—Amy M. Gardner
Studies show that the average professional spends one-third of their work day on work email. That means that email can have a big impact on your career. Read on for eight common—and easily correctable—mistakes you may be making with your emails.
1. Emails that are too long.
Someone once told me emails should be short enough to fit on an iPhone screen. That isn't always possible or desirable, but it’s helpful to keep that view in mind. (Of course the people who insist on three line emails are often the same people who then complain about emails that sound curt, so take this with a grain of salt.) Longer emails—especially if you aren't using headers or space to break things up—make people more likely to skim and miss the content you've provided. Or they may decide to come back to your email and then forget to do so. And worse than not reading the email, when your emails are too long, people assume you aren't focused.
2. Emails with too many attachments.
Especially if recipients are reading your message on their phones, too many attachments can be hard to get downloaded or to keep track of which file is which. If you really need all the attachments, think about whether you can upload the documents on dropbox or an internal drive that recipients can access. And if the files are just numerous and not huge, consider combining them into one file so recipients don't have to jump back and forth.
3. Emails that should be a phone call or face-to-face conversation.
Any news that will come as a negative surprise—the contract isn't being renewed, your work-product on this project is not up to par—or confusing to the point it will take more than one email exchange to explain is usually better conveyed with a phone call.
No one wants to schedule yet one more meeting, but in many situations, picking up the phone can get the job done with less risk of hurt feelings and frustration, and more quickly than spending the day volleying emails back and forth.
4. Emails that look more like texts than professional correspondence.
Offices vary, but unless you are in one where emojis and explanation points are the norm and you're emailing your friend down the hall about lunch, your emails should never be able to be mistaken for texts. We often use emojis and exclamation points to try to say "I may be delivering a strong message but I'm not mad." Or “I’m trying to get this done quickly and don’t have time to worry about tone or what you might think.” What we should really be doing instead of putting in a smiley face is reworking the email, picking up the phone, or walking down the hall.
5. Subject lines that aren't descriptive.
Using a helpful subject line is a courtesy we can easily extend to the reader, both so they can decide when to read the email, and so they can find it later. "Update" is not helpful; "Update on XYZ project" is much better. Look at what others in your organization do and adopt helpful naming conventions as though you're saving a memo to a shared drive. It will make your emails more helpful and more likely to be read.
6. Vindictive cc’ing or bcc’ing.
No one likes seeing that their own boss or someone else's has been "looped in" to a dispute. When you are at the point where you want to bring in someone else on an email because you're frustrated or want to cover your bases, you should be having a conversation face-to-face if possible, or by phone if not. If you feel you need to or your office culture expects it, then you can write the email summarizing the conversation. But not before.
7. Pointless emails.
No one needs one more “ditto!” or “Thanks.” email. There are offices where superfluous emails are the norm, but otherwise, don’t feel the need to add to everyone’s inbox unnecessarily.
8. "Final" versions sent again and again.
It is sometimes inevitable—you're in a hurry, hit send and realize you forgot an attachment or find a typo in the document. Where you can, sending a link to a document on a shared drive rather than as an attachment can help because you can make those quick corrections before the recipients have even opened the file.
But in general, when you think the document is final, walk around the office, get a cup of coffee, and come back. Look over things again before you hit send to avoid being the one constantly sending emails saying "REAL final document" or "USE THIS ONE."
None of us are perfect, and emails can be fraught with peril when you’re tired, in a hurry, or likely to be misunderstood. But eliminate these eight mistakes from your email correspondence and your recipients and your career will benefit.
What are YOUR email pet peeves? Be sure to mention them in the comment section below.