The following are guidelines for effective email usage (in decreasing order of importance). The first five items are strongly recommended, the others are nice to have.
- Answer all business messages containing questions or requests within two business days, preferably on the same day. If you can’t give a final answer, then write that you’ll do it later (it is advisable to indicate when). If the question or request is not formulated explicitly, then it is better to clarify whether an answer is required.
- Use separate mailboxes for:
- subscriptions and registrations on the Internet;
- personal correspondence;
- working correspondence.
This is necessary to prevent mixing up of unimportant and important messages that require an answer (see item 1). It will also allow you to configure different periods for receiving mail: important mailboxes — more often. If mail distracts from important work, then it is worth setting the period 1 hour or less, even for work correspondence.
- Use the correct subject. The email subject should give the recipient a quick idea of what the message is about, and also facilitate the search in the future.
- Use the mailbox of the relevant organization. The email address uses the domain name that leads to the organization’s website. This serves to advertise the organization, as well as to verify that the sender is a member of the organization (albeit not definitely, see item 27).
- Clean up your Inbox. If you leave all the mail in the Inbox, then there is a high probability you forget about some message.
Create an Archive folder (it may already be on some mail servers), and for busy work mailboxes also folders: _ToDo, _Waiting (the underscore is needed so that the folder is at the top of the list and attracts attention).
Inbox cleaning: the message that does not require an answer is either deleted (if it is not important at all) or moved to Archive (if it may be needed in the future). The messages that do require an answer: if you can answer it in a couple of minutes, then respond now and move it to Archive. If longer, then move into _ToDo folder (or just keep it in Inbox if that happens rarely and it is not worth making extra folders). If you are waiting for an answer from someone else, then move the message into the _Waiting folder (if that happens rarely, then you can use just the _ToDo folder).
It is optimal to process the Inbox folder once every half an hour or one hour (adjust the period of receiving messages from the server so as not to be distracted). The _ToDo folder — after completing the current task, but at least once a day, and the _Waiting folder — once a week.
The _ToDo and _Waiting folders should not be clogged. If the task is large, then it is better to transfer it to a separate organizer (to-do list or software for project management), and move the message to Archive.
In Archive, you can also create subfolders for separate projects.
- If you go on vacation or otherwise become unavailable for several days, set up autoresponder unless you have the work email on your smartphone as well. Protect your smartphone with a screen lock, PIN, gesture or fingerprint. In autoresponder message, specify the contact details of the person who substitutes you.
- Use the Reply All button. Click Reply only if you really need to exclude the other recipients from the group correspondence. To form the right habit, it is better to use the Reply All button always, even when there is just one recipient.
- Think whom to include in correspondence. If a person is important for this topic, then put them in “To” field. If not very important but interested or may participate — in CC. If you are looping in new people, double-check if the thread contains any info those people are not supposed to know or can be offended with.
- At the beginning of the message, put the name of the person/people you are addressing, especially in group correspondence. Usually, it is the same person/people who are in “To” field. If you want to address more than 3 people, then better write “Hello colleagues” or “Hello Team” and use “To” field to specify whom you address. Do not abuse “Team” word, use it only if all the addressed people really work closely together.
Examples: “Hello Firstname,”, “Firstname,”, “Hello Firstname Lastname”, “Hello Firstname L.”. To avoid confusion, add last name or the initial letter if there are several people with the same first name. Options for “Dear Mr. Lastname ”and“ Dear Firstname Lastname ”are very formal and rarely used in email communication today, but may be appropriate in some cases.
- Do not delete quotation (correspondence history). Megabytes are now cheap, and history often comes in handy.
- Set up auto-signature: name, position, organization, phones.
- Before sending the message — re-read it. Use automatic spell-checker. If the message is important, then Grammarly too. Check the attachments. Check the recipients.
- Set up mail and calendar integration to automatically import email invitations to the calendar.
- Send a follow-up reminder in a week (plus or minus, depending on the urgency of the question) by answering the initial message – not everyone, unfortunately, mastered item 1. In the second reminder, you can add the recipient’s boss to the copy, or write to the messenger, or call.
- Use numbered lists if you write several different questions, so that the recipient will know when a new issue begins. You can also use visual delimiters, for example, *******************, if a completely new piece of text begins.
- For an answer with inline quoting, copy the needed piece of text from the quoted message and highlight it, for example, with gray (HTML mode is needed). Highlight your inline comments with, e.g., blue.
- Send attachments over 500 Kb as a link to a file-share service (e.g., Google Drive or Dropbox). If there are people in group correspondence who most likely do not need these attachments, then the limit is 100 Kb.
- Use effective data formats: docx, xlsx, pdf, png, jpg, mp3, etc. (ineffective: doc, xls, bmp, wav, etc.). If there are a lot of small files, then pack them into a zip archive. However, some mail servers do not allow archives. In that case, put the attachment on a file-share.
- Write a new message in response to the old one (you can use the search) if it is on the same topic or if the history of the correspondence can help the recipients (see item 10). You can edit the subject if needed.
- Do not reply to an old message on a completely different topic just to use the same recipients. Many email clients group messages by internal identifier (not message), so unrelated messages will fall into one group.
- Add recipients to the address book if the mail client does not do that automatically. When writing a message, select recipients from the address book. Many email clients prompt when you start typing the first characters.
- Where appropriate, use advanced HTML formatting: tables, bold, text color, fonts. It is advisable to slightly reduce the size of the embedded images so that they do not clutter up the text.
- Put the abbreviation “FIY” in the subject line or at the beginning of the message if your email does not require an reply (see item 1), but serves only for information.
- Most people do not like to read long emails. If the topic is extensive/complex, it is better to create a cloud-based document (Google Doc, Confluence, Wiki, etc.), write the brief there and discuss this document on a call, and then edit the document based on the results of the call. It also makes sense to phone or meet if the correspondence drags even with short messages.
- Email service does not guarantee or control message delivery or reading. Very seldom, but messages can disappear or take a very long time to reach the recipient. For very important and/or urgent messages, ensure the delivery and reading by a telephone call or IM.
- You can configure filters so that certain unimportant messages automatically fall into a separate folder, which can be processed less often. Also, messages from your superiors or important clients can be sent by filters to a separate important folder.
- Email sender can be falsified, unless a digital signature is used. It is easy to create false messages with an arbitrary sender. If you are in any doubt, contact the sender to confirm his or her identity. You can use the same email address for that purpose, as well as a different communication channel. Falsifying the sender is much easier than getting access to one’s inbox.
- The content of email messages can be read by others in transit, if they are not encrypted. You should therefore not send messages containing confidential or business-critical information in plain text format. You should also take care when sending other types of important information, such as credit card numbers and account information, as this information can be misused by others.
- The content in messages can be modified during transmission. If your correspondent does not use a digital signature, you cannot be sure about the authenticity of the messages you have received.
- In some email clients, you need to configure the reply header (Outlook style) for greater clarity and information: line separator, From, Sent, To, Subject.
- In some email clients, you need to set up automatic quoting so that it goes after the signature in your response.
- Delete messages older than two months from the trash. Delete messages older than 10 years in the Archive folder. If there are restrictions on the hosting, then transfer the old messages from Archive to Gmail.