The Life-Changing Way To Do Work Email

Overwhelmed by the state of your inbox? Then make sure to read this.

Ruum Team

Florian Frey

March 7, 2019

7 min read


Work email is still a thing. A broken, torn up, covered-in-duct-tape thing. There are some well-documented hacks for doing email right and some instances where email communication has gone horribly, horribly, wrong.

The reality is, most people don’t know how to write a proper email even though they use email on daily basis for almost all of their business tasks/communications. Some companies have famously initiated an assault on email, choosing to drop it all together and adopt instant messaging services to carry out their communications. Sadly, those daring moves are aimed at customer relations and making customers’ lives easier rather than addressing the needs of internal teams within corporate structures. So, while customers might be spared from the treachery of email communication, employees on the other hand are still stuck in email hell.

How to fix email?

In an attempt to make email less painful, we’ve compiled the definitive list of the web’s best email tips and tricks to make your work life easier and your communications with your team/email-recipients clearer. After all, nobody gets paid to write emails.

It seems that most articles around the web agree, email is no-joking matter, it requires military precision and a 7-figure-consultant-level game plan.

Apparently, your current approach of going through your inbox, trying to slay the hydra-esque onslaught of emails is not an approach at all but rather a suicide mission.

Email communication done right: the basics.

Email is akin to warfare, and therefore requires military precision to defeat. You need to fight back against the onslaught of messages invading your inbox and attacking both your sanity and productivity. The best defense is a good offense.

Your best offensive move is to start writing the right type of emails; ones that leave no room for second-questioning or unnecessary replies/further communication.

The perfect email starts with a clear subject line. Kabir Sehgal, Navy Lieutenant turned Grammy-winning producer, suggests including an action word such as SIGN (for actions that require signatures), ACTION (requiring an action) or REQUEST (requiring permission or approval), COORDINATION, DECISION, INFO (informational purposes) as a preface to your subject line, in order to give your reader an immediate idea of what is required, what needs to happen, or what’s expected. There, you just delegated like a General!

The email subject line should give the whole the story away. This is not a clickbait Buzzfeed article headline, but clear instructions aimed on defining the situation and scope of your mission…should you accept.

The perfect message body in 5 steps (and in time for summer)

Now let’s move on to the message body. You should also start every email message with the absolute bottom line.

A bottom line, is a one sentence (lede) which answers the who, what, where, why and how (and basically summarizes the purpose of the said email). This simple, clear and easy to understand line should give the email receiver all the information they need to carry out the desired action/task.

The lede should then be followed by some context or the background information regarding the demanded action. The receiver of the email can choose to read this or not, and probably won’t, so stick to bullet points and only the absolute necessary information.

Now that you got the general idea of the contents of any and every email you will write ever, let’s go back to basics: frequency and optimization.

Emails should serve 3 purposes and 3 purposes only:

  1. scheduling and coordinating meetings with multiple people
  2. sending very short notes and requests with attachments/links
  3. sending information (summaries of projects, general updates, even the dreaded newsletters)

If you’re using email for anything else, then you’re doing it wrong and therefore deserve the horrible state of your inbox.

The logic? The less emails you send the less emails you’ll receive. Keep this in mind the next time you start writing an email instead of picking up the phone (which is the solution, btw).

A word of caution: be wary of forwarding, replying all and cc-ing.

Think twice before forwarding any email. Forwarding is often a useless practice that just creates confusion and mixes up the command chain!You’re the General of your email communications, only forward when it’s absolutely necessary and even then, really think long and hard about your chosen course of action. This also applies to “reply all” and “cc-ing”, which should only occur when absolutely necessary, and only when it’s actually relevant to ALL email recipients.

CC-ing reflects a work culture where people are trying to cover their tracks. Is that the message you want to send? You don’t want to be the one adding to the clutter and aiding email in its hostile takeover…you just don’t.

Pro tip: instead of sending attachments, send links. The recipient will have to click on the link to view your attachment instead of mindlessly downloading it for later (never) and ending up with a million outdated versions of power point presentations, word documents and excel sheets. This also acts as a privacy measure, only people who have the right clearance level can view your link.

What to do when email attacks back?

Advice from major consulting firms (who optimize everything because they can, and because they charge 7-figures per interaction) suggests using a filing system that turns your inbox into a slay-list, which extends beyond topics or projects but rather categorizes emails based on their urgency.

Here are the inbox commandments

You shall show no mercy as you create and religiously stick to an “inbox” folder which is just your “holding pen” — a place for you to catch your breath before dividing and conquering.

  • You will then create 4 other folders that outline what’s due and when.
  • The “Today” folder shall contain all emails messages that require a response today.
  • The “This week” folder shall contain all are emails messages that require a response this week.
  • The “This month/quarter” folder shall contain all are emails messages that require a response this month/quarter.
  • The final folder, “FYI”, shall contain all the informational messages that don’t require a reply or action but are good to have on hand for reference.

That’s it. This is your new email management system.

The simplicity of this approach is dumbfounding, however, consultants, managers, developers, and CEOs, swear by its effectiveness in quelling the “mailster”.

Don’t lose your style

Don’t be afraid to use some of the available style options like italics, bold and underlining to highlight key passages in your (otherwise short and direct) email. Despite what you might think, bullet points are extremely professional and are an indication, nay, a reflection of an organized mind. Email experts even suggest putting people’s names in bold when you want them to take actions. Anything in bold gets 100% more attention…#realfact.

And don’t forget to be nice…your email is still a representation of your personality and your brand. So be a beast in demands but a lady/gentleman when it comes to pleasantries (in other words, don’t forget your “please” and “thank yous”).

How to curb email output across the whole organization?

Make email a performance indicator, the less email you send the better.

Engie Energy International (formerly known as International Power) experimented with a lean manufacturing approach to tackle email. Rather than opting for a management tool to hack at emails, they decided to cut down the number of daily sent emails by adopting an industrial process mindset that targets overproduction (mass emails, forwarding, cc-ing, threads) and defects (unclear, confusing messages with no clear purpose).

Managers were also encouraged to evaluate the frequency as well as the quality of emails, in terms of communicating information and resulting in the desired action, which became the de facto performance measure.

Their logic? Get rid of the broken processes within email and lead by example. The lowered email (and more focused) output by top managers resulted in a decrease in emails throughout the organization. Engie was able to slash their email output by 64% in just three months across the whole organization. Take that, email.

The moral of the story, management can dictate the frequency of email interaction. So, if you’re a top manager at your company and are sick and tired of receiving emails, then stop sending them.

Bottom line, crushing email starts with you. Don’t give in to the beast, tame the beast and reclaim your time, productivity and output.

One more thing: if you’re on the look out for more summaries, tips and original content on how to collaborate, manage teams, work with email and still get work done, then follow our Ruumers publication.

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