Rules for Email

I spend a lot of time in email. If you’re reading this, you also spend a lot of time in email. Either you’re waiting for new support requests to come in, or work to show up from your boss or you’re corresponding with friends and loved ones. Email is everywhere and it comes in like a tidal wave. It’s worth setting some ground rules with people you email.

Set Email Hours

For instance, I don’t email people outside of work hours. If I happen to look at email after work to pull some bit of information I need and I see something needing a reply, I may draft the reply and leave it as a draft. I don’t need to send that reply now.

I do this because I don’t want to teach people I am reachable by email outside of work hours. Even if it’s just one person, word spreads. If I email one person back in the evening or the weekend, it won’t be long before people are emailing me at all times for responses and expecting one.

Blind Carbon Copy (BCC)

I will let this author share my thoughts about BCC as they’re clearer than anything I’ve ever said.

There are only two legitimate uses for bcc. First, explicitly moving someone to bcc who no longer needs to be part of the ongoing exchange. Second, to send email to a large group of people by putting all of them on bcc. I strongly recommend never using bcc any other way. If you want someone to know about an email you sent, send it and then forward it…

Some Things I Have Learned About Email

That second point is particularly important. When you send email to a group using the TO or CC line, then you’re not just emailing everyone. But you’ve given everyone on that list the addresses of everyone else on that list. Even if it’s a small list, those people may not want others to know they’re part of it. Or to give up their email address.

If you have a large list, then you’re asking for a reply-all nightmare. I’ve emailed groups of 500 people before using a series of BCC emails. If you don’t, and any of those people decide to reply-all, you’ve got an email going to 500 people every. single. time.

Please take me off this list.

Thanks

I’m not going to ever reply to an email with Thanks if it’s the end of the conversation. You don’t need another email to delete from me and it doesn’t add any value to our conversation.

I’ll email a response to any questions I am being asked, or if I need something and you reply you’ll do it. I’m not going to close the thread with a Thanks. I don’t see the point of it and it annoys me when people respond with their own Thanks.

Meeting Acceptances

By default, Outlook will send an email reply when you Accept a meeting. I always opt to not send the reply back. If I decline, I respond with a reason in addition to the declined email. However, if I’m going to attend your meeting, I’m not having the system send an email. I feel about this the same way I feel about the Thanks email. It’s unnecessary.

This is a learned behavior from running a series of large meetings and training events where I find myself buried in emails. It’s no fun to return to an inbox overflowing with over 100 meeting acceptance emails. It serves no purpose other than to generate another email.

Less Email

The goal of my last two rules is to make less email. When I reply to an email, I try to be brief and consider the recipient’s time. In the same way, I don’t generate more email for them to sort through. Though many people’s inboxes have unread counts in the thousands partly because of emails like this.

I do my part to send less email and generate less email overall. I don’t see the point in adding to the growing pile of unread messages. Especially if they say “Thanks” or “I’ve accepted your meeting request.”

All Email Is Public

I don’t mean public in that hackers are going to release it, or it’s going to fall into the wrong hands. I mean people will forward email to anyone for any reason without a second thought.

If I write a reply to a question someone asks me, I assume it’s going to be forwarded in its entirety to the third-party who asked the question.

A bonus tech worker tip: Never put any note in a ticket or email you would not want the customer to read.

Nothing about email is private. I’ve had entire ticket histories emailed to customers. I’ve had co-workers and managers send along an entire conversation just the two of us were having to a larger group. The truth is you never know just how far and wide your email may go. Treat it as if it will be read by the person you least wish would read it. That way, when they do, you won’t have anything to apologize for.