I’m not the first one neither the last one to acknowledge that email overload problem is getting out of hand and the devastating consequences which doesn’t seem as harmful will only increase the unproductive hours and the lost revenue as its direct impact.
There are multiple problems in how email is used everyday but the major one crops up in the form of ‘Tragedy of the commons’ which means people act in their self interest to achieve their goals even if it isn’t in the best interest of the group they are a part of.
While composing an email we all think about what we want from another person and not the other way round which explains the Tragedy of Commons and the fundamental problem of why email overload problem is drowning us in the sea of unproductive email habits.
There is plenty of advice out there and it is easy to get overwhelmed when you have 100 little things to improve in your email habits. Look at this for example. No way I can implement all of those, I give up even before I start to read.
I don’t want to make it counter intuitive so let’s take baby steps and start with 7 of the simplest methods you can implement in your daily email habits that would cut your inbox time in half.
#1 – The mysterious world of subject lines
Subject lines are like the pickup lines of email world. Executed well, it can make other person comfortable or get you a stamp of creep.
There is a simple way of making your subject lines helpful – Explicitly mention the end goal of your email. This gives recipient clear idea of what she needs to do just by looking at the subject line. She can decide to respond immediately or mark it to reply later.
Let’s look at examples –
- Meeting notes + need feedback on mockups
- [Informational] Update on sales for week of April 27
- [Urgent] Release the new beta today!
- [Low Priority] Please fix this error on the website
Notice two important things:
- Usage of adjectives in square bracket can significantly improve the understanding of what needs to be done just by reading the subject line.
- Don’t worry if your subject line is a bit longer. If it clearly explains what needs to be done without opening the email, you’re doing it right.
#2 – Follow the NNTR/NRN and EOM policy
NNTR = No need to reply
NRN = No reply needed
EOM = End of message
These three simple phrases or their acronyms can itself reduce your email volume significantly.
Most of the time when you send the last email in a thread with all the useful information, the recipient will reply with a thank you note or a brief acknowledgment which just adds to your pile of email.
If you’re sure this would be your last email in the thread, you can add NNTR/NRN at the end of email to let other people know, they need not reply. In some cases it might sound rude or might intimidate employees to not reply to their boss, even if they have a question. To avoid that you can write – ‘No need to reply unless you have a question’ or a variation of it.
Sometimes, you have a very short message that can fit in the subject line itself. In that case adding EOM or [EOM] or [End of message] can save recipient’s time as they don’t need to open the email.
Help yourself and others in becoming efficient.
#3 – Use ‘Send & Archive’ button
Majority of people don’t know about this nifty features that can reduce your email stress or unwillingness to deal with emails.
When you reply to an email and click ‘Send & Archive’ button it sends the email and archives it from your inbox at the same time. It not only saves your time to archive the email separately but also reduces the clutter in your inbox, giving you a sense of power that you’re in control and getting rid of emails fast.
Activate it in Gmail
- Click on Settings icon in the your Gmail inbox and from the drop down select ‘Settings’ option.
- Under the ‘General’ tab scroll down to the section of ‘Send and archive’ and select Show “Send & Archive” button in reply.
- Click on ‘Save Changes’ at the bottom of the page.
You will then see a ‘Send and archive’ button along with the ‘Send’ button like this
Activate it in Mailbird
This feature comes inbuilt and activated when you install Mailbird and looks like
Other email programs seems to be lacking it at the moment.
#4 – Formatting email the right way
You should always avoid writing lengthy emails but if you’re going to write paragraphs of text, at least make it look better so other people do not hate you for it. Use following three elements generously:
Headings in bold
Use headings and bold them. You can also highlight the important parts of the email by bolding them. But the trick is to use keyboard for efficiency. If you select the text using mouse, you need to move the cursor which often selects the wrong text, then move the cursor to formatting bar and click on Bold option. It takes additional time.
Use shift + arrow keys to select text and use Ctrl + B or Command + B on your keyboard to bold it. Let’s look at the math –
If you used bold 10 times in an email, you can save 15-20 seconds by not using a mouse.
If you’re a heavy email user and send at least 5 such emails every day = saving 75 – 100 seconds per day = 37.5 – 50 minutes every month.
It makes scanning the email simpler. It also makes email look clean while making it possible for recipients to write in-line replies.
In case you’re not familiar with in-line replies, take a look how easy it is to answer an email with in-line replies.
Breaking down long paragraphs into cluster of 2-3 lines makes it easier to read. Try not to make a paragraph of more than 3 lines.
#5 – Say No to open ended questions
Always ask a specific question at the end of the email and refrain from asking questions like –
- What are your thoughts on this?
- Any feedback?
Specific questions makes recipient’s life easier and shows you value their time. Instead of a vague question, give your recipient choices/options to choose from which will give them a point to start thinking from. A few examples:
- Would you prefer going ahead with it now or should we postpone it for later?
- Can you send me your feedback on which campaign is the best and why?
#6 – Use CC and BCC the right way
Most people don’t know the correct usage of CC and BCC specially when multiple people are involved in the email. Here are some simple tips:
- Use ‘to’ field to address people who are directly affected by the email or who are expected to reply.
- Use CC to keep people in the loop and when you’re not expecting a reply from them.
- Use BCC when you just want to leave a copy of email in someone’s inbox and they will not be involved in further conversations.
- When someone introduces you over email, take the conversation further with the new person but add the introducer to BCC so you can thank them while not involving them in further conversations.
- If you have to send out the same email to 20 important people, send it one at a time rather than adding all of them to bcc. It only shows your laziness and lack of respect for the other person. And you can forget a reply from them.
- You can add as many people in ‘to’ field as you want, don’t keep just one person in ‘to’ field and rest in CC, that’s a wrong practice.
#7 – Kill it with 2 minute rule
In emails, 2 minute rule means you deal with an email (reply, forward, delete etc) if it would take less than 2 minutes, otherwise you mark it and deal with it later.
There are multiple ways how you store it for later:
- You can star it.
- You can move it to a different folder.
- You can convert them into tasks.
More than this, it’s better to learn about 2 minute rule from the guy who invented it.
You’re now armed to move into inbox battle. Go win it.