Another day, another study that demonstrates that we professionals have a love/hate (mostly hate) relationship with email:

  • 94% of those surveyed use email to manage their day-to-day work
  • But 53% say excessive email gets in the way of that work
  • 55% believe that emails relay information that would be better conveyed in a conversation
  • And more than half really hate these pet peeves: lengthy threads, getting copied on messages that aren't relevant and when someone "replies all" to an email

But despite the fact that we complain about email, we usually don't actually change anything. And, yes, that's the definition of insanity.

How can you actually solve your email problem? It takes teamwork.

Yes, you can improve the emails you send. But to make the entire experience better, you need to work with your colleagues (in your department, your larger group or even your whole organization) to agree on a new operating model for email.

That manifesto must include:

When to use email vs. communicating in other ways, especially one-on-one conversations and meetings.

How to shift to other platforms for collaborating, communicating and getting work done. For example, use internal social media (like Yammer and Google+) for sharing information and connecting with colleagues. And use project management software for keeping track of work in progress.

What to avoid when using email. Does everyone feel that "reply all" is a noxious habit? Ban the practice. And I'm sure your team will agree to stop adding links to extended email chains. Make a list of practices that team members pledge not to do.

How to create effective emails. These best practices may include:

  • Using the BLUF (Bottom Line Up Front) method to ensure that the key message (and needed action step) is at the top of the message.
  • Making each email as short as possible--and no longer than 150 words.
  • Employing simple language. No Corporate Speak ever!
  • Creating emails that are scannable, so recipients don't have to read long paragraphs. That means using bullets, numbered lists, subheads and other elements that break up text.
  • Considering the fact that many emails are read on mobile devices, so keeping messages short, simple and scannable (see above) are especially important.

What team members can do to manage their inboxes to increase productivity. Share techniques that colleagues have found helpful, such as using the FAST system (once you read an email, immediately decide whether to File it, Assign it to someone, Store (or Scan) for future reference, or Trash it.)

There are probably other aspects of using email your team will want to address, but don't make the process too complicated or bureaucratic. The idea is not to develop a lengthy policy book, but to create a simple set of principles everyone will agree to.

You probably won't completely fix email, but you'll significantly improve the experience among your team members. And that's progress.

Published on: Oct 4, 2017
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.