Six steps to good email hygiene

Many of us have embarked on worthy crusades to tame our inboxes and therefore our time. (Remember the inbox zero trend from a few years ago?) But often, these ambitious endeavors fall to the wayside over time. As more pressing priorities arise, our old email habits reemerge.

I advocate for a simple system, what I call practicing good email hygiene.

1. Send fewer and better messages

Make messages brief, simple, and orderly. Avoid the temptation to send a reply the instant something pops into your inbox.

2. Ask yourself, “Should this email be a conversation?”

Some things are best communicated face to face. Before sending an email, ask yourself if you shouldn’t schedule a meeting or phone call with the recipient(s) instead.

3. Stop sending drafts and reminders

Don’t send “first drafts” of emails without giving them a simple proofread first. That way you won’t have to send a volley of clarifying follow-up messages later.

4. Be mindful of who you include

Your emails should be relevant to whoever is receiving them. Only copy people who need to be CC’d, and do not Reply All unless everyone needs to see the reply.

5. Make subject lines smart

If the subject of the conversation changes from the original email, change the subject line and create a separate thread. Establish a simple folder system for yourself based on context, or how you intend to use certain emails later.

6. Establish daily time blocks for email

Rather than dealing with emails as they come in throughout the day, dedicate specific blocks of time to review and respond. But do make sure to manage people’s expectations by telling them about this practice—let them know when they should expect email responses from you.

Want to read more? Check out Bruce Tulgan’s book — The Art of Being Indispensable at Work

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