How to be an email ninja in 2016

In the beginning, there was the letter…

There were greetings, salutations, goodbyes, bodies of texts, carefully considered punctuation and tone. I remember my university career counselors advising me, “remember your email etiquette”, which they thought should mirror email’s hard-copy relic, the letter.

Flash-forward to 2016, and there is a cacophony of email styles out there. Styles range from the overly verbose to practically indecipherable courtesy of the oft-incorrect, auto-correct. The result: chaotic inboxes crammed with trivial to critical information that most of us have to dig through just to function. The problem will not be solved by unsubscribing to the dozens of mailing lists that we are on, and quite frankly, who cares to unsubscribe when you are already receiving hundreds of emails a week.

The problem, my dear reader, is not the email spammers. It’s us. The professionals who depend on email to work with our teams and function.

I manage a team of 15 + workers remotely, and they each are unique. Everyone has different educational and professional backgrounds, so the expectations around how to use email vary wildly. Often at the nexus point of their correspondence, I find that I spend a good amount of my brain power each day just sorting and reading their emails. Some emails are so confusing that I have taken to bringing an intern in my office, reading the lengthy email chains out loud, and then outlining all the key points at one time. Seriously folks, it’s bad.

I am not alone in this plight. According to Reuters, U.S. workers spend an average of 6.3 hours a day checking their email. Think about that stat next time you say, “I don’t have 30 minutes to […..fill in the blank…..].”

Appalled by this statistic, and frustrated by my own experience, I took to internet to try and find some good tips. Down with the tyranny of email! I couldn’t quite find a list that worked for me, so I created this one. My tips aim to do one thing: reduce work. Enjoy!

  1. Economize: Most people have short attention spans, and even those with more bandwidth have precious time. Be short and sweet. When I get an email, I immediately want to know two things: (1.) What is this about, and (2.) What do you want from me. Brevity isn’t rude, it’s efficient, and I’ll love you if don’t make my eyes burn.
A love letter

2. CC with care: I only want to be copied on something if it is critical that I see it. ‘Critical’ may seem like a high threshold, but seriously. I trust my team, so please carry on and loop back to me only when you need me. If you don’t have a team like this, don’t worry that’s what BCC is for.

CC = Mission Critical

3. BCC is the silent observer: BCC is a great way to tell me you’re doing something, but you don’t need my input. For me, BCC is the equivalent of being on a conference call on mute. I’m not going to jump into the conversation, just here to see it. Likewise, don’t be one of those people on BCC who jumps into the conversation adding another strain of communication. It’s confusing for everyone.

BCC = Just here to watch

4. Don’t invite everyone to your email party: When I see that I am on an email with 3+ people, I am wondering what role they are each playing. Is correspondence expected out of all of them? Who are they? Why are we all here? [existential pause…] Having been on tons of these types emails, I must admit I give them far less attention than those emails actually addressed to me. The result: if there is critical information in an email that I am sent along with a group of other people, it’s likely that I will miss it.

5. If you’re thinking too hard about what you’re going to type, it’s probably not email material. If you feel like you will need to give a defense of your point before writing the email, reach into your bag, pull out your cell phone and dial the recipient’s number. Email should be a place free of emotional hardship. Well, at least work email… save the email drama for the fam and exes.

Most people aren’t great at expressing their feelings and tone over email anyway, so if it’s conversation that you need to have, use that other feature on your iPhone: the one with the funny icon. See below for reference.

The “Call” feature on your iPhone
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