cbSullivan Consulting, LLC

Polish Those Email Skills and See Your Productivity Shine!

Jun 13, 2018 | by Cindy Sullivan

My last blog touched on 5 Surprising Things That Take a Blow at Our Productivity - - one of them is how we communicate. While communication happens in many ways, we'll focus today on Email and a few ways you can hone your emailing skills so less time is wasted chasing down responses:

  • Understand when email ISN'T the right method to use.  Some topics are complex and email is NOT the best way to address those.  If you see that the topic is too broad, will require lots of "back and forth" to answer questions, or is a mix of FYI notes along with requests for responses, you'll likely spend a LOT more time circulating emails about the topic than needed.  Consider scheduling a meeting or conference call to cover topics such as this.
  • Use "specific" subject lines.  Each of us are juggling multiple projects, colleagues / clients, and tasks at once and email often becomes part of our task list and everyday "inbox".  When recipients can quickly see the topic, it's easier to find notes that we may need to reference later and to gauge whether we can address your message now or if it should wait till later.  I've had some clients that make it standard procedure for colleagues to include in their subject lines items such as "FYI", "Response Needed:" or Deadline by ____".  This helps recipients prioritize and know exactly the response, if any, that's needed.
  • Limit multi-topic emails.  Unless the goal of the email is to provide a recap or overall update, it's a good idea to break out varying topics so that the content, message, and request are clear.  It often happens that a multi-topic email will be read and the receiver responds to some, but not all, items.  This means you end up reviewing your note - again - to pull out those responses that are missing and follow up again. A HUGE time waster.  For the recipient, it also means that if they are searching for a piece of information or request, it isn't easy to find later.  Keep emails as streamlined and single-topic as possible when responses are needed from your recipients.
  • State when a response is needed.  People respond better if given a deadline.  It's true for all of us.  So, even if a response isn't tied to a true deliverable or crucial "due date", you can increase the likelihood of getting a response when you let the reader know the date by which you need a response.  It's likely that even seeing that due date will prompt a response right away so it's not forgotten.  Win!
  • Make your messages easier to read.  Trust me - layout makes a difference.  When we can visually peruse an email and pull out the pieces that provide us info or let us know if an action is required, the more likely we will get our message across and receive back any info we are requesting.  For example:
    • Use bullets to provide lists and action steps
    • Highlight, underline, or bold things you want to stand out.  (i.e.  Please respond by Thursday if you will be attending)
    • Use headings if your note will contain a few sections.
    • Avoid the mega-paragraph.  Not only will your message and needs get lost in one huge paragraph but the reader may zone out when they see the note's size and decide they will need to come back later when they have time to look through everything (which may end up not happening at all)
    • When reviewing your message, change the size of your text box to ensure that the formatting you used doesn't get changed or garbled when the message is minimized or expanded.
  • Consider offering a "default" action if no response is received.  This can be a life-saver when you need to keep things moving along but are waiting for responses.  Examples can be:  when asking others for input, let them know if you don't hear back from them by _____, you will assume they do not have anything further to add.  Or, state that you are going to take XYZ action unless you back from them by ______.  This let's others know that you are waiting for a response but that you will take action (and you let them know what that action will be) if they do not respond

It's important to remember that while we can't MAKE someone respond or even read our emails, we CAN impact the likelihood of our communications being more effective and conveying the message - and needs - we are needing to get across!

Cindy B Sullivan provides consulting, coaching, and training in the areas of Time Management and Productivity.  Take her 6 Pillars of Effective Time Management assessment to find out where you can work to hone your time management skills.  Free phone consultations are available.  Email: or call 615-406-5436 today to schedule!