Email That Works: Best Practices for Truly Busy People 

email that works best practices for assistants

How would you describe your e-mail situation lately?

Are you getting so much that it’s sometimes impossible to manage it properly and still be productive? Do you worry you’ll hit the “send” button too soon, and deliver a message before its ready? Take heart….You’re not alone!

E-mail technology has been great – but it has also wreaked havoc on the way we communicate. For example, you can shoot back a reply to an e-mail in lickety-split time. The question is, should you? Thinking about what the message ought to say often becomes secondary to our ability to communicate immediately. And whenever action precedes thought, trouble will likely follow at some point or another, as you know.

When you’re a “Star” in your profession, you take the time to think before speaking or sending any kind of message – in electronic or written form. These tips can help you be an even more effective communicator – and prevent e-mail problems that can impact your impressive professional image:

When receiving e-mail:

  • Sort incoming messages according to importance and the need to act on them. Some people create folders within their email programs. Others print off messages and track them that way. Hint: If your e-mail program permits you to “manage” messages – sending them to folders without showing up in your inbox, for instance – you may want to explore that option. Talk to your office’s IT person.
  • Respond only when necessary. If no action is required, save everyone’s time and avoid replying with something generic like “OK.”
  • Act within 24 hours, if possible. If you must reply, try to do so within one day. This isn’t always feasible, of course – but it’s a best practice we can all strive to achieve.
  • Check email several times a day, rather than constantly, to prevent interruptions that decrease productivity.

When sending e-mail:

  • Decide if e-mail is the best way to communicate. Time-sensitive information, as well as potential conflicts, should be handled either face-to-face or on the phone. Remember: E-mail may be “instant” but not for everyone. And e-mails don’t always deliver your tone of voice properly, which can result in miscommunication at critical, sensitive times. In those cases, verbal communication is preferable.
  • Consider your recipients’ learning styles. How would they prefer to receive the information you’re sending? If they’re “to the point” people, rely on short sentences and bullets. For detail-oriented readers be specific – but consider placing a “nut paragraph” at the top of the e-mail that boils down the essence to one short statement. That way, they’ll know if they need to read or act upon the message ASAP.
  • Insert recipient names in the “To” field only when you’re finished writing your message. This is the best way to prevent sending e-mails too soon with a mistaken click of the “send” button.
  • Reread for tone. We’ve already addressed how e-mails are prone to “tone problems.” So, before sending any message, read it from the recipient’s point of view. If you find anything that could be misunderstood or taken the wrong way, carefully reword that sentence for greater clarity\
  • Keep emails short and to the point.
    If the information can be conveyed in a paragraph or two, send an email. If it takes longer than this, the information may warrant a phone call or personal interaction.

It’s your turn! What are your best practices for email management? Are you a fan of Inbox Zero? Let’s talk about it below.

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