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How To Streamline E-mail Communication

Alyssa Gregory

How much time do you spend managing e-mail every day? If you’re like me, you may feel like it’s too much time, even if you have the process nailed down. It seems e-mail can be a major productivity drain, but it’s one of those elements of business that is not going away.

Not only are there certain things to avoid in following e-mail etiquette rules, but there are things you can do to streamline your messages even more. And this will not only save yourself time and energy, but it will make reading and responding to your messages easier for your recipients. Here are some ideas.

Make It Easy to Follow

As much as we try to keep e-mails short and to the point, some need the bulk and there’s no way around it. One way to make your longer messages easier to follow is by using subheads and bulleted lists to break up the text. This also helps the reader zero in on the most important topics and gives them a way to jump to a specific part of the long e-mail later on. See the example below of straight text compared to being broken up by subheads and bullets.

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Identify Action Items

Clearly identify specific action items and questions for the recipient by highlighting, numbering or marking them in some other easy-to-notice way (keep in mind that the e-mail client used by your recipient may not support all options). Not only will this help the recipient keep track of what actions they need to take or questions they need to answer, but it will help you get a more complete response on the first reply.

Use Attachments When Necessary

If the information contained in the e-mail message is especially long or would benefit from special formatting, make it an attachment. While you certainly don’t want to overuse attachments because they create more steps for relaying information and can easily get misplaced, it can be an effective way to provide in-depth information via e-mail.

Stick to the Subject

While this may seem like an obvious one, you may find you get quicker responses when you include a descriptive and accurate subject line and stick to that subject in the body of the message. If you plan to send brief information on 2-3 topics, write a subject that specifies that. For example, “Meeting” vs. “Meeting Minutes and Next Week’s Meeting Time.”

Include a Call to Action

Almost every e-mail requires the recipient to do something. Make your last subheading in your message the call to action, specifying what will happen next. Do you need a response by a certain time? Do you need the recipient to let you know their availability for a meeting? Will you be calling her to follow up later in the week? State your request right before your closing and it will be the last sentence in the recipient’s mind, encouraging and reminding them to act.

What tips do you have for streamlining e-mail?