Subscribe to Entrepreneur for $5
Subscribe

8 Critical Email Rules for Optimal Efficiency

Looking for ways to improve company productivity and communications? Start with your email.

By
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Even though you have many other ways to communicate (e.g., Zoom, Teams, phone calls, text), email still dominates the workday. Thoroughly controlling your inbox will allow you to be more efficient and boost productivity for the entire organization. These are the best email rules to follow for effective results.

Related: 6 Tips to Tame Your Email and Maximize Your Time Management

1. Pick recipients carefully

Using CC exposes email addresses without permission and feels less personal, and hitting “Reply All” can clutter inboxes with messages people don’t really need to see. Use BCC to give the impression that your message is exclusive, and use “Reply All” only if all recipients of the original email must receive your answer. 

Your organizational chart can help you decide who should be directly involved in a conversation. Generally, executives should get a clear reason for why you included them in the discussion, and once they know you’re taking action on a matter, you can move them to BCC so they fall off the email chain. 

2. Stay clean and short

Including your message thread is good practice because it keeps people from searching for your original email. But ideally, put just one topic in your new message so people don’t accidentally skip over something important. If you have to make multiple points, use bullets and summarize everything in the top five lines or less. Separate both bullets and paragraphs with blank lines, stick to no more than 15-20 words per sentence, and include attachments only if they’re productive and the recipient gave them the okay.

In addition to making your email easier on the eyes, simple formatting is necessary because the platform or device your recipient uses might not interpret things like specific colors or fonts. If you stay frills-free, the risk of losing your intent is low. Once you’ve got a clean, short email, always proofread. It only takes a minute, but it can save you colossal embarrassment, reduce the time required for clarification and stop conflicts before they start.

3. Think about your tone

Any type of written communication can be harder to correctly interpret, as you don’t have facial expressions or body language cues to observe. When you email, it is critical to consider how your presentation comes across. Leave emojis/emoticons out initially because they reflect a more casual relationship than what might be appropriate. Similarly, abbreviations can be confusing and make people feel left out, especially for new personnel. Just write out what you mean. 

4. Perfect your subject line 

The more specific and meaningful your subject line is, the more likely the recipient is to open your message. It also helps recipients search for messages later on for reference. Personalized email lines get opened more frequently, so it’s worth including the recipient’s name or using “you/your.” Since most platforms will truncate subject fields, stick to around 40 characters (about seven words). Use **RUSH** only if it’s true — otherwise, it will lose its function over time.

5. Get your feelings under control (but don’t wait forever)

Wait and let emotions cool off before you write your email. This stops you from sending a message you’ll later regret. Also, if you approach the matter with positivity, it could help others improve their negative feelings. This prevents people from reading your heated message about something that might already have been resolved by the time they get your email. Once you’re calm enough to write, remember basic courtesies like saying “thank you.” 

This being said, the golden rule with email is to reply ASAP. If you can’t respond within the hour, then at least try to reply within the same working day, even if the reply just says you’ll get back to them later.

6. Watch what you forward

This ties to point no. 1 above — no matter which people you send the email to, leave confidential or private information for face-to-face interactions. There can be good intentions when sending chain letters, charity requests, or similar messages, but not everyone wants those emails. Even if they do, too many people sending them around creates one giant mess. 

To keep yourself from passing on something that could create a legal problem or internal conflict, just ask yourself if what you’re forwarding would be appropriate on your corporate letterhead. If not, then pass. If you’re ever unsure if something is phishing or a hoax, report it to your IT department and hit delete.

7. Answer anticipated questions

The rationale here is simple: If you answer in advance what you expect people to ask, they won’t flood your inbox with messages based on those questions. Plus, it’s courteous and builds trust to show that you’re thinking about their needs and point of view.

8. Use filters

Options like starring or pushing messages into distinct folders mean your email client organizes your messages by default. You can arrange your messages based on their priority level, subject or even project. No matter what filters you use, they make it easy to clean out what’s leftover by unsubscribing or sending groups of messages to the trash.

Related: How To Keep Your Employees Engaged and Secure When They're Working From Home

Email can be a beast if you don’t tame it. Sticking to these guidelines will help. As you implement each point, one final rule to follow is that your inbox is never your to-do list. Filter messages based on your true priorities rather than letting them dictate your day. Don’t let your inbox pull you into the weeds.

Stu Sjouwerman

Written By

Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor

Stu Sjouwerman (pronounced “shower-man”) is the founder and CEO of KnowBe4, Inc., which offers a platform for security awareness training and simulated phishing.