Reduce email overload by telling people how to work with you

The daily email deluge is the scourge of productivity, but how can you stem the tide? Over at Six Pixels of Separation, Twist Image president Mitch Joel offers his tips for handling email overload. His advice goes over some ground we’ve covered about before, such as using rules and folders/labels, but one tip really stood out to me: You should tell people in your emails how to work with you. As Joel points out, many people don’t know how to use email effectively; “They respond to everyone on an email with a bunch of people who were only cc’d and they’ll do things like send back an email that says, ‘ok,’ as if that adds any value to the chain of communication.” Joel says that you can help to address this by adding some ground rules to your email signature, such as “Please only respond back to me, the other people who are listed on this email are just there to be kept in the loop.” or “There’s no need to respond back to me, I just wanted you to see this so that you are kept in the loop.” Doing so can help to cut down on the number of unnecessary replies, and so help to keep clutter out of everyone’s inbox.

While I think Joel’s advice is useful, I’d go further and say that if you really want people to pay attention to your email ground rules, you should put them in the body of the email itself rather than in your signature, possibly as the last line of the email before your sign-off — people often don’t bother reading email signatures, particularly if they are lengthy. If the email you’re sending doesn’t  require a response, you could also add wording to the subject line (such as “FYI” or “For Information Only”) to make it even clearer. It’s also important to try to cut down on the number of unnecessarily open-ended questions you pose in group emails (“what time should we meet?” for example), as that’s much more likely to result in back-and-forth reply-all responses, again increasing the volume of email that everyone has to deal with.

While it may take a few extra seconds to formulate and type out that includes explicit instructions, you’ll be saving the time of everyone copied on the email, and over time you may actually end up educating a few colleagues on better email usage.

Looking for some more information on how to improve email efficiency? Dawn shared her favorite tips for reducing email overload recently.

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