Forward Intelligence Group :: Email productivity & etiquette tips

Email productivity & etiquette tips

Posted by   admin on    April 29, 2014

Email productivity & etiquette tips

Apr 29, 2014

Working with different organizations I was exposed with many different email styles. Personal and corporate ones. After a while certain best practices became visible that guided me well to improve my constant struggle with information overload. Here is my summary of the most important ones.





How to resolve it

Edit forwards

Someone forwards you a long email and just adds his view on the top. You need to read the entire email first to understand it.

Summarize the previous discussion as much as needed to support the point you want to make. Delete the old text.

Clear subject lines

A generic email subject does not catch your attention and later you realize that something important was in it

Write a catchy subject line that summarizes actions needed and instills urgency. The subject line is the only thing you can be reasonably sure to be read. Many mails get deleted unread because the subject line is not catching enough attention of the recipient.

Importance indicators and reminders

The urgency of an email was not clear enough

First, write a catchy subject line. Then use urgency/importance indicators provided by most email programs to flag accordingly. If actions are required, set an auto reminder to ensure that the mail raises attention shortly before it needs a response.


Someone sends you a mail with a read receipt.

Don’t use read receipts. People will suppress it and you will only increase your own mail volume.  If something is so important that you want to be sure that the message was delivered, use the phone or talk to them in person in addition to or in lieu of sending an email.

FYI emails

Someone sends you a purely informational and unimportant mail

If you, as the sender, know that the email will be of purely informational nature for the recipient, set the importance to low.

Clearly separate To: and CC:

I didn’t know I had something to do from the email.

Only put people you need to respond/action/notice to the email on To:. Put everybody else on CC:. State clearly what you want people to do. Some people automatically delete emails where they are only on CC:.

Long emails

The mail is too long, I didn’t have time to read it and I missed an action assigned to me.

Avoid long emails. If you cant, put a management summary at the top of long emails and highlight the actions that need to be taken. This will also prompt people to read the entire email.

Run-away conversations

An email conversation got out of hand. Two people on the thread started to argue and everybody else had to witness the conversation going on between them for days.

Email is a written and asynchronous media. It is not suited for complex situations where emotions, tones and body language are important. If you find that such a situation has emerged take it offline immediately and contact that person directly and only resume the email thread if the issue at hand is resolved.

Subject line tags

The subject lines does not clearly indicated the importance, expectation and information

You can create own tags for that subject line that flexibly indicate importance, expectations and information. For example, I use:

ACTION REQUIRED: or [ACT] to indicate that I want the recipient to react to it,

FYI (For Your Information) for message where I don’t expect an answer.

[EOM] (End Of Message) at the end of the subject line to indicate that the message is fully contained in the subject line and that the person does not have to open it. E.g. I will be 15 minutes late for the meeting [EOM] or The customer has accepted our offer [EOM]

Mail volume control

I receive a lot of emails that are not important to me.

There is not much you can do to prevent people sending you emails. But two things you can control:

1. Get yourself off unimportant mailing lists

2. Limit the amount of people you send to. Every person you send to can respond.


Sometimes I miss important emails.

I use Microsoft Outlook and color code important message e.g. ones that are sent only to me or mails from important people.

Correct spelling

Sometimes I receive emails with a lot of spelling mistakes

I personally feel that any type of conversation needs to be respectful. For me, sloppy spelling gives the sender an air of arrogance and I personally aim at writing proper emails. However, I give the sender the benefit of the doubt as some messages might truly be written under great time pressure.

Address and closing

Sometime I receive emails with just the content

No address (like "Hi" or  "Dear all") and less often the closing (Thanks, Best regards + Name) are quite common. I generally feel that this is uncourteous and try to avoid it with the exception of a brief response like "ok" or "I will call you later regarding this."

Although this might be primarily a matter of style it is also important to understand that the address and closing have a role to play::

  • By addressing people in a special way you can indicate why the message was sent to this group of people. Rather than "Hi" choose: "Hi system administrators",  "Dear Growth-Workshop Attendees,", "Fellow Fathers,"
  • By adding "Thank you" to the closing I can end with a positive note
  • By modifying my title I can assume another role

Most email programs support signature that you can use to automatically include a standard closing to new and/or responded/forwarded emails.

Archive old unread messages

My inbox grows and grows and I cannot catch up

Particularly when you come back from a vacation or week-long workshop you inbox greets you with a huge amount of mail. The color coding approach above helps you to see what is important. Some people block their first day(s) at work to catch-up with communications pretending to still be on vacation and leaving their Out-of-Office auto-response active. But with all attempts to manage sometimes it is impossible to tame the long tail of your inbox. You just manage to keep up with the new messages coming in and a huge amount of old mails stay at the bottom of your inbox. Just accept it, archive it and move on. Most of the things are either unimportant or have resolved themselves already. Important things will pop up automatically. By archiving rather than deleting you ensure that you can always go back if you need to.

Message sorting

The huge amount of mails I receive make it hard to find old messages

You can sort messages into folders which takes time to do. However, over time the amount of folder will also grow out of proportion and becomes unmanageable itself. The search capabilities of modern email clients are so powerful now that they become equally and if not even better suited to find old stuff. A study from IBM showed that searching vs. sorting into folders does not make a difference to personal productivity. Pick your choice.

Tags: E-Mail
Category: Communication

Martin Thomas