In a previous posting, we looked at how you can start improving your email effectiveness by creating and formatting easy-to-follow content, and by using pre‑written responses. Now, discover ways to stop unnecessarily contributing to other people’s overflowing Inbox, and look at some of the Outlook email best practices when you are writing your next email message. Although some of the features mentioned are specific to Microsoft Outlook, most of these ideas can help you manage your email and time regardless of the email program you use.
Some of the top ways to cut the amount of email you receive are to manage the number of messages you send, reduce unnecessary follow-up replies, and determine when person-to-person communication is a better choice.
Decrease the Number of Messages You Send
Before you write your next email, seek to actively reduce how many emails you send:
- Read all replies on a topic before responding to the original message. Resist getting involved with email threads that don’t impact your objectives.
- Don’t send, and discourage your staff from sending, “chime-in” messages with unimportant responses such as “Thank you” and “You’re welcome.” Don’t respond to junk mail.
- Avoid Reply to All unless all recipients need to see your response. Otherwise, you are contributing to their email litter.
- Limit the number of people to whom you send a message to those who need to read it.
- Put people who need to respond or take action on the To line.
- Put people who need to be informed on the Cc (carbon copy) line. Although it may seem easier to send a message to everyone in a department or your organization, first ask yourself, “Who needs to know? Why?” Most people who get a carbon copy assume there is something they are supposed to do.
- Depending on the topic, a team communications tool such as Microsoft Teams or Slack may be a better way to initiate and continue the conversation.
- Use Bcc (blind carbon copy) to hide large distribution lists or to disguise the names of select recipients. All recipients can respond to a message but replies will not be received by anyone in the Bcc list which reduces the amount of email they get. (see Best Practices for Using Bcc below).
Choose Voice or Chat Instead of Email
Consider those times when a phone call, face-to-face virtual or in-person conversation, or a chat message are a much better choice than email. Choose another option when:
- Building rapport is critical.
- The topic is emotionally charged.
- There are many intertwined issues to resolve or there is a need for lengthy interactive discussions.
- If you want a faster response, phone or send a chat message.
Outlook Email Best Practices for Using Bcc
- Plan ahead. Before you add an intended recipient’s name to the Bcc box in a message, make sure the recipient is expecting your message. That person may need to take steps to establish you as a safe sender. Why is this necessary? Using Bcc is a favorite technique of spammers. Therefore, a lot of junk email filters flag messages that use the Bcc box as junk. So if your intended recipient has not added your name to the Safe Senders List in Microsoft Outlook, your message may go straight to the Junk E‑mail folder.
- Reduce spam. Although people who send junk email or spam may like to use Bcc, they won’t like it if you use it. If you hide the recipients’ names by listing them in the Bcc box, no one will be able to copy the recipients’ email addresses from your messages.
- Know your limits. Many email service providers set limits for the number of names that can be included in the To, Cc, and Bcc boxes in a message. For example, an organization network or your email service provider may limit each message to a maximum of 100 email addresses. If these addresses are distributed among the To, Cc, and Bcc boxes, remember the names in the Bcc box will count toward your total limit. Ask your email service provider or email administrator about the policies for your account.
- Keep the recipient list private. Bcc can help you to be respectful of others’ privacy by keeping them in the loop without disclosing their identities. For example, if you send a job announcement to multiple people, you may want to use Bcc to keep the identities of the potential job seekers private.
The Don’ts for Writing Great Email
- Don’t send a follow-up message less than a day after the first message. If you don’t hear back in a timely manner, trying picking up the phone.
- Don’t use ALL CAPS.
- Don’t use sarcasm. Your humor may be misunderstood.
- Don’t use stationery. Outlook stationery often makes email harder to read especially on mobile devices.
- Don’t send a message when you are angry or frustrated. Better to write it, save it to your Drafts folder, and come back to it later. Or, don’t even write it until later.
- Don’t include your manager in every message you send.
- Don’t write something you wouldn’t want everyone in your company to read. You never know where your email might end up.
- Don’t use read receipts or delivery receipts on every message you send. Read receipts have become an unreliable way of tracking messages now that email is often read on mobile devices.
- Don’t use decorative or funky fonts which can be hard to read especially on smaller devices.
- Don’t attach flags or a High Importance marker to every message you send. Your recipients will learn to ignore them.
Put these Outlook email best practices and techniques to work to create better email messages and to reduce the volume of email you send.
Discover more Outlook shortcuts, tips, and tricks here.
By Dawn Bjork, MCT, MOSM, CVP, The Software Pro®
Microsoft Certified Trainer, Productivity Speaker, Certified Virtual Presenter