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5 Email Mistakes That Are Basically Killing You

4 minute read

The average American worker got or sent 115 emails a day last year, according to market research company Radicati Group, which predicts this number will swell to 136 daily emails by 2017. Other research estimates that we spend more than a quarter of our time at work dealing with email. It doesn’t have to be like this. You’re probably inadvertently contributing to this digital deluge and the amount of time you spend on email. Here’s what you’re doing wrong and how to solve the problem.

You drop what you’re doing to check it. “Committing to a specific email schedule and turning off “push” on your mobile device can help break the habit of obsessive email check-ins,” market research technology executive Alexandra Samuel says in a Harvard Business Review blog post. This is the easiest advice to give and the hardest to actually follow, so Samuel offers some advice for untethering yourself from your inbox.

If you work for a boss that expects emails to be responded to immediately, Samuel suggests setting up a filter that prioritizes email sent from them. She also suggests that any very important messages you’re waiting to receive can be forwarded to your phone as text messages, which won’t require actually going into your inbox to read.

Not only is it time consuming, but checking your email constantly can actually be detrimental to your health. A study out of the University of California, Irvine found that office workers who constantly checked email had elevated heart rates compared to when they took an “email vacation” for one work week.

You get sucked into the “cc” black hole. If you’ve been cc’d, your input isn’t critical and you probably don’t even need to reply, experts say. Set up a rule or filter in your email system that bumps messages where you’re not the primary recipient into another folder, suggests Lloyds executive Ian Hallett. “I created an auto rule that routed every email I was copied on into a separate folder (called ‘Copied’, imaginatively). I allowed myself to check it only once per day,” he says in a column for LondonlovesBusiness.com. The transformation to his inbox was remarkable, he says. “I found that 50% of my email went to this folder and 90% of it could be deleted without a second thought.”

You abuse the “cc” function. This is the flip side of the above rule. If you copy everybody in the department, you’re probably going to get a lot more responses than you actually need or want to deal with. Not only are you wasting everybody else’s time, but you’ll be stuck answering questions from people who want to know why they’re included and what they should do.

And if you get an email with a bunch of people cc’d, don’t hit “reply all” automatically. “Try only answering the person concerned, it doesn’t necessarily need to become a group discussion,” task management technology company Azendoo suggests on its blog.

Your subject line stinks. The subject head should be specific to the request or task under discussion, not something generic like “checking in” or “meeting schedule.” Corporate writing instructor Jack Appleman tells the Wall Street Journal that emails, especially ones sent to people who are super-busy (like, say, your boss), are apt to be ignored if the subject head doesn’t tell them immediately why you’re writing to them. Likewise, if you change subjects, start a new thread with a subject line that reflects the new topic. You don’t want to spend 15 minutes hunting for details about a presentation because it’s buried halfway through a thread labeled “vacation schedule.”

You use it for everything. Seriously, just pick up the phone or walk over to a colleague’s desk, especially if you’re tackling something that ‘s going to be long and complicated to communicate. “Conversations, discussions and anything that requires a heavy amount of back-and-forth should be done on the phone or in person. Trying to use e-mail to have these conversations can be slow, time-consuming and painful,” says Scott H. Young, who blogs about productivity.

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