June 26, 2012

Don't Stink At Email

If you lose readership of your email, your influence wanes at work.  If you misuse it enough, you'll turn partners into detractors.  If you mismanage it as a resource, you'll force everyone to do more work and they'll despise you for it.  To quote TechStars grad and Vanilla founder Mark Sullivan, "Don't suck at email."

I'm surprised, though, that few companes teach email effectiveness.  That's why so many people I've worked with suck at email.  It's not something we should leave to users to figure out (using our company name in their email address!?).  It can be your Colt 45 tool to get things done, or your Achille's Heel.  Your choice. 

Here are five ways not to stink at email: 

1. Kill your inbox every Friday.  Letting your Inbox get full of once-read but not-answered emails stresses you out.  It also sends a signal to your bizmates that you don't have your act together OR you are way over committed.  Don't think that an auto-responder like "I'm so busy, sorry if I don't reply" will cut the mustard.  It comes across as showboating, unless you are a mega-star that's getting pummled by fan mail. 

2. Review before you click Send.  In most email situations, we write, send, then review.  That's the ready-fire-aim approach to communications.  Take a few seconds to read what you just wrote, and do so from the reader POV.  Remember, this is work and you are trying to get stuff done.  If you are mad, then really reread what you are writing.  Consider picking up the phone instead, so you can convey your intentions instead of raw emotions. 

3. Craft effective subject lines.  What if the New York Times sucked at writing headlines for their stories? What if their headlines read, "RE: The Economy"?  Today, to be effective at email, we need to use subject lines like publishers use headlines.  Most of your email recipients are on-the-go, so your subject line is your advertisement for their attention.  If you are requesting some specific action, say it in the subject line.  If you are updating on the topic, summarize the development in a half a tweet's worth of words. 

4. Don't reply to all unless you have to.  More email from you equals more reason to ignore you in our high noise to signal life.  In the study I did on email usage for EmailAtoZ, only 12% of reply to all occurances were necessary.  The others were pure RE:RE:RE: conversations that invovled everyone in the original note.  More here

5. Write email during professional hours.  Sipping and sending can be as dangerous as drinking and dialing/driving.  When you write all your emails on a plane, at 10pm with five glasses of red wine in you, you suck at email.  When you setup your laptop on a coffee table on a Sunday, and plow through 100 emails while watching the game, your notes don't make much sense and you likely display a tone of resentment.  Make your meetings shorter, and preserve work week time to kill your Inbox.  If Raytheon CEO Bill Swanson can do it, you can to.  And he's awesome on email. 

Posted at 10:34 AM in Business Effectiveness , Email Rules  |  Permalink  |  Comments (10)  |  TrackBack (0)



Aínda que eu preferiría se entrou nun detalle pouco máis, eu aínda teño a esencia do que quería dicir. Concordo con el. Pode non ser unha idea popular, pero ten sentido. Definitivamente atrás a máis deste. Traballo work.Good grande, blog marabilloso ... realmente apreciar-lo e engadiu que nos meus marcadores sociais. Manteña o bo traballo


Uau, isso foi muito interessante. Inspirador, também. Obrigado por compartilhar tal experiência inspiradora conosco. Você está certo, você realmente salvar vidas. Ótimo blog, parabéns.


vad en rolig, ljus och cheery blogg


Take this test before you tell your boss where to stick it.


Thanks for the great article!
I will remember every point you mentioned.


Thanks Tim!

That is really cool.


Matt - What a valuable contribution! I'm going to add something to my post, pointing people to your wisdom here!



Love the idea of killing your inbox every Friday. This is something I'm trying to get better at. I've found that when I have numerous emails in my inbox that I need to respond to, I tend to skim over them multiple times before eventually deciding which one to respond to next. I just need to keep the inbox clean and organized.


Love it Tim. I use all 5 of these.

I try like crazy to educate team members on the proper use of email like:

1. Use BLUF – Bottom Line Up Front. It’s a military term. It means make your most important point first. Here are two short email examples that highlight this:

Email One (wrong)

Dear Jim,

So I was thinking last night after our meeting. I ran some numbers and they really shocked me.

---Supporting information and endless chatter---

Can you believe that? 30% increase!

So, I propose that we...finally the point…create two news sales positions by May 1. I think that this will accomplish such and such…

Email Two (right)

Dear Jim,

I believe that we should create two news sales positions by May 1. I think that this will…

---Supporting information---


That’s BLUF

2. Use EOM and DNR. If it’s a short email or does not need a reply, tell me in the subject. Use EOM to signify “End of Message” meaning the entire message is in the subject.

3. Include an explanation on FWDs. Please do not just forward an email to me and expect me to know what it is about. Include a brief intro. What is it about? What have you done about it?

4. Don’t Copy Others So Often. Stop copying everyone and their grandmother.

Don’t ever copy over someone’s head. Seriously, this is the ultimate way to look like a little brother or sister running to daddy. If you criticize someone over email or to “remind” them they forgot a meeting or whatever and copy their boss just to “let them know,” you suck. You know why you are doing it. Then again, just follow rule #5 and it won’t be an issue.

If you have to think “oh wait, I almost forgot to add so-and-so, odds are you should leave them off.

If you are CC’ing someone as an FYI, it’s probably best to just send them a separate email. Don’t make them try to figure out the intent or clutter their inbox with emails not even addressed to them.

99% of them time, it is not a good idea to CC someone on an email thread that is already going, especially without explaining in advance. It’s a time waster. Stop it.

If you must add someone, do the following:

Tell the other person (or people) that you have added someone. "I have added Jim to this email as he is the best person to help."

Tell the person what is going on. "Jim, here are the highlights of what Fred has been asking about." Then copy (yes this means YOU will do the work, not Jim) the relevant information there. Don't make the newly copied person have to read through all of your replies below.

Pull them off the thread as soon as it makes sense.


Great post!

It's time to get intentional about something that is so ingrained in our daily activity and success.

The comments to this entry are closed.