Make Sure Your Email Gets the Job Done

Hands typing on a laptop keyboard

According to a 2023 study from Microsoft, office workers can spend up to 8.8 hours a week on email. Nearly everyone has an overflowing inbox, so it’s no wonder emails get quickly skimmed and sometimes even missed. Here are a few tips to make sure your emails are effective and get read.

RE: Subject Lines

Make your subject line the headline: It should summarize the entire message and command attention. If action is required, say so here. Avoid “lazy” subject lines such as Compliance Training. A better option is: Action required: Compliance training must be completed by March 31. And avoid low-information subject lines such as Quick question or Need your assistance, which don’t demand to be read.

Easy as 1-2-3!

The average human attention span is only about eight seconds, so many of us just skim the first few sentences of an email before deciding whether a message is urgent. Don’t bury information in the second or third paragraph of your email, use the 1-2-3 method:

  1. Capture key information in the first paragraph and put the most important information up front.
  2. Highlight the action required. This is where you can get more specific with a timeline, the steps needed to accomplish a task, and any other relevant information.
  3. Establish a clear deadline if needed.

Keep It Simple and Easily Scannable

Remember that eight-second attention span – and don’t include too much in a single email. If you are looking for information, make sure you call attention to each item you need – something like: Can you answer these three questions? And then provide a numbered list. Or If you are imparting information, make sure to use headers and bullet points, which make your email easier to scan and digest.

Consider Other Channels

Email is not going away any time soon – and that’s OK. But consider if this is the right channel for your message. If it’s an audience of one and you want to have a discussion, try Teams chat or a phone call. This eliminates the need for a lot of back and forth, which creates email overload. If you need input from a group, a Zoom or Teams meeting might be more efficient.

Put Yourself in the Reader’s Shoes

While your hot topic or burning question may be highly important to you, it’s not necessarily a priority for your audience. So apply the Golden Rule of Email: Don’t send to others what you wouldn’t want them to send to you. Respect the recipient’s busy schedule by keeping it short, to the point, and easy to understand.