Nowadays email is an integral part of our professional and personal lives and will continue to be in spite of future technology advancements, I believe. Most of us during our days and weeks deal more with work/business related emails, and the number of emails might amount to several hundred per day, depending on the size of the organization.

Now with the capabilities of smartphones, we constantly have access to email and probably check it even more often than we should. For some of us, email rules our lives, not the other way around. But in spite of the number of emails flooding our inbox every day, if we want to be effective in our work and achieve great results, we need to learn or improve our skills to effectively manage this important tool.

Managing Email Effectively – 5 Important Steps

We can manage e-mail more effectively by improving these 5 important steps in the process:

  1. knowing general principles – when to use email and when not to
  2. checking times
  3. reducing the number of incoming emails
  4. processing emails
  5. writing effectively and efficiently

In this post let’s look at some of the main principles we constantly need to keep in mind when dealing with emails.

DO NOT USE email for urgent or complex matters

Email is intended for one-way communication most of the time and is not about immediate reaction or response, which means that email is not suitable for solving urgent matters or going into deep discussion over the issues.

Especially in the corporate world, we tend to use email in most of our communication, replacing other forms of communication and forgetting that sometimes it’s not the right tool. When we use it improperly, miscommunication results, and that in turn triggers more emails, more miscommunication and more wasted time.

Do not use email in these situations:

1. For issues that require back and forth discussion or response from many involved people

These might include complex projects or tasks where a discussion is required as opposed to just simply assigning a task; or situations where you need to do more than just convey your message – when you need to communicate complicated nuances, or “sell” the idea.

In these situations, meet face-to-face or set up a conference call. Then send a short email afterwards as a summary, to pinpoint decisions reached, responsibilities, and next steps.

2. When something needs to be done NOW, i.e. for issues that requires urgent resolution

Even if the person regularly checks his/her phone for new emails, you can’t rely on that. Pick up the phone and call, use IM or meet in person. This is the fastest way to reach this person and resolve the issue. Discuss all necessary details, make decisions, and solve the problem quickly.

3. For providing critical feedback or delivering negative news

Delivering sensitive and difficult information such as critical feedback, expressing concerns about work performance, or terminating someone’s project or employment, requires a face-to-face meeting, ALWAYS. In email your tone and words might be misinterpreted and also seen as insincere, too impersonal, or uncaring. Sit down with the person and discuss it. Remember, motives are important. Your goal is to help him/her become better at what they do, not just communicate feedback or humiliate them.

4. For anything important where your words or tone could be misinterpreted

It could be expressing your opinion, expressing your feelings or just the overall context of the situation, but any time there is a high potential for conflict or a conversation is likely to require a mixture of verbal and non-verbal communication, then email is not appropriate. It’s too easy for misinterpretation to occur.

5. To cancel something last minute

If you’re late for a meeting, just call the person. It will be professional and show respect for the other person. You’ll also have 100% assurance that they got the message and can adjust their plans accordingly.

USE email in these situations

1. Assigning or delegating tasks that do not require detailed discussions

2. Summarizing the outcome and next steps after a call or meeting. It will also provide written record of what was said and agreed on as a reference for the future

3. When something is so complicated (like documentation about procedure, instructions, etc.) that you want the person to have these details in writing, as a next step after you have discussed the issue

General Rule of Thumb for Email: if sending this particular email is more likely to create additional complexity rather than helping you and the other people progress towards your highest priorities – then use other, more effective forms of communication.

It’s sometimes simply more efficient to spend 10 or 20 minutes discussing what you need face-to-face or over the phone, than to exchange countless emails throughout the day or over the next several days.

Communication must be toward resolution and results

Email should not be used just for communication, but for so-called “purposeful communication” that leads to desired results and help us to progress toward achieving our most important goals.

One of our goals in using and managing email should be to keep conversations moving toward resolution and to do it as efficiently as possible, reducing the time we spend processing and replying to emails.

Enjoy your day and use e-mail wisely! 🙂

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