Nick Mehta, of Mashable, has a post this week on Why Email overload is Your Own Fault, in which he explains his theory that the whole idea of having too much eMail is mostly a phantom problem, wherein people use their inboxes as a way to make themselves look and feel important or productive.
Well, that's one theory, and actually, Mr. Mehta has some good points - especially the one about those who obsessively check their mobile eMails when they are supposed to be doing other things. Few of us really have jobs that require us to be on-call by e-mail 24-7.
But while much of the activity surrounding the handling of eMail is superfluous (kind of like the verbiage in this sentence), the fact remains that those of us who are in business in 2011 have A LOT of eMail. We'll let Mr. Mehta hypothesize about how much is really necessary, and how much is in our imaginations. We have work to do.
There are some easy ways to make eMail communication more effective.
Subject Lines: Reduce the chances your eMail will be deleted as spam or ignored by the recipient clearly stating your main point in the subject line of your eMail (i.e. "Plans for this Saturday," or "Payment Due June 1st"). Keep in mind that most eMail clients filter or thread conversations based on the subject line, so if you're continuing an existing conversation, use the "reply" button and do not change the subject line (this will effectively start a new conversation and break the thread). On the other hand, if you are starting a whole new conversation, don't be lazy and just find the last eMail you have from that person and hit "reply" to avoid having to enter his eMail address in the "To:" field.
Length of eMails: Keep in mind that many people use the "preview" option to read and reply to their e-mails, and never really open a lot of them. To increase the chances of your eMail being read and understood in its entirety, make sure that all of your main points are covered in the first 12-15 lines of the message. If you have further details to share, just outline your message at the top, with "details below," and put your less interesting information "below the fold."
Introduction: Don't waste space with a fancy letter-like header. See the point above about the preview option - a header simply wastes space, and if it is an image won't display properly on smaller screens like mobile devices, anyway. A simple "Hi, Bob," or "Dear Mr. Jones," or "Greetings!" are fine for an introduction on an eMail.
Conclusion: Make it very clear what you expect from your reader. If you are simply sending information and don't need a follow-up eMail, you might say something like, "If you have any questions, please call me," or "If there is anything else I can help with, please let me know." This will let the reader know that they don't need to reply unless they have something to add or ask. If you really need the reader to reply to you, say so: "Please reply this afternoon, and let me know when you will be able to meet on Monday," or "Please let me know when you have completed your part of this project, so I can let the boss know."
Signature: This is the place you can add the pretty stuff, if you want, and the information you would normally include in the letterhead of a business letter. The signature block is where people will go to find your phone number or links to your social networks. If they are really wanting to talk to you, they will scroll down below the preview screen, so don't worry about the length. You still want the signature block to display properly in a mobile browser, however, so each line shouldn't be more than about 25-30 characters wide.
Now, go check your eMail.