After talking to many people about work emails I thought I’d share a few quick thoughts. It seems that about 50% of emails are actually unnecessary, but they still need to be read in order to find this out. I have heard some pretty radical solutions to this, including just scanning subject lines and opening only those which are clearly interesting and, worst of all, after returning from holiday to a couple of hundred messages, simply deleting them all.

There is a clear problem – too many messages.
The solution, and I’m not being flippant – send fewer messages.

Question – how?
Answer – follow these rules.

1. The ‘to’ field – put here the name(s) of those who need the information, and should act in some way.
2. The ‘cc’ field – put here the name(s) of those who need the information, who need to be seen to have received it, but need to take no action.
3. The ‘bcc’ field – put here the name(s) of those who need the information, who are private recipients and need to take no action.
4. The ‘subject’ field – clearly indicate the contents of the message – do not SHOUT (unless you want to).

Notice that I bolded the word need.
Imagine that instead of using email, you are using an old fashioned typewriter, with best paper, copy paper and carbons between them. Imagine that, after carefully planning how many copies you will need, and setting up the wad of paper on the carriage (that’s the sliding roller thing that goes ‘ding’ in the old movies), and carefully typing the letter, you will then have to put them into envelopes, address them, stick on stamps and walk in the rain to the post-office.

Now – how many copies did you need to send?