If you’re a college graduate entering the workforce, you may quickly find you aren’t prepared for the volume of email that awaits you in the corporate world. These 11 tips will help you master forwards, filtering and more.
Let’s face it, as much as we might complain about it, email remains an integral part of business communication – a form many college graduates are ill-prepared for. Rather than let it trip you up at the beginning of your career, or become a productivity killer every work week, try a handful of these tips and tricks and you’ll zipping through your inbox in no time at all while minimizing electronic faux pas?
Email messages are a wonderful work tool when it comes to communicating the content of prior discussions, or to get a new team member quickly up to speed on previously discussed and agreed-on points. Always check before forwarding a lengthy email thread to a subordinate or a vendor, though, as it may inadvertently contain confidential information or remarks that may be best kept to the original recipients. With this in mind, making a quick snip of extraneous information may be a good habit to develop.
Going to be out of town on a business trip (with “limited access to email,” wink-wink, nudge-nudge) over the next few days, or legitimately sick and stuck at home? Don’t underestimate the power of a concisely written out-of-office message to save you from having to explain your absence for the umpteenth time, or even from the undeserved ire of clients or colleagues. Remember to include information about when you’ll be back in action, as well as relevant contact information to colleagues or an assistant who will be able to assist with urgent queries.
While larger attachment allotment these days mean that large files of up to 25MB can be sent via Gmail or Office 365, it’s generally considered bad form – and a common rookie mistake – to send files of more than a few megabytes via email. Images can be easily resized on the PC using a free app like IrfanView; alternatively, you can also upload large file attachments to an online cloud service such as Dropbox or Google Drive and email a link instead.
If you’re writing a longer email with multiple points of discussion, or instructions, consider numbering your individual points so as to make it easier for a reader to follow – and to respond if desired. It’ll go a long way towards eliminating the chance of time-wasting misunderstandings. Bulleted lists work well, too.
The subject line is an important part of an email message that’s often overlooked. For one, having the appropriate subject line can serve to draw the right level of attention to the email, whether it’s an information-only message or if a response is required, not to mention the level of urgency. Additionally, a concise subject line also makes it much easier to sort through or find emails later. When forwarding or replying to an email, consider modifying the subject line if it would better reflect the nature of the response.
Moving beyond email
A common trap of novice email users is to use their inbox as a giant “to do” list. In addition to being highly inefficient, though, this isn’t what the inbox was originated created for. Fortunately, tools exist – such as Trello – that let you easily convert email messages into “tasks” to be addressed at a later date by simply forwarding them to a customized email address. Popular email programs, such as Outlook, also allow you to convert emails to to-do items on a task list, complete with reminders and priority flags.
It’s important to remember that, in the office, at least, email is very much a work communication and productivity tool. As such, it makes sense to avoid letting important messages languish in your inbox for too long. Though there are no hard and fast rules, it’s probably a good idea to respond within three working days or less; replying any later risks sending a signal to the recipient that either they, or the issue being discussed, is low priority.
While it’s important to not take too long to reply to critical emails, it’s also easy to fall into the trap of spending too much time working through your inbox – and getting little actual work done. Given that the morning is when most of us perform at our peak, one trick is to dive straight into non-email work the moment we step into the office, and not check email for a couple hours. Another strategy is to set aside blocks of time throughout the day specifically to read and respond to emails.
For all the power of email as a business tool, there are times when a quick phone call can be more effective than never-ending email threads. For instance, when a situation becomes too complicated to explain over email, or you’re discussing contentious or urgent matters, just pick up the phone and give your furiously tapping fingers a rest.
Part of the trick when it comes to dealing with information overload is to consciously reduce the number of emails that end up cluttering your inbox. A quick and easy strategy here is to unsubscribe from news and promotional mailing lists that you no longer have an interest in. Unsubscribing is typically a one or two-click process and prominently featured at the top or bottom of an email message – and you can always add the email address to the spam list if unsubscribing doesn’t work.