Question: What do you spend hours a day working on that (despite your efforts) never, ever goes away?
There’s a reason knowledge workers dream of achieving “inbox zero.” It’s a nearly unattainable place, a sort of professional Nirvana.
As a communication medium, email certainly is far from dead—despite hotshot upstarts like chat tool Slack giving it a run for its money among internal teams. In fact, the average worker receives 121 emails per day; 42 percent of Americans are even checking it while in the bathroom.
That underscores just how busy people are these days. No matter the industry or role, we’re all dealing with a variety of digital platforms, seemingly endless notifications, and actual human beings who are angling for our attention at all hours of the day and night. Getting through the noise in others’ lives has never been more challenging or more critical for professionals. For remote companies and teams, the stakes are even higher.
Here are a few quick tips on email etiquette to help you ensure you’re getting the right message across, clearly and concisely:
Put yourself in the recipient’s shoes.
Is your reader familiar with you, or will this feel like it’s coming out of the blue? (If so, take a line or two to introduce yourself and explain your role.) Are they well aware of the project you’re referring to, or would additional context and embedded links help? Lastly, do they know where they fit into the larger scheme of things and what their responsibilities are? If not, determine if you’re the right person to provide an explanation. If you can add a note of good humor or kind words to show your appreciation for their involvement or contributions thus far, you’ll have a captive audience. Once you do, make every word count.
Prioritize sincerity over all.
Whether addressing colleagues, clients, or prospects, any emails you send should sound like you and not a cartoon character. Avoid pronounced uses of emoticons, exclamation points, slang, or superlatives, unless these truly emulate how you wish to come across and/or are appropriate for your field. When questioning whether something sounds too cheeky, step back to see if it can be read with sincerity. If not, edit. (And ditch the generic canned closing of “Thanks.” Add your name or be creative, but don’t make this part of your signature!)
Make your questions simple and clear.
If you jumble your most important requests into a lengthy set of paragraphs or jargon-filled word soup, you only have yourself to blame for a lack of response. When making requests for others’ input, preferences, ideas, etc., it’s smart to call out questions prominently within your message. These should stand alone on a single line, or (if you have more than one), they could appear in a bullet list. Spare the recipient a long preamble and make a brief closing. Then they’ll have no choice but to address your questions or comments.
When in doubt, reread.
If you’re like most of us, a clear and concise message doesn’t just tumble off the ol’ fingertips. Yet how many of us have the time or inclination to outline an email? That’s right, no one. This is why I recommend quickly rereading any message prior to sending. (This is especially true for important announcements or messages to a group of people.) It enables you to catch awkward phrasing, murky transitions, or other confusing references before your in-country or global recipient(s) will need to interpret them. It also gives you another shot at presenting your ideas and requests in the most discernable and positive light.
Set a 30-second delay.
All of us have fired off a quick email and then, with varying degrees of horror, have immediately regretted hitting send. Thankfully, gone are the days of messages being entirely irretrievable. For example, Gmail’s 30-second unsend feature has saved me from embarrassing name misspellings, missing/incorrect files, and the inclusion of unfortunate typos. If you’re a trigger-happy sender, you might consider enabling this feature. Having the ability to speedily unsend an already-sent email feels like a superpower.