Getting the most from email

Here are a few tips and tricks about how to get the best results from your email communications:

  • Keep your emails short. 1-2 lines are best, or 3 sentences. Preferably it would fit in a tweet. If you need to write a long email, think first whether the information wouldn't be better placed somewhere more permanent, e.g. a code comment section, a github repository README, a wiki entry, a Word document saved in Dropbox.

  • Acknowledge receipt. At least answer "Ok", "Noted", "Will do", "Sure" or something like that. It takes 2 seconds to do that, and it lets the sender know that you are on top of things.

  • Answer quickly. It's not 1990 any more, everything is faster now.

  • Use cc: freely. Keep everyone informed. Communication is really important in a company: copy as many relevant people as possible.

  • Don't blindly Reply-to-All. For example if you're sending a "Noted" acknowledgement, no need to reply-to-all - just reply to the person who sent the email.

  • Don't use bcc: It leads to too many pitfalls. For example a person you bcc:ed to might hit Reply-to-All, then all of a sudden all recipients become aware that you used bcc:, which can be embarrassing.

  • No dears. You can address people outside of the company with "Dear", but there's no need to do that for internal emails to colleagues.

  • Don't address with Mr or Mrs - it's too formal. It makes the recipient put up his/her guard and wonder if there are any legal aspects to the email!

  • Say please. You'll get a better chance of a response from "Could you send me your proposal please" than "Could you send me your proposal" without the please.

  • Give a reason. Studies have shown that its easier to jump a queue if you say "Please let me go first because I'm in a hurry" than just saying "Please let me go first".

  • Ask questions. You'll get a better chance of a response from "Could you send me your proposal please?" than from the same sentence without the question mark.

  • Careful with cut & paste in gmail - learn to use the "remove formatting" function, to avoid your email having unsightly formatting changes.

  • Make the subject appropriate - change the subject to something meaningful, even if you are replying to a thread.

  • Your inbox is a todo list - once you've processed an email, move it into a folder. Keep your inbox as clean and small as possible.

  • Learn to use labels in gmail and learn how to set label colours. It helps you keep things organised.

  • Drop the legalese disclaimers. They have no legal power, and they just clutter up email threads.

  • Use emoticons if you like when emailing colleagues, but don't do it with third parties.

  • Check your spelling and grammar - gmail underlines the mistakes, so there's no reason not to notice them.

  • Don't complain over email. Praise in writing, complain orally.

  • For internal communications within the office, prefer face to face - just walk over to someone and talk to them, rather than emailing them.

  • For internal communications between remote offices, prefer Slack - you'll get faster responses from your colleagues if you reach out to them over Slack rather than email. Slack encourages concision, rapid responses, maintains context, and helps build a rapport between colleagues.

  • For external communications, prefer the telephone - you'll get better responses and will build relationships.