10 Email Fixes for the Next Decade and Beyond

02/13/2020 by Jason Atwood
Some easy things we can all do to make the next decade one where we love not loath email.

It will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me, has heard me, or read my previous posts on the subject, that I am both a big fan and critic of email. It is still one of the best communication methods that we have, as well as one of the most abused. Since I believe that email will still be here in the next decade, here are some things we can do to help improve email and its usage.

1 - Less is More

While email is a great way of communicating, it is still not great for either very interactive (real-time) or complex (large) subjects. Keep emails short, sweet, and to the point. Break up paragraphs so they can be easily scanned for important information, and if you find yourself struggling to write a very long email, consider picking a different channel, such as the phone or formal document. 

2 - Set the Expectation 

While this tip could be used in almost all parts of life, setting the expectation of when and how you will respond to email is a power move. Do this by communicating to friends, family, and colleagues that you will respond to emails in a time period that makes sense. For extra credit, create communication standards at your organization that lay out how people will respond, over what channels, and when others can expect that. Expectations are easier met when set.

3 - Make TO Actionable

The TO: line in an email is a sacred place. It should be used only for those who have actions that are outlined in the body of the email. Everyone else is just along for the ride. Take the extra minute or two when replying or sending emails to change the TO to the person who has action. The more people you put in the TO line the less chance anything you have in your email will get done. 

4 - Make TO Personable 

While you are making it actionable, make TO personable. Use the person's name at the start of the email. Everyone loves to see their own name, and as an added bonus it lets them know it is for them. It says “hey, this email is for you, you need to do something about it”. This is great for new emails or changes in TO and replies outside of a longer time period, like a few days.

5 - Don’t CC to CYOA

Most people get too many emails because of excessive copying. Everyone copies everyone on everything in an attempt to “CYOA.” Use the next decade to set up standards around CC. Trust that the work will get done and you don’t have to CC someone just to prove it. A little trust goes a long way in cutting down the amount of email you get.

6 - Good Subjects Matter

Want to get a better response to your email? Write a better subject. Include the name of the organization or project that is in the email. Make it specific so it grabs the attention of the reader and you can find it more easily later. Searching emails has come a long long way, and with good subjects, you can avoid the time-consuming practice of “foldering” every email. 

7 - Don’t “Bury the Lede” 

This goes along with making emails actionable, in that it is better to break up big blocks of text and make sure that thing you need the most is on its own line, towards the end of the email. The reality is most people are so overwhelmed by emails that they don’t read them, they just scan them looking for actionable items. Don’t bury the things you want or need in big paragraphs and you will have a better shot of getting a response. 

8 - Show Your Work

If the purpose of the email is to communicate information, provide links to actionable items and put them on a brand new line with a description of what they are clicking on. With all the deceptive email that we have to deal with, it is nice to know what you are clicking on before you click on it.

9 - Explain The Attachments

Attaching something to an email? Explain what it is. Showing a screenshot? Tell them what they should be looking for in the attached image. Clarifying what is attached is especially important when you are asking for things to be electronically signed. Of course, don’t forget to attach it before you hit send.

10 - No Auto Signatures 

My hate of signatures in emails is very well known and documented. They basically turn a  clean, concise communication tool into a series of useless images, advertisements, and legal jargon that won’t hold up in a court of law. I credit signatures as one of the main reasons why people are abandoning email and heading to texts, WhatsApp, and Slack. 

What are your thoughts on email going into this next decade? Provide feedback directly to me @JasonMAtwood or in the Trailblazer Community