There is no shortage of images about email being the bane of our existence.

We get it. You like email.

Now stop abusing it so the rest of us can get back to work.

There is no shortage of advice about email. Some of them are pretty extreme. Some want to destroy it altogether. But I prefer to accept a reality where incremental improvements have a higher probability of success. So I bring to you 6 email principles that you and your company can immediately embrace. This isn’t Nobel Prize material, just smoothed out realizations from the trenches to help you stay sane and effective.

Founding Assumptions

  • Email’s purpose is to make business conversations more effective
  • Email, done right, can improve the work-life balance

That’s it. That’s all we should expect of email. Once everyone agrees on these tenants, the stars begin to align.

Principle 1: TO, CC & BCC

Since most people didn’t get introduced to email via user manual, here’s a quick reminder of when to use the different fields above the body:

  • TO: The people that you expect to read and respond to your email
  • CC: The people that you expect to read but not respond to your email
  • BCC: Only for emails where the TO and CC are blank, namely contacting a large list of people whenever a mailing list alternative is not available (e.g. A baseball coach emailing a team about a practice)

Wait! I like to use BCC…

Aside from the aforementioned use-case of BCC, there’s no other ethical excuse for it. Typical examples of BCC being misused:

  • “I want to keep my boss in the loop that I’m getting work done.”
    There’s nothing that a BCC accomplishes that a CC won’t in this case. The recipients of your message deserve to know that your manager is also in the loop, and your manager should read the replies.
  • “I want to let someone’s manager know I’m communicating with them.”
    If you’re choosing to involve a person’s manager, let the person know. If you’re doing this because the contact is performing below expectations, a human interaction is going to be more efficient. Email is not the proper platform for disciplining or shaming people into performing.

Principle 2: Always Use “Reply All”

If you trust the email sender followed Principle One, then your reply inherently follows the same practices.

Principle 3: If you introduce new recipients into a chain, explain why

Just a subtle italicized note in the beginning helps everyone understand why new parties are brought into the thread.

Principle 4: Off-topic emails deserve a new message

Nobody likes a subject-line that doesn’t match the body. Starting a the conversation keeps the communication channel clear and efficient.

Principle 5: Don’t Read/Write After Hours

Unless explicitly told by their manager, nobody is expected to work 24/7. If an emergency comes up and demands off-hour attention, it deserves a phone call.

It has been studied and recognized that emotional sensitivities, which are controlled during the workday, are amplified after-hours. You’re more prone to inject emotional undertones in emails you write, and infer emotional vibes in emails you read.

When you have an idea (or remember an overlooked correspondence) and must write it after-hours, save that email to your Drafts folder and re-read/send it during business hours. There are lots of great tools to make this easy.

Principle 6: Read Aloud Before You Send

Bonus Tip: PolishMyWriting.com

Just a handy tool that’ll analyze your text for things like bias language, complex phrases, passive voice or redundancy. TitleCapitalization.com is pretty handy, too.

Have thoughts or opinions on the matter? I’m @ecaron.