I wrote a post on how to manage your email inbox – you can read it here.  I’d like to approach it from the other side in this post.  What kind of effect to do you have on everyone else’s inbox?  Are you a spammer?  Do you reply-all constantly?

Many of us work with or for large companies.  We have access to large email lists.  Understanding email etiquette is so important to protecting the culture of an organization as well as guarding productivity.

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My biggest beef with email is its ability to interrupt me.  The nature of my business requires me to be doing multiple things.  I am not a natural multi-tasker.  I much prefer to hone in on a task and focus all my energy on it.  I rarely get to do this.  I am also easily distracted.  The ding and notification that announces every email can cost me 5 – 60 minutes if I let it.  I routinely get 200+ emails a day.  That equates to 200+ opportunities to be distracted from what is important to what is less important but potentially urgent.

Before I get into the rules of etiquette, here are a few suggestions to prevent email from derailing your day.

  • Turn the notifications off – I really appreciate you taking the time to read this.  But stop reading right now and turn the notifications off.  You really don’t need to see an email the instant it arrives.  If something is a true emergency, you won’t be contacted by email in the first place.  Turn off the pop-up notification and the audible ping.  Watch your productivity go up.
  • Schedule specific times to check your inbox – The nature of your business will dictate this, but I suggest checking your email once or twice in the morning and then again in the afternoon.
  • Set your phone, iPad, etc. to silent or vibrate – I can get email on my iPhone, iPad, and computer.  Turning off the notification on your computer does you no good if you still get “beeped” by your other devises.  Be consistent.

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Before I start listing “rules,” understand that I’m simply codifying manners and common sense.  If we all were to implement these into our use of email, our collective email experience would vastly improve.

17 Rules of Email Etiquette

1) DON’T USE ALL CAPS – It reads like you are shouting.  I don’t like it when people shout at me.

2) Sarcasm doesn’t translate – I am fairly sarcastic.  However, it is nearly impossible to pick it up from an email.  You need context and the ability to hear voice inflection.  Just the facts, ma’am.

3) Email is a poor medium for bad news – I’ve heard this many times.  If you are just delivering sterile facts, a document, or good news, email away.  To simply inform quickly at no-cost, email works perfectly.  For bad news, however, make a phone call.

4) Don’t reply all! – Remember how I was talking about being distracted?  Ask yourself before you send, do I really need to potentially interrupt all of these people?  99% of the time, the answer should be no.  Let me repeat – NO!

5) Use proper grammar – UR not txting.  Use proper punctuation and grammar.  You represent yourself and your brand.  This is a no-brainer.

6) Use spell check – This is a no-brainer.  It is just too easy to do.

7) Re-read before you send – I should probably put this last as it is the last thing that you should do before you press send.  Spell check won’t catch words that are spelled correctly but used incorrectly.  I often drop out words and you probably do as well.  Make sure what you send out reflects well on you and your company.

8) Understand the permanence of email – Never send an email that you wouldn’t want on the front page of the paper.  Emails are so easy to forward.  They are easy to save and search.  I can go find an email I received years ago.  Think about how potentially damning an email could be.  Be especially careful when reply to a group email chain.  You can really get in trouble if you have negative content and ‘Reply All’ on accident.  Ask yourself, “If this ever gets out, can I live with the implications?”  If not, revise your email or just don’t send.

9) Don’t be a jerk – If you are a jerk in an email, you are memorializing this fact.  You greatly compound this fact if you act like a knucklehead by replying all to 850 people.

10) Proofread your emails – I don’t do this enough. This is right up there with leaving your zipper down in a client meeting – just not a good idea.

11) Keep your emails brief.

12) Don’t email angry – A number of times, I have written brilliant emails in response to circumstances that have made me angry.  Most of the time, I have hit delete.  I strongly suggest that you give yourself time to cool down before you respond.  You will always be glad that you did.  And there won’t be a record of your momentary rage-induced dumb-attack.

13) Please don’t forward chain emails – At least don’t send them to me, please.  They add more clutter to my inbox, and they aren’t true anyway.  Microsoft is not sending you a check.

14) Refrain from using “high priority” – There used to be a local broker that always marked his emails high priority.  They never were.  In fact, it was like he was saying that he demanded my attention because he was so important.  That probably was not his attitude, but it came off that way.  He used CAPS a lot, too.  Not a good combination.

15) Craft an appropriate and descriptive subject – I must confess – I don’t read every email I get.  There are just too many.  I triage on the fly based on two factors:  who is the sender and what is the subject.  Be specific in the subject and your messages will be read more.

16) Complete your signature – This is a common sense courtesy.  If you are connected via email, chances are that you will need to speak at some point.  Make it easy for people to contact you.

17) Be pithy – Pithy means brief and to the point.  Don’t waste your recipient’s time.  If you are including a bunch of information, give them the headline first.  Don’t make them read 500 words just to get to the point.  People are busy and time is our most valuable resource.

What email etiquette rules did I forget?  Which one’s do you violate the most?  I invite you to share your comments below!

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