Dealing with email: 13 rules for getting less email

This post is part of the series on Time Management in Youth Ministry. One of the things that frustrates almost all of us I think, is our email inbox that just never seems to get empty. No matter how hard we try to stay on top of it, it just keeps filling up. I want to give you some advice for dealing with your email in two posts and today we’ll start with one very obvious, but often overlooked solution: getting less email.

Have you ever realized that you can influence the amount of emails you get? It’s no rocket science, I guarantee you. The amount of email you receive is for instance directly related to the amount of emails you sent, but it’s also dependent on some other actions on your part. Have you ever taken a critical look at your own email habits to see what it is you do that causes your inbox to get flooded?

There are things you can do to ensure getting less email

Here’s 13 rules to ensure getting less email:

1. Send less direct emails

If you want to start getting less email, start with sending less yourself. Every time you start a new email thread with someone, ask yourself if email is the quickest way of doing business. My rule of thumb: if I need a lot of information from someone (‘what do you know about…’ or ‘where do I start with…’) or if I need to ask more than four questions in an email, calling someone is usually quicker.

2. Send less (B)CC’s

Sending CC’s or BCC’s has become a habit that’s gotten out of hand. Soon everyone starts replying and not only do you lose track of the process, but you end up having to respond to sixteen emails from six different people instead of the two emails from the one person you need to be doing business with. It’s therefore wise to strictly limit the number of (B)CC recipients or better yet, not use (B)CC at all. Does your senior pastor need to be informed of what’s going on? Copy paste relevant parts of the email and send it to him directly. He’ll thank you for not having to read through the whole thread anyway.

3. Don’t respond to (B)CC’s

If you are (B)CC’d in a thread, don’t respond immediately, unless you see things getting out of hand (at which point a phone call is probably the wiser option). Let whomever is emailing it sort it out himself first. Too often people silently assume that one CC is enough for someone else to basically take over their problem. Resist the urge to take responsibility for someone else’s problem and do not respond, unless a direct question is asked. And if you get (B)CC’s on everything, tell your people when to include you and when not to. It’ll make you you’ll be getting less email.

4. Don’t use reply to all

Don’t ever use the ‘reply to all’ button without a really good reason, unless your inbox is completely empty and you’re dying for some extra work. There was once this email thread where someone from my church wanted to know from all those attending a certain meeting what they would bring for lunch. When the thread was finally done, I had received more than 100 emails about the most banal subject ever: food. Take about a waste of time!

5. Answer all questions

If you’re serious about getting less email, make sure you answer all questions when you send an email. If possible, anticipate follow up questions and answer them while you’re at it. That way you won’t have to reply to another email with requests for clarification. And again: if your answer takes more than say five minutes to type, grab the phone.

6. Don’t ask for delivery or read conformations

I honestly don’t know why, but some people ask for confirmation of all mails being delivered and/or read. It would drive me insane to get that many notifications in my inbox. Only use this feature sparingly, for instance when you have sent a time-critical email or an email with possible legal ramifications.

7. Reply with text or original mail

Choose your settings such that the original message is always included in your answer. That way the recipient won’t have to email you back with the questions what you’re responding to. Also, it makes it easier to track threads and keep overview of all outstanding issues.

8. Write clear and concise emails

Communicating clearly and concisely yourself will lead to you getting less email. Reread all your emails and make sure that your email has a clear subject in the subject line and an actual question for the recipient (can also be a request, an advice or whatever.) Double check to see if you have actually asked the question or done the request. You’d be amazed at how often people write long emails without ever coming to a clear conclusion or request. I’d advise you to explain the ‘why’ of your email in the first few lines so the recipients knows what’s coming.

9. Don’t forward mails without explanation

I’ve had people forward me emails from others with no explanation, forcing me to reply to them with a ‘what’s this about’ or ‘what do you want me to do’. If you forward a mail, include one extra line that lets the recipient know what’s expected of him/her.

10. Inform people of your response time

If you receive an email that you can’t answer right away, let people know when to expect your reply. It’ll keep them from spamming you with reminders.

11. Don’t write emails when you’re emotional

One sure way of getting slammed with emails is to send off angry emails to people. It can cause a whole barrage of emotional mails that end up hurting all involved. Make it a hard and fast rule to never, ever send an email when you’re upset. Wait until the next day or however long it takes before your brain has control over your emotions again.

12. Unsubscribe from lists

Are you getting loads of email from lists you once registered to, but never read anyway? Unsubscribe. If you want to remember the lists for ‘maybe later’, just put them in Evernote and have a look at them again in a few months? Haven’t missed them? No need to subscribe again!

13. Provide ‘if then’ options

Last but not least a very helpful tip I read on Michael Hyatt’s site to ensure getting less emails: avoid the back and forth of ‘single options’ emails. Say you propose three dates, include this line: if one of these dates fits you schedule, please let me know which one and consider it an appointment. If not, could you please provide me with three options that suit you?

These simple rules can help you bring down the amount of emails you receive. For more ideas about cutting back on emails, be sure to read through this email charter which I thought to be an original idea.

But you will of course still get emails and those need to be dealt with such that it will cost you as little time as possible. This is what we will discuss in the next post: Dealing with the email overload.

Have you ever tried to reduce the amount of emails you get? What techniques have worked for you?

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