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How to Use Email Etiquette in the Age of Email Overload

How to Use Email Etiquette in the Age of Email Overload

Editor’s note: This post was written by Rupert Adam, marketing manager at Emailcenter, the UK’s largest independent ESP. He specialises in marketing and strategy development. Follow him on Twitter: @RooAdam.

When it comes to dealing with your inbox, you’re probably one of two types of people. There’s those with tens, hundreds or even thousands of unread messages stacked up in their inbox, or those who can’t relax until every single message has been read and either deleted, delegated, responded or deferred.

On average, we send and receive 100 billion emails every single day (just imagine how many that equates to in a year). With that many emails being sent daily, and with research suggesting that the average professional receives more than 100 emails every day, it’s little wonder why so many of us can get lost in our inbox and spend more of our working day dealing with and sifting through messages rather than actually getting any quality work done. In fact, messages from fellow bloggers, guest post requests, meetup/conference invitations, sales messages, newsletters and spam are probably filling up your inbox right this very second!

And that’s where Inbox Zero comes in. The term and philosophy of Inbox Zero was originally coined by Merlin Mann, who is founder of 43 folders, a blog about “finding the time and attention to do your best creative work.” Mann proposed a methodical approach to email marketing aimed at keeping the inbox empty.

While many people are aware of the term Inbox Zero, most don’t really understand the philosophy behind it. Contrary to popular belief, the “zero” is not actually a reference to the number of messages in an inbox, but instead refers to “the amount of time your brain is in that inbox.”

Guide to Inbox Zero

The “Ultimate Guide to Inbox Zero” explains this in detail, but ultimately it’s all about freeing people from their inbox, as a cluttered inbox takes up headspace. Productivity begins to suffer when an inbox is confused with a “to do” list. The idea is to reduce the number of times per day you check for emails and once there, open each message as few times as possible. This way, you can focus more on the essential blogging tasks for the day.

Next time you open an email, try applying one of the following actions:

Delete or Archive. If you receive an email and you can tell just by the subject line or the sender that the email is not that important, delete or archive it without opening it.

Delegate. If you are not the best person to respond or take action on the email, forward it on to the appropriate person and get it out of your inbox.

Respond. Can the response be written in two minutes or less? If the answer is yes then respond to it straight away.

Defer. If the response will take longer than two minutes to write, it’s not urgent or it’s not actionable until later, defer it, but don’t leave it in your inbox, as you’ll spend time focusing and thinking about it. Move it to another folder and come back to it when you have more time to write.

Do. Do the actions that are required in the email.

Considering we send and receive endless amounts of emails every day, you’d think we’d be better at it. How many times have you sent an email, which just says “okay” or “thanks”? You can admit it, you’ve done it, but it these kinds of emails that are completely useless. The only thing they are good at is clogging up the inbox.

And that’s where email etiquette comes in. Understanding email etiquette is what makes an email a good one. As long as you are sending and receiving good quality emails, then you should be able to focus more on what is important to you and everyone benefits. You can optimise your email communication and make sure the right emails go to the right person at the right time.

Good email etiquette is essential in the age of email overload and is essential in the quest for Inbox Zero. The two go hand in hand. You can optimise your email communication to actually reduce the number of emails you and those around you will have to deal with, helping you eliminate distraction, reduce stress and clarify what tasks you actually need to do. Simple. When followed, you will not only be better seen in the eyes of the recipient, but you will also save everyone a lot of headache too.

Good email etiquette is:

Descriptive subject lines.

The subject line should communicate exactly what the email is about so that the recipient can prioritise the email’s importance without even having to open up (an Inbox Zero necessity). And remember, we’ve gone mobile. According to SaneBox, a staggering 50% of emails are opened on mobile so it’s important to put the most important information at the beginning. It’s also so much easier to search for an email that’s got a good, descriptive subject line.

Thinking twice before you hit ‘reply all.’

‘Reply all’ is the bane of email. Fact. Nobody needs to read emails from 10 people that have nothing to do with them. The ‘reply all’ button is one of the biggest pet peeves in email etiquette. Fact! Next time, before you click ‘reply all’ think about who actually needs to read your response.

Utilising numerical lists/ bullet points.

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If your email contains numerous questions or tasks, use numbers or bullet points to make sure you’re easily understood and people know exactly what actions need to be taken.

Labelling attachments correctly.

Label attachments correctly. ‘Example.pdf’ isn’t helpful, ‘Inboxzero.pdf’ is. If you don’t label attachments, it just makes searching for them at a later date harder.

Not ending an email with “thoughts?” or any other open-ended question.

Be specific in what you are asking the recipient. Say “Do you think we should do X, Y or Z?”

Taking action.

If you are writing an email that requires a lot of action, then list these first. Most people do the opposite. They write some content and then list what needs to be done but by adding the action steps first, you are allowing the recipient to construct a plan of attack before they have even finished reading the email.

Being an efficient communicator.

If your email is on the longer side, highlighting key words or sentences in bold will help you communicate your message easier, but don’t overdo the bold as it will lose its impact.

So, are you on the quest for inbox zero? If the answer is ‘yes’ then remember it starts and ends with good email etiquette. For more tips on how to declutter your inbox, try out these 7 ways you can manage your inbox more effectively. Follow these tips and you’ll find yourself with a lot more time on your hands to do the things that actually matter.

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View Comment (1)
  • You should add “unsubscribe.” If you’re deleting most or all of the emails from a non-human source, unsubscribe and unclutter your inbox.

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