Chapter 8

Reducing Email Volume

What percentage of the email you receive each day at work is actually useful? For many professionals, that percentage is far lower than they would like.

No one likes spam, but spammers are not the only ones responsible for time-wasting email messages. For example, businesspeople often complain that many of the messages received from their own co-workers simply aren’t necessary. One strange phenomenon: far more people complain about receiving too many messages from their colleagues than admit to sending too many — but all that email has to be coming from somewhere!

The focus of this chapter is on ways to reduce email volume. Given the extent of the problem, the task may seem daunting, but it is nonetheless worth undertaking. At the very least, people will appreciate that you are not among those who cavalierly waste others’ time with annoying and unproductive communications. Below is a list of email reduction strategies.

1. Use the phone more. Or even walk over to your colleague’s desk from time to time!

Don’t hide behind email. Despite the old adage, talk is not cheap. As discussed in Chapter 6, talking can be an important way to cultivate and maintain business relationships.

2. Don’t use “Reply All” unless it is necessary.

If “Reply” suffices, it is almost always preferable to “Reply All.” Imagine that you are one of ten recipients on an email message. If you respond by clicking “Reply All,” the sender and the other nine original recipients will all receive your message. That means you are sending not one email message, but ten.

If everyone needs to see your response, then “Reply All” is fine. If only the original sender needs to see it, though, don’t impose your response unnecessarily on nine extra people.

Now suppose a subset of the original group needs your response — perhaps the original sender plus three of the original recipients. In that case, you could click “Reply All” but then delete the other people’s addresses from the To field before sending.

3. Copy only people who need to be copied.

Many professionals copy too many people on too many emails. Don’t fall into the trap of using email as a means of creating a long and many-layered electronic paper trail. True, if Joe copies everyone on everything, no one will be able to complain that he didn’t inform them of a particular event or detail. They could, however, complain that he is constantly wasting their time and irritating them with unnecessary emails.

While it is critical to copy people, particularly one’s managers, on emails containing information they need, it is also critical not to encroach on other people’s valuable time without justification. It may be a cliché, but it’s true: time is money.

Be more discriminating than the fictitious but unfortunately all too typical Joe.

4. Forward only what needs to be forwarded.

Don’t forward an email message to someone without thinking first about whether the message will be useful to that person.

Even if you think an emailed joke is hysterically funny, avoid forwarding it, or similar types of messages, to others at work. Your colleagues may not tell you if they find such messages annoying, and it is contrary to the spirit, and probably the letter, of many companies’ policies on email use at work.

In addition, it is not particularly efficient to forward a dialogue several pages long to an employee with a quick note at the top saying, “What do you think?” It is an extremely bad idea to send something similar to your manager, who is interested in having you save him or her time, not consume it. It is common for people to forward messages when they should instead be composing an original message that synthesizes only the issue or issues they care about.

For a discussion of some additional forwarding issues, see Section 7.4.