Managing Your Email

caudwellJohn Caudwell, an English businessman and philanthropist who has made his fortune in the mobile phone business Phones 4u, told his employees to no longer use e-mail.  The net result is that the business has been dramatically liberated, leaving the typical Phones 4u person with an extra three hours a day to concentrate fully and without distraction on sales and customer service.” [Workforce Week, 23/Sep/2003]


It seemed like the simplest most efficient tool when you started using it – but before you knew it, you were intoxicated – a slave to your inbox and much of it was of little interest to you.

If you are a manager, you should explore all that the PEP Program has to offer – it has had amazing results in workplaces across the world.  But in the meantime, here are some other suggestions to help you out.


emailAlthough recognising that your needs will change, decide what emails you are going to file and how you are going to file them, then implement your decision:

  • Keep your inbox as empty as possible with only the items that you need to action in the next week or so
  • Unsubscribe from those regular inbox-filling newsletters and advertising that you never get around to reading
  • If necessary, gently let your friends who are senders of unwanted emails know that you’d prefer not to receive them anymore
  • Create folders for projects your are involved in, organisations you work with and/or people with whom you correspond
  • Create a “Pending” or “Waiting” folder to keep track of your emails that request information or action from other people
  • Create a “Reading” folder for anything that can be read at your leisure – scan this folder every few weeks and either read, store, pass on and/or delete
  • Maybe create a “Jokes” folder for somewhere to go when you need a laugh
  • Use the “Deleted Items” folder enthusiastically – periodically purge the emails that are no longer required
  • If you are a little more adventurous:
    • Use “Search Folders” to keep track of emails in multiple folders with a particular status – eg, flagged, drafts, unread, etc
    • Use “Inbox Rules” to send emails with specific characteristics to particular folders.

email etiEmail seems fast and convenient but it lacks the body language and voice intonations of face-to-face and phone conversations:

  • Ask yourself whether email is the best way to communicate your message to your readers
  • Avoid email when the message could cause offence – you may make enemies unnecessarily
  • Avoid email when the message brings bad news – your readers may need support
  • Avoid email when the message is complicated – eg, when delegating tasks – there are always questions and/or misunderstandings
  • Avoid email when the message is confidential – emails can easily be forwarded to another address or posted in the public domain
  • Avoid email if you are angry or upset – count to 24 (hours), wait until you cool off, then deal with the issue accordingly
  • If in doubt, pick up the phone or meet face-to-face – it is often quicker and more effective than emails.
Writing & Formatting
  • Write your email as if your sixth grade teacher was reading it:
    • Write for understanding, not to show off the size of your vocabulary
    • Eliminate spelling errors and poor grammar
    • Use the subject line to clearly summarise the subject of your email
  • Write your email as if your readers were in a hurry (they probably are):
    • Get to the point quickly – clearly tell them what you want from them
    • Use simple sentences with words you are familiar with
    • Use short sentences – one idea per sentence please
    • Use active (not passive) sentences
    • Don’t mark the email “urgent” if it isn’t
  • Write your email as if your Nana was reading it:
    • Eliminate any humour or language that she may find offensive, provocative or in poor taste
    • Eliminate clichés, acronyms, and techno-speak that she may find incomprehensible
    • Be open and honest if you can, otherwise just be honest
  • Respect the readers of your email by keeping formatting simple – not everyone has the same email system
    • Use easy-to-read fonts and colours – come on, you know which ones they are
    • Use upper case sparingly – it is the written equivalent of shouting
    • Enhance readability and navigation – use headings, dot points, and white space
  • Use a signature block so that readers have your contact details
  • Get into the habit of filling in the addresses last – how many times have you clicked “send” instead of “save”?
  • Consider your readers’ inbox limit – only send attachments when necessary or else store them in common folders like DropBox
  • Ensure there is value for every addressee in every email you send – circulate messages to as few people as possible
  • Assume all your messages are received but communicate personally if and when follow-up is required
  • Only respond to emails if you have something to contribute
  • If you pass an email on to someone else for action, copy in the person who sent it to you so they know who the contact person is.
References & Acknowledgments
  • The PEP Program
  • Endless email; Kirsty Dunphey;; Jan/2008
  • Writing effective email – improving your electronic communication; Nancy Flynn & Tom Flynn; 2003
  • The Management Bible; Flanagan & Finger

If you would like further information, contact the Hub.  When you’re ready to talk, we’re ready to listen!