How Much Time Do We Waste on Work Email?

We take for granted that email is an essential part of our work lives – a thing that we can’t live without, or be away from for more than a few days at a time. But dealing with email can also waste a lot of our time.

Staffing firm Robert Half recently surveyed a group of professionals known for their precision in keeping track of things: chief financial officers.

Among the CFOs polled, the consensus was that around 17% of their time reading emails was wasted.

Busy professionals are often copied on irrelevant emails, must wade through rambling messages and ones that could be better delivered another way.

Since it’s not a good idea to annoy C-level company officers (or any colleague) with things they consider a waste of time, Robert Half is offering these six email etiquette tips:

  1. Be cautious about who you copy. Does the person you’re copying need to review the message? Is action required of them? Use “Reply All” as a last resort. Don’t waste your time or the time of recipients who don’t need to read the email message.
  2. Go on a word diet. Efficiency and brevity should drive your approach to sending email. As often as possible, keep it under two paragraphs. Longer emails take too long to digest, and you could lose your audience.
  3. Save the detective work for Sherlock. No one likes to read through a long email thread to find out what the sender wants and why you are being copied. Summarize the issue and what is needed at the top – and provide the string as background.
  4. Send less, sift less. Resist the urge to respond immediately, especially if it’s a request that may resolve itself without your input. Consider “email-free Fridays” for internal communication, of course allowing for email from outside vendors and customers.
  5. Make the subject line count. Use a subject line that’s direct and to the point. Do you need a reply? Try using “RSVP” within the first three words. Otherwise, let recipients know immediately what action is required (e.g., “For your review” or “Meeting rescheduled”) so they get the gist and prioritize their response accordingly.
  6. Watch your tone. Email is the equivalent of a hard-copy business memo. It’s an official record and should be written with the same professionalism. Check spelling and grammar, and read it aloud to yourself before you click send. The few extra minutes for review will give you another chance to fine-tune the message’s content and tone.

These are great tips. In fact, they should be followed rigorously for all email – both professional and private.

If everyone did, the world would be a better place.

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