Improve Email Etiquette and Reduce Email Overload

Improve messages you send
and reduce email overload.

For years, I’ve been helping people improve how they manage email. Whether they’re in my class or if they’ve sent me a message that needs improving, I’m always willing to offer my advice…whether they asked for it or not. I even wrote a book about it.

Every day, I receive at least one email message that makes me shake my head. If you improve your email habits, that will reduce your email overload.

My Top Three Email Pet Peeves

Here are my top three email pet peeves with a link to more. Pay attention to these, stop doing what you’re doing, and manage email better.

Reply to All to CYA (cover your butt). Stop sending to all if all do not have a need to know. You wanted to make sure you were covered so you’re sending everyone on a list your answer—whether they needed to know or not. Or you’re sending a message to everyone because you’re too lazy to select the appropriate recipients.

Don’t match subject lines to the message. Don’t pull up an old message, hit Reply, and send me a message that has nothing to do with the previous one. Suppose you sent an email message two months ago that said, “The monthly meeting has been cancelled.” You pulled up that old message because the email addresses were already in it. But this time, you wanted to let everyone know that coffee and donuts would be served at this month’s meeting. At the very least, change the subject line!

Send one-liners. You know those silly messages that say “Thanks.” You sent an email message to 25 people and 15 of them sent you a one-liner. Next time put “No Reply Necessary” at the top and at the bottom of your message. And when you send an email asking for something, add “Thanks in advance” so you won’t feel compelled to send a one-liner later.

Read the entire list of email pet peeves here on my Website.


State Department's "Reply to All" Email Nightmare Needs Better Solutions

Well, well, well, I see a “Reply to All” nightmare hit the State Department and was caused by an email message being sent to thousands of email addresses that were exposed on the To line. The mess that almost crushed the email system happened when the employees clicked Reply to All to answer the email instead of clicking Reply to respond only to the sender. This happens all the time.

Before I wrote my book, Conquer Email Overload with Better Habits, Etiquette, and Outlook 2003, I did an informal survey in my classes asking about email pet peeves. By far, people using Reply to All was the number one habit that ticked attendees off (enjoy my list of 27 Email Pet Peeves that Tick People Off as Much as SPAM on my Website).

To prevent this from happening again (according to the Associated Press), the State Department sent a notice to employees warning them of unspecified disciplinary actions if they  did it again.

This is not a solution folks. People are human and no matter how many times you tell them this, they could slip.

Here are my solutions that will work better. I use Outlook 2003 and hope you’ll be able to do this if you use something different.

Remove the “Reply to All” toolbar button. Open a message you’ve received and hold down the Alt key while you click and drag the Reply to All button down off the toolbar.

Remove the “Reply to All” command from the menu. Click the Tools menu, Customize. With the Customize dialog box open, click the Actions menu (not inside the Customize box, but on the toolbar as you normally would) and drag the Reply to All command off the menu.

Disable the “Reply to All” command. In Outlook, you can disable this command for internal communications only. Here is an article that shows you how to create a macro that will do this (be sure to read through all of the questions and comments).

Alter the “Reply to All” command. Have a programmer alter the Reply to All macro and add a box that pops up with “Are You Sure.” This will make you think twice before you let the message go.

You can add any items back later if you decide to.

If you don’t want to remove commands, consider doing one or more of the following.

Use blind copy (Bcc). You can protect the privacy of everyone’s email address if you simply send the email to yourself and Bcc everyone else. That way if anyone clicks Reply to All, the response will only go to the originator.

If you don’t see the Bcc option when you create a new message, click the View menu, Bcc (if you use Outlook as your email editor). If you use Outlook but use Word as your editor, click Options, Bcc. (Use Bcc whether you remove your command buttons or not so everyone’s privacy is respected.)

Send a message to Undisclosed Recipients. I wrote a previous post on how to send an email addressed to Undisclosed Recipients (which works the same as Bcc).

Complete the To line last. When I’m composing an email message, I write it, attach everything, complete the subject line, then address it. I don’t want to make the mistake of clicking Send before I’m ready.

Create a 2-minute rule. Every message I send stays in my Outbox for two minutes before it goes. This gives me a small window to change it if I need to. (This was created using an Outlook Send rule.)

It’s important to use care when you’re crafting your messages. So slow down for a minute and think it through.


Related Posts
How to Send an Email Addressed to Undisclosed Recipients
Clearing Unwanted Email Addresses that Pop Up

Peggy Duncan, Personal Productivity Expert