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7 Easy Ways to Reduce Email Overload

Take these cues from a digital-user-experience expert about how to stop depending on--and wasting your time using--email.
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The average U.S. professional spends half her working day on email. She's constantly tethered to her smartphone, responding to short bursts of communication, and creating email overload.

As an expert in digital-user experience, I have whittled down a list of email best practices that can help you and your team start a revolution, reduce dependence on email, and stop wasting time--today.

1. Make sure email is the right communication option.

Not all communication is appropriate for email. Segment your personal communications by interactions that are right for email versus phone versus in-person meetings. Adopt a company-wide policy, and don't allow email to become the default communication mode. A great first policy: Don't start discussions via email. It takes significantly more time to compose a point and then debate it on email than to have an in-person conversation. 

2. Think about the person reading your note.

Many email responses are clarifications of what the sender wrote or additional questions that perpetuate email churn (rather than end a thread succinctly). You can greatly reduce the amount of back-and-forth by thinking more about the email recipient--the user, in this case--and by crafting your message to meet her needs. Before hitting Send, slow down to consider: Did I give all the information needed? Will the reader understand my message? Is my point clear? Are the next steps obvious?

3. Anticipate questions.

The easiest way to reduce needless email is to anticipate what your recipient's impressions and questions will be after reading your message. If you send a brief email stating, "budget meeting is canceled today," the reader will probably wonder why, and when the meeting will be rescheduled. Anticipate the recipient's reaction and communicate more thoroughly, answering questions you think she'll have.

4. Call out important information with headlines, bullets, and the like.

Most people don't read. In our fast-paced digital culture, we scan and skim content, looking for the highlights. You've probably noticed that major Web publishers use headlines, bullets, boldface type, and other design best practices to ensure readers stay engaged. The same applies to your emails. Don't send paragraphs of text in which the salient points and calls to action are buried.

5. Save time by creating email templates.

Many emails to employees, clients, or colleagues are similar in nature. Rather than constructing each one from scratch, save templates that remind you of important details to include and contain prebuilt design best practices. For example, at my company, researchers have templates for standard client status updates. I use a template for my own monthly company newsletter and to make introductions between colleagues.

6. Target your communications.

Irrelevant messages are not opened and can create a negative impression. Think very carefully about the people you include in your "To" field. Does that recipient really need the information, or are you adding to email inbox burden?

7. Select email preferences.

Establish your email preferences (how often you like it and when), and make those norms known throughout your company. When leading a project, don't default to being copied on everything. Indicate to your team when you should be CC'ed on communication. Likewise, ask your colleagues and staff for their preferences in your communications with them.

Last updated: Jul 20, 2012

AMY BUCKNER CHOWDHRY | Columnist

Amy is CEO of AnswerLab, a digital experience consultancy based in San Francisco and New York.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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