Email overload is that mess that’s packed and stacked in your Inbox…hundreds and thousands of messages that you scroll through every day. You can lighten the load if you stop using your Inbox for storage and also think through every message you handle.
My solutions that work are outlined in my book, Conquer Email Overload with Better Habits, Etiquette, and Outlook 2007. Here is a recent testimonial I received from Suzette Eaddy, Director of Conferences for the National Minority Supplier Development Council, Inc., in New York.
I am forcing myself to put Conquer Email Overload down and go to bed. I am up to page 74. I have flagged and highlighted many items. I can’t wait to finish it…I have made several changes to my laptop and can’t wait to get to work on Monday to make the same changes on my desktop...I knew that I wasn’t taking advantage of Outlook’s full potential but I didn’t realize how much of a difference a few, quick changes could make. This book is invaluable.
This post focuses on improving email etiquette. It’s important because it will reduce the flurry of messages going back and forth, your messages will be clearer and have more meaning, and your recipients will be able to answer more thoroughly.
- Protect the privacy of the recipients with Bcc. If you’re sending a message to a group of people, send it to yourself and blind copy (Bcc) everyone else. You’ll protect the privacy of everyone’s email address and you’ll prevent a Reply to All fiasco (with Bcc, if a person clicks Reply to All, only the originator receives it).
- Make your subject line sizzle. Your subject line should read like the headline in a newspaper. The recipient should know precisely what your message is about just by reading the subject line. It should always match the message.
- Add a salutation. Always greet the person you’re writing with Hi Mary, Dear John, Hello John, etc. Otherwise, your email will come across as an order, especially if you’re making a request.
- Remind the recipients of who you are. If you’ve met someone once or it’s been awhile since you’ve reached out to them, remind them of previous encounters.
- Treat email as a business letter. Email should receive the same treatment as a letter on your company’s stationery. If you wouldn’t put smiley faces, ivy growing down the side, shorthand as in an instant message, etc., in a letter, then don’t do it in email. Proper grammar, capitalizations, and punctuation should be standard.
- Be brief but be clear. Spend time crafting a well thought-out email and get to the point quickly. Use bullets if you’re making several points so the message can be quickly scanned. Put any deadlines in a bold font near the top and bottom of your message.
- Thank people in advance. You can reduce email overload if you simply thank people in advance. Then you won’t feel compelled to send a useless one-word thank you email later.
- Avoid receiving numerous useless replies. When you send a message to a group, add at the top and bottom of the message whether you need a reply (e.g., NRN for no reply necessary).
- Keep the body of the previous email with your answer. Set your email software to include the previous message when you reply. Don’t make the originator have to go back to figure out what they asked you for.
- Answer within 48 hours. An email message is not a 9-1-1 call, but it should be answered within a reasonable time. Your company should set this standard.
- Think before you send. Read the message before you reply, giving the sender everything they’ve requested. If you’re in a meeting with your PDA under the table, you’re not going to send a good answer. Wait until you’re back at your desk and can think more clearly. And don’t answer any messages when you’re upset.
Start practicing better habits and etiquette today and keep me posted on your progress.
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If you’re still getting a lot of spam in 2007, you don’t have the right stuff. Here are some things you can do right now to reduce this pest.
- Take your live email address off the Web. Spambots scour the Web looking for the @ symbol and they grab the email address. If you visit my Website, you will not see my live address anywhere. I also do not allow others to post it (except as noted in the next bullet point). All over my site, I write my address using “at” or “(at)” instead of @.
- Have a special email address for miscellaneous uses. If I’m in a situation where I have to post an email address, I use one whose account is not set up in Outlook. I can only check its messages via Webmail and seldom do this.
- Bump up the protection level in your email client. Outlook 2003’s built-in filters are so good, I don’t have to use any other spam technology. If you’re using this version and are still getting lots of spam, change the protection level (click the Tools menu, Options, the Preferences tab, Junk E-mail button, and change the level to High). Mine is set at low because I rarely get spam.
- Use a spam blocker that works. Before I installed Outlook 2003, I used the spam blocker Cloudmark Desktop and loved it. It caught spam and sent it to my junk folder. It also caught phishing emails (e.g., the ones that look like legitimate sites such as PayPal and asks you to enter confidential information and then help themselves to your cash).Cloudmark is a favorite of mine because it’s a community of people who contribute to the blocked sender’s list. This technology also does not force legitimate people who want to send you a message to get permission by clicking a link… (this is a major pet peeve of mine and a ridiculous thing for people in business to use).For an immediate reduction in spam, visit http://www.cloudmark.com/. Use my referral code if you try it (yggw4).
- Stop creating rules or adding to the blocked sender’s list. Professional spammers change their email addresses before you can blink so using rules (or the command to add to blocked sender’s list) to send their mail to your junk folder is a waste of time.
- Don’t respond to spammers. Responding to a message asking to be removed from a list is not the way to go. You’re only letting the spammer know that yours is a legitimate email address (it’s fine to click Unsubscribe links when you know the sender is not a thug spammer).
- Stop using autoresponders. If you’re getting tons of spam, using an autoresponder is one of the worst things you can do. You’re letting the spammer know that your email address is valid, and they’ll know you’re out of the office and your backup’s phone number and email address.Instead of using the autoresponder, I would rather have the reputation of being someone who responds so when they don’t hear from me as quickly, they know something’s up. And to tell you the truth, I don’t want to be a day away from my email because just about everything that happens for me in business starts with email. I stay on top of it and can whip through it pretty easily.(If you want to know how to manage email (and my time) the way I do, check out my book, Conquer Email Overload with Better Habits, Etiquette, and Outlook 2003. I also conduct workshops and Webinars on this too.)
- Use a top-notch ISP and Webhost. If your mail server is in Joe’s basement, it’s time to go with one of the big boys. Top-notch ISPs have better technology and spam will be blocked on the server side before it attempts to get to you (my Website and main Webmail accounts are hosted by Network Solutions…wonderful customer care).
If you take time to make these changes today, I promise you will see a big reduction in the amount of spam you receive.
Peggy Duncan, personal productivity expert