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The do's and don't s of effective business e-mails

The do's and don't s of effective business e-mails

Make e-mails valuable

As I have written in a recent post on e-mail, in my opinion it is mostly a huge waste of time. While keeping us busy, it rarely generates true value and is low leverage.

Why striving to have an empty inbox at the end of the day is a waste of time
I know first hand, how easy it is to get caught up in things that may seem important, but are actually not. The ‘empty inbox’ race is a good example... do you know people that try to have every message read or answered before the end of the day?

In order to make e-mail more valuable, the information being sent should be concise, relevant and of value to the person receiving it. It is important to be in touch with your co-workers and clients, but how often have you had to read to the fourth paragraph of an e-mail, to get to to the information that was relevant to you? How many e-mails do you receive a day (cc) that are of no real value to you?

Put important information in the first sentence

A very simple tip I picked up, is to put the information you want to get across in the first sentence. Although this takes some getting used to, it means that your outbound communication is on point and you help your recipients save time.

Photo by Coby Shimabukuro on Unsplash


Although keeping in touch on a personal level is important, I feel it is much more sincere to pick up the phone, have a coffee or lunch and have a real talk, rather than exchanging formalities in an e-mail. The point is, these shouldn't be formalities... Invest your time to actually have a conversation with a client or co-worker and find out how they are doing. This will be much more appreciated, than meaningless "how was the holiday season, the wife and kids" etc.

Example of a brief concise e-mail

Hi John,
on Jan 5 we had the meeting with client XYZ and need your support in setting up the policies around the EPR. Below is a Find-Time for a kick off meeting.

For me this is a good balance between being on point and being cordial.

Make emails actionable

I find it important to make emails actionable with as few extra steps as possible. Instead of asking "When would you be available for a meeting?" send a Find Time with possible slots. Instead of addressing 3 persons in the "to:" field and asking who will take care of preparing the meeting, address the one person who should be responsible and ask them directly if they can take care of it. Put the other persons on 'cc:' only if absolutely necessary.

On cc-ing people in

Consider the real world equivalent of cc-ing people in, especially FYI mails... Would you go around your office popping your head into rooms and giving some bit of information to different persons, then repeating this multiple times a day? In essence that is what you are doing. I have pitied some of my managers that received 500 mails a day and more. What value and sense can they take away from a flood of "just wanted to keep you in the loop..." mails.

Only address people when they can take or add value to the conversation. We all have more information that we can possibly action in one lifetime already. Having the relevant information is what makes the difference.

Multiple recipients

Be warned: Writing a mail to many people in the "to:" field is a sure-fire way for no one to feel addressed or responsible. If you need to get something done, avoid it at all costs.

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

Less is more

Instead of a lengthy description of everything important discussed previously, just go over the relevant aspects when you speak with the person in question. Keep it brief and don't overload the recipient with information just because you have it. The goal is to be able to scan an e-mail and get its meaning in 10 seconds or less; a blessing in the age of 'information overload'.

Use e-mail only when necessary

In the team I work in we have been able to reduce the use of emails by 80%. We only use e-mails when we have to communicate something that needs multiple attachments or a larger body of information. Everything else is communicated in real time in various Microsoft Teams channels and chats.

We try to onboard our clients into this workflow also as it saves everyone time and means the whole project will move forward more effectively.

Pick up the phone

I am always amazed to observe how people willingly play the e-mail ping pong game and send a back and forth a seemingly endless stream of mails, rather than just picking up the phone and speaking briefly. Not only do your tone of voice and intonation convey a lot more information, it also means you will have more enduring relationships with everyone you work with.

Next time you're thinking about a mail, see if a call or chat isn't the better channel and if it must be, in everyone's interests, keep it as brief and relevant as possible.

Title Photo by Dennis Skley on flickr

Erik Heirman

Erik Heirman

I believe technology should be at the service of society. I trust in agile methodology & principles, client centric innovation and design thinking.

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