It’s funny how a system that supposedly increases productivity and streamlines communication needs strategies for dealing with communication pile-ups. Heavens knows I’ve fallen prey to email clutter; my inboxes are horrid messes filled with emails that will never be read more than once, messages that I still haven’t replied, ancient discussion threads, and other sins of electronic communication.
Erin (The Unclutterer) highlights some of the most important points I relate to my own clients regarding effective email communication. Her article goes into detail, but I will provide my own summary here.
Of the utmost importance is determining whether or not email is the appropriate medium at all. Very often a huge amount of time gets wasted sending emails back and forth when that same issue could have been resolved with a five minute phone call. Picking up the phone does cause some people anxiety – I’ve written about my own phone anxiety before – but for heaven’s sake, pretend you have a spine and just pick up the phone. It isn’t as scary as you think it is, and will save you time, effort, and stress in the long run.
Next, understand exactly what it is you are email about. Pick one or two specific issues and stick to those topics. If you aren’t certain what it is you are addressing, it might be better to pick up the phone. Maybe you need to sound off on a few different ideas. That’s a perfectly acceptable reason to contact someone, but that process is usually better when done in real time.
Third, keep your email concise and to the point. Unless you are writing a social letter to your friend, don’t use it as an opportunity to chat. When dealing with business, attention and time are valuable commodities, so don’t waste either with pointless pleasantries Be polite, and then show respect to your reader by addressing the issue without needless embellishment or tangents.
Finally, write an adequately descriptive subject line. It is with staggering frequency that I see business emails with no subject line, with banal and unrelated subjects, or even with subject lines that were rendered obsolete several exchanges ago. Your reader should know precisely what it is they will be reading about with a quick glance at the subject line prior to clicking on the email. That way they can plan how they are going to go through their email list and get their head into the correct context before even opening the message. This makes a huge difference in sparing time and energy in our daily communications.
Apologies to Erin for ripping off the subject of her excellent blog post, but the content was so similar to what I cover with my clients that I couldn’t resist bringing it up here again. If you haven’t yet seen the Unclutterer blog, check it out. She has lots of excellent insight into organization that can create a very real difference in both your home and business life.