By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant
You may connect with others through texting, calls and social media. But email is still a solid means of communicating with business clients, vendors, colleagues and the occasional Nigerian prince who needs your bank account number to share his millions.
The avalanche of daily emails tends to make people less productive as their devices ping with each new missive.
Keeping a manageable inbox relies upon adopting and sticking with an effective email policy. For Sherrill-based business consultant Lisa Eklund, that means prioritizing and responding.
For the emails that are important to her and require a response, she responds right away.
“I reply in a timely fashion even if I don’t have time to give them the details,” she said.
This helps minimize frustration of people who legitimately think they should receive a reply — non-Nigerian princes — and would feel ghosted if Eklund lets their message sit untouched.
She follows through later with the information the sender wants.
Other emails in her inbox, such as newsletters she has signed up for in the past or sales pitches associated with previous purchases, can be deleted if she does not have time for them.
The key part of Eklund’s strategy is knowing what needs a prompt reply and what does not.
“So many of us confuse the seemingly urgent with the truly important,” said Anthony D’Angelo, professor of practice and director of the master’s program in communications management at Syracuse University. “Plus, email is just so darn easy. A reply can be nearly instantaneous, but also thoughtless and valueless.”
He recommends setting aside two to three designated blocks of time to check email and then remaining active in one’s work for the rest of the day. Replying to every ding immediately detracts from productivity.
“Within your mailbox, you can also organize or scan your messages to see if the sender or subject line is truly important to you,” D’Angelo said. “If not, either file or delete it, and move on.”
Taking care to select but not open unwanted email from unknown sources can help prevent computer issues like hacking, viruses and phishing.
D’Angelo encourages businesspeople to avoid becoming part of the problem. To prevent yourself from clogging others’ inboxes, D’Angelo said that it’s important to know what topics are better suited as emails and what are not.
If an email is the way to go, use a helpful subject line to indicate any deadline or if no immediate response is warranted. Direct the email to the specific person within an organization or note the person’s title or department in the subject line if you don’t know the right person. In addition to crafting a polite message, make your message succinct. After the greeting, state why you’re emailing. Fill in any important details. Wrap it up with a call to action (what does the recipient need to do next? How should the person contact you next, if this is needed?), your thanks and your contact information.
“If a subject requires substantial discussion among a group, it may be most efficient and effective to schedule an in-person or Zoom meeting,” D’Angelo said. “If you need an immediate response to an issue, decide if you should place a phone call. If the subject matter is complex or sensitive, perhaps you should walk down the hall and ask for a private conversation. We’ve all seen occasions where a colleague emails us from an office or cubicle just a few feet away from us. At times we need to be reminded that face-to-face communication is typically more effective and appreciated.”