We all have a love and hate relationship with our email. Technology requires a balanced approach and careful management to be the positive thing it can be. Here are my rules to help keep email from becoming an out of control beast:
One request per message
It seems simple enough, but how often to you get that email with 4 different requests that all require extensive work? Sure, they all might be related and need to go in a certain order. That’s fine – they can still be split into individual emails. For example:
Sink is backed up, please unclog
Greg - the sink in the kitchen is backed up. Please unclog it. See attached photo.
Clean up flood on the floor
Greg - due to the sink being plugged, you'll also need to clean up the mess on the floor.
Basement needs to be checked out, opinion on repairs
Greg - The water from the sink overflow is likely making its way into the basement. Please inspect and let me know if we need to repair anything.
Yes – these could have all been in one message. But now, I have a nice list in my inbox of messages that are now To-Do items. I can address the items individually (while still seeing them sequentially in my inbox) and move on to the next task.
Descriptive Attachment File Names
There’s nothing worse than getting a whole bunch of photos all with file names like DSC_1031.jpg. You should always re-name files to describe whats in them.
More than 3 attachments? ZIP it! ZIP it good!
Attachments are difficult beasts. Few, if any, email readers do a good job at presenting attachments in a way that makes it readable. If you are going to send more than 3 attachments, ZIP them up first. Use sub folders inside the ZIP to separate files out logically.
Ditch the Reply Signature
I get it, your signature is important for emails you initiate out of the blue. It’s an automatic way of attaching your business card to your messages. Just turn it off for replies, please. I don’t need 18 copies of your business card in between each communication of a thread.
Search first, Re-Request Second
Did I send you something a month ago that you need again? Rather than emailing me asking to have it resent, use the search on your email to find the original. There’s no excuse anymore for not having every email you’ve ever received indexed and searchable AND an empty Inbox.
Screenshots are an amazing thing – they help us communicate what we’re seeing without having to re-type or recreate a thing! As such, it’s important to limit your screen captures to just what’s relevant to your message. Screenshots often cannot be blown up big enough to see everything inside of email readers (i.e. Outlook) when you’ve captured the entire contents of your two 1680×1200 monitors and pasted it into a message. Always crop your screen shots. Better yet, use a program like Jing or SnagIt to capture just the part of the screen you need to send in an email.
Keep it Professional
This may seem shocking, but most people don’t find email to be fun. Using email for casual conversation should be avoided. Casual conversation is always best in person, over the phone or on IM if you must do it electronically. Many companies auto-archive everything that comes and goes – are you sure you want your IT guy to read the email you are sending to your buddy, bragging about the weekend fishing trip? I don’t, nor do I want to waste my time reading it when it’s better suited conversation to have in person at lunch.
The reality is that email is an uncontrolled medium. People are free to innovate ways to abuse your inbox. So, in order to curb this, it’s important to set ground rules with the people that you are going to communicate with most.
Do this and I guarantee you will be far more happy with your inbox – as will the people you email all the time!