? Please let me know in the comments!