Forget these 5 E-mail Myths: New Ways to Say Less, Get More Done

Email-Myths-BustedYou’ve probably heard a lot about inbox management and information overload. Some studies show that managing e-mail could take up as much as 15-20 hours a week – as much as a part-time job! That’s a sobering statistic.

But, as a leader, have you ever considered the impact you make on your workforce with your e-mail habits? Check out these five e-mail myths and the tips you can use to send fewer, more effective e-mails and get more done.

E-mail Myth #1: E-mail is a Productivity Tool

E-mail is an efficient way to share large amounts of information. But it’s not a particularly efficient way to consume information. It comes at unexpected times. It doesn’t automatically sort itself. It requires oversight to manage, filter, and respond. In fact, experts estimate an average e-mail costs a worker at least four minutes of time. That means one hour is lost for every 15 e-mails! As a leader, it’s important to realize just how much time your e-mails add to your employees’ workday. This mindset – that e-mail is not a productivity tool – is an important foundation for getting your e-mail sending habits under control.

• Tip: Monitor Your Productivity Impact
Want to see how much of an impact you’re making on productivity in your workplace? Try this exercise. Go to your “sent” folder for the last full workday. Count the number of e-mails you sent to each recipient (yes, you must count everyone you copied into each e-mail), and multiply that times four to find how many minutes your e-mails cost. That’s how much productivity your e-mails alone required, in just one day! Example: you sent 50 e-mails to a total of 75 recipients, costing five hours of productivity! Not to mention all the e-mails your team receives from other sources throughout the day.

E-mail Myth #2: E-mail Is Great for Every Message

Some messages simply aren’t meant for e-mail. Have you ever sent an e-mail that caused an exchange of seemingly endless responses? You probably should have had a phone conversation instead. Sometimes, a meeting or a conference call is the best way to communicate complex messages.

• Tip: Take the 5 Sentences Test
An easy way to tell if you should send an e-mail to an employee? There’s a simple test: Can you clearly convey your message in five concise sentences or less? If so, go with e-mail. If not, another form of communication will probably be more efficient. Resist the urge to send an e-mail when another communication method is called for. Most likely, you’ll have to have that meeting or phone call anyway, so skip the e-mail and go directly to the communication tactic that serves your message best, saving you – and your employees – valuable time.

• Bonus Tip: Consider Instant Messaging
Do you find yourself constantly sending short, exchange-based e-mails to your team? Often, managers who don’t sit or work in the immediate vicinity of their team send unnecessary e-mails to employees to convey simple messages. Try using an instant message provider or a web-based service like that will enable you to communicate quickly with your team throughout the workday without adding e-mails to their inbox and zapping productivity from their day.

E-mail Myth #3: All E-mails Are Created Equal

It’s estimated that each day, 247 billion e-mails are sent. How many of those e-mails are spam or mass e-mails people don’t want to begin with? How many are informational e-mails you don’t really need to receive? Not every e-mail is worthy of your time, attention, or action. Your time is a valuable commodity. And so is the time of each person you send an e-mail message to.

Although all e-mails aren’t created equally, each e-mail must be dealt with. And there are three basic ways people deal with e-mail: 1) read and respond, 2) read and file, 3) ignore or delete. E-mails that cause people to read and file are one of the worst enemies to e-mail productivity. In many cases, these e-mail senders wanted action from their e-mails, they simply didn’t ask for it. This can cause missed deadlines, inefficient follow-up, or project confusion.

• Tip: Use this Simple Outline for Effective E-mails
Want to make sure your e-mails end up in the read and respond category, rather than getting filed, ignored or deleted? Then make every e-mail action-oriented, and use this effective e-mail outline for each e-mail you send:

Project – A basic overview of the project, topic, or request. Keep this to two or three sentences.

Action – What do you want the recipient to do as a result of your e-mail? Explain clearly in one or two bullet points. Remember, if you need more than that, you probably shouldn’t be sending an e-mail to begin with!

Deadline – When do you need a response? If you don’t have a deadline, your e-mail may get read but not responded to.

• Bonus Tip: Send Fewer FYI E-mails
If you’re sending more informational e-mails than action e-mails, start sending fewer informational e-mails immediately. This will cut down on your time spent sending e-mails and will help your team focus on the e-mails that should be a priority – those that need action. To share information with team members, try creating a common “idea” folder or a file sharing account on a site like Delicious. Or, host a recurring idea meeting where team members can bring research, articles, information, case studies, and ideas they’d like to share. This will help your ideas have a chance of seeing the light of day instead of living in the inbox dark.

E-mail Myth #4: The Message Matters Most

What’s the most important part of your e-mail? It’s not the message. The subject line is what determines when, why, and whether the recipient will open your e-mail at all. A Pulitzer-worthy e-mail with a vague, general, or generic subject line may never make it to the reader. So, spend time carefully crafting concise, relevant subject lines before you send any e-mail message.

• Tip: Write Headlines for Your Subjects
A great subject line should be like a headline to a news story, compelling the recipient to read your message and conveying the basic message overview (project, action, and deadline). For example: “Client meeting follow up: Your three tasks due by Friday.” This subject starts with the specific project, tells the reader there are three action items, and includes a sense of urgency with the deadline.

E-mail Myth #5: E-mails are Made to be Copied and Forwarded

Just because your e-mail software allows you to forward e-mails or copy other recipients on your message doesn’t mean you should use these functions willy-nilly. With great power comes great responsibility! And, as the numbers show, e-mail can have great power over your workplace productivity.

• Tip: Ask Yourself “Is This Effective?”Use the effective e-mail formula above to copy and forward e-mails. Only copy in recipients who will be a part of the action. Otherwise, you’re creating unnecessary informational e-mails. When forwarding, add a message to the top that includes the project, action, and deadline. If you can’t? Don’t forward it! If you receive information you don’t know what to do with, stop the madness. Don’t simply forward it on to someone else, hoping they will know how to follow up and take action.


Do you buy in to these e-mail myths? By using these simple rules instead, you can start sending fewer e-mails and spending less time of your workday in your inbox. More importantly, you can contribute significantly to the productivity of your team by making sure your e-mails are clear, concise, action-oriented, and valuable.

Feel free to share this article with your team to let them know you’re committed to helping them manage their e-mail more effectively and that you’d like them to do the same with their e-mails, too. What are you waiting for? Pledge to help stop the e-mail madness by using – and sharing – these tips today.

Do you have e-mail sending tips, secrets, ideas, or horror-stories? Share your comments with us below!

One Response to Forget these 5 E-mail Myths: New Ways to Say Less, Get More Done

  1. Buzz October 14, 2010 at 2:04 am #

    Wow! Thank you! I always wanted to etit articles something like that. Can I take part of your post to my personal blog? Thanks.

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