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Email Productivity Killers

Email can be a huge time sink. Most of us deal with email for a couple hours a day, but it can be cut down substantially when you avoid these 7 these common mistakes.

(And we’ll show you what to do instead.)

Mistake #1: CC’ing Too Many People

Anyone who CC’s more than one person in an email needs to be sent to a desert island.

That’s because one of the biggest time wasters is CC’ing too many people in an email. We’ve all experienced it before. You read an email, immediately wonder “what does this have to do with me?” and you want your precious 3 minutes back.

It’s the new digital clutter. As you have more of these irrelevant emails, your inbox is stacked with junk that makes it more difficult for you to find the emails that are actually important.

Let’s stop this madness by leading by example. Here’s a simple guideline to follow: as soon as you CC more than one person – start removing recipients.

People usually think that it’s a good idea to involve other people without considering that you end up cluttering their inboxes with irrelevant information and taking up their mental bandwidths. This gets even worse as soon as people start using the reply-to-all button which brings me to the next big mistake.

Mistake #2: The Reply-To-All Doom

Reply-To-All Doom

Nobody should ever use the reply-to-all button. Ever.

We might as well call it the “productivity kryptonite” button because nothing ever comes good out of using the reply-to-all button. It just magnifies the amount of clutter each time someone uses it.

This is especially true when you’re CC’ed in an email thread that has nothing to do with you or your job. Every time someone replies to everyone, you just get a huge backlog of emails that make you want to tear your hair out.

99% of the time you don’t have to use the reply-to-all button. Stop using it. If you abuse this, then you should sent off to Antarctica.

As the sender, if have to include multiple recipients, always state explicit etiquette to not use reply-to-all. Adding the line “Please do not use reply-to-all – only reply directly to me” will do wonders. This email habit will prevent clutter from piling up and having people treat email like a instant messenger. Which brings up the next big mistake.

Mistake #3: Treating Email Like Instant Messenger

Nothing drives me more crazy than people treating email like it’s a chat room.

They expect instant responses. They like to use the reply-to-all button. And they think forwarding email chains is totally normal for the recipient to grasp of what’s going on.

These people should be sent to Pluto because obviously they aren’t from this planet anyway.

Email is a horrible medium for group communication. It’s not designed for that. If you have ever tried responding various questions in an email thread with multiple people – you already know how confusing it can be.

Set up a meeting or a conference call for real time communication. Another alternative is to use a designated instant messenger platform like HipChat (it’s what we use at Asian Efficiency).

Mistake #4: Sending Novels

Nobody likes to read 5 page emails.

Nowadays you have to take into account that a lot of emails are read on a mobile device. In a culture of 140 characters, people don’t have the real estate nor the patience to scroll through a lengthy email.

Get straight to the point. As a general rule at Asian Efficiency, we like to use no more than 6 lines for every email. This forces everyone to write succinct emails that are straight forward, easy to read and reply to.

Mistake #5: Typos

This is an obvious one: avoid spelling and grammar mistakes as much as possible.

Most browsers and email clients today have a builtin spell checker. Make sure it’s enabled and use it. Another common mistake I see people make are grammar mistakes, e.g. “there vs their” or “it’s vs its”. You should always reread your emails before you send one in order to catch these. They’re easy to make (especially when you’re tired).

Common spelling mistakes you want to avoid.
Common spelling mistakes you want to avoid.

Mistake #6: Meaningless Subject Lines

Always write productive subject lines.

Dealing with empty or one-word subject lines makes it challenging for the recipient to reference the emails which is a huge time sucker. When you can’t scan for emails or search for them you just end up wasting a lot of time.

That’s why everyone should write productive email subject lines. The recipient should know from reading just the subject line what the email is about. Be specific and use keyword rich emails. It’s really simple and it will save everyone a lot of time.

Mistake #7: Being a Softie For Email Subscriptions

stop email

Don’t be a softie when it comes to email subscriptions.

This is a mistake I used to make all the time. I have a fairly high tolerance for suffering and I can deal with pesky things for a long time. Whenever I received an email that was totally irrelevant or obvious spam, I would either delete it or archive it because that’s the easy and quick thing to do.

But that didn’t fix the root cause because I would still get those emails. So the suffering continued for a long time as I kept deleting and archiving emails.

Till one day I had enough and realized that you have to be ruthless about your email subscriptions.

I can’t stress this enough. I know it’s no fun to go through your inbox and going the process of unsubscribing (it can be a pain in the *ss) but if you’re drowning in email you really need to (setting up filters helps with this too).

More Email Tips

If you want more tips and hacks for dealing with email, make sure you subscribe for updates on the Escape Your Email. We have an email system that allows you to spend only 30 minutes a day on email. Sign up here and we’ll let you know when it’s available.


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Thanh Pham

Founder of Asian Efficiency where we help people become more productive at work and in life. I've been featured on Forbes, Fast Company, and The Globe & Mail as a productivity thought leader. At AE I'm responsible for leading teams and executing our vision to assist people all over the world live their best life possible.

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  1. One more thing that you need to consider which decreases business productivity. Employee’s worked time is an important factor that you need to monitor. So track the employee’s worked time and increases your business productivity.

    1. Yeah great point. It’s always a bad idea to respond to emails when you’re in a bad mood. NEVER do that. You’ll always regret it.

  2. I have to disagree with #2 as far as being a sender. If you have to state “please don’t reply to all, just to me”, then that is the perfect use case for BCC. This completely removes any ability to have never-ending replies and “take me off this email chain” messages. I wish more people used this

  3. Ninth rule: don’t send large attachments. Those a pain to download for people that check their emails on a mobile device. Plus, an email with an attachment has a higher risk of ending up in the spam folder. Instead, upload to Dropbox and include the link in the email.

    1. Yes! Nobody likes big attachments. I personally do the same thing – add files to a public dropbox folder and then share it in the email. I rarely include attachments these days (also because most files are becoming bigger and bigger).

  4. Eighth rule: if you are sending to multiple people and asking for response/action/whatever, make sure it’s clear whom you’re asking it of. Because if you do that with me but don’t specify you want me to answer, I won’t.

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