Email is an indispensable tool for both your personal and professional life. However, it also has the potential to be a huge burden. Like many tools and technologies, it all depends on how you use it.
Our experts have gathered the most common mistakes that occur in email organization. Take care to avoid these challenges, and email can be a powerful platform for facilitating communication, stress-free.
Related Article: How to Organize Your Email Accounts
1. Replying “All”
How often have you been copied on a seemingly endless email thread that doesn’t pertain to you? Chances are it happens a lot more often than you’d like, and it frustrates you each time. While “Reply all” is a useful tool for many instances, it can become cumbersome if not carefully managed. The problem is that many people use it when they don’t need to. Using it without considering who really needs to be in the email communication can quickly clutter your inbox (and that of others). It will lead to receiving numerous emails throughout the day that you don’t really care about, and then filtering them out to spend time on the emails that are important. For every group email that you get, carefully consider who really needs to be involved before you reply. In many cases you’ll find that the original sender is key but others can be removed. Taking an extra minute before hitting “reply all” can save you time on organization down the road.
2. Sending emails that you don’t need to
Most people are consistent users of email; in fact 72% of people prefer email communication to other channels. People tend to default to email without really considering alternatives. Email isn’t always the best medium for all situations. For example, if you want to send a quick “thank you” and don’t require a response, you might choose an instant messaging platform that you already use. If, as you’re writing, you’re struggling to keep things succinct, then maybe the message is too complex for email. Think about giving the person a call or seeing if you can arrange a quick conversation. Maybe you need to set up a video conference where you can do a demo or walk through a document. Emails that are not easily understood are going to lead to lots of replies, which can create a lengthy (and time-consuming) thread. Before you send emails, make sure they’re the best format for what you are trying to convey.
3. Attaching files in a follow-up
How many times have you sent an email, only to realize that you never attached what you intended to? Of course, you can quickly send a follow-up, but that will add to the volume of emails to manage for both you and the recipient. Then, recipients may respond to the original or they may respond to the one with the attachment. Plus, it can give off some unprofessional vibes. It’s a much better strategy to ensure the documents you wanted to include are attached before you even begin the message. It’s a good practice to attach the relevant files as soon as you open the email and begin to craft the message. Don’t wait until the end of your message, when it becomes an afterthought that’s more likely to be forgotten. Plus, this gives you a second chance to go back and review everything at the end. That way you can ensure that not only is the necessary document attached, but that it’s the correct one. Sending incorrect attachments can also be viewed as unprofessional and lead to more back-and-forth via email. Plus, in some situations, it can be a bigger problem (for example, if you’re dealing with sensitive health information and you send the wrong person’s information). Get into the habit of adding attachments immediately, then writing the email, then reviewing everything.
4. Ignoring the “Delay send” option
It’s so satisfying to craft an important email and then get it off of your desk, but there’s risk too. That’s why many clients now offer a useful "delay" or "scheduled send" function. Using this option has implications for overall organization, how you run your workday, and also work/life balance and work relationships. For example, say you’re catching up on email late at night. You write several important drafts pertaining to a few different topics. Your clients or other stakeholders are not likely to be working at the same time. If you send the email at that time, you can imply that you expect a response - which some people will see as an intrusion - or you can assume they won’t respond and you’ll get a reply in the morning. By that time this information won’t be fresh in your mind and you’ll be dealing with multiple emails piling up from your late-night sends. Plus, if you work within a team, it’s better manners to wait until a time when people are more likely to be able to take action on something. You don’t want to set an expectation that you expect people to be working at midnight just because you chose to. In these cases, it makes sense to use a scheduling option to send the email the following morning. Another way to use this feature is to send important points when they are more relevant. For instance, you might schedule a set of reminders to go out to meeting attendees before your next meeting. Or, you might schedule a recap of your last meeting to go out prior to the next one. In this way, you don’t have to dig through your inbox looking for this information - it’ll be at the top of everyone’s inbox right when they need to review it. Scheduling an email to arrive at a certain time provides a lot of flexibility for managing your time and organizing your workload more effectively.
5. Unorganized subject lines
While it can seem like a minor detail, a subject line is hugely important. Not only is it the gateway to your content, and what people will use to decide whether to read your email or not, but it’s key for understanding what is in your inbox at a glance. Obviously you can’t control what other people put in their subject lines. That being said, you should try to be as organized as possible with your own. Keeping subject lines in mind as you create emails throughout the day will help you to group your emails and see what is most important. Most of today’s email platforms group threads by subject line, so even if you forward a note onto another party, if the subject line is the same, it will be visible in your thread. That means it can be counter productive to forward something and change the subject line. Furthermore, a clear subject line lets readers know what to expect, so they are more likely to respond faster to important communications. A good subject line is short and consists of a few keywords to let readers know what the email is about. If there is an important deadline, consider including it. If there is an action to be taken by a certain time, you may want to highlight that. If the email is urgent, you should mention that. If it pertains to a meeting, you should include the meeting title or date. Tailored subject lines help everyone to organize their email and prioritize them accordingly.
6. Poor cybersecurity
Email accounts can be low-hanging fruit for cyber criminals. Research shows that a whopping 47% of Americans have had their information accessed by cyber criminals, and that number probably won’t decrease anytime soon. Most of these instances are caused by human error, and not being as cautious with online platforms as one should be. It’s actually pretty simple to practice good cyber security with email, but many people don’t take the time. One of the biggest mistakes people make is using “bcc” (blind carbon copy) in an email with sensitive information. The fact is anyone cc’d on an email could be exposed to data breaches, even people who have been blind copied. Furthermore, when sending private information like bank details, it’s safest to do so in separate exchanges. Email the information through a password-protected document if you are able to, then send the password in a different channel. At least this way, if hackers do get into email, it’ll be more difficult to access that sensitive information.
Related Article: How Do Your Cybersecurity Habits Stack Up?
7. Not using rules and other email client features
Many email platforms come with a robust set of features to help you get organized. Some people make use of those rules for an effective email system; others do not. To begin with, it’s important to move mail into labeled folders. At a minimum, you should have folders categorized in a way that makes sense to you (by client, project, deadlines, etc). Set up the folder structure in whatever way feels organic to you and the way you work. We also suggest converting emails into tasks when appropriate. Too often, we keep emails around longer than necessary because they serve as a reminder to do something. If your email allows you to mark an email as a task, try making better use of that functionality. It’s also a good idea to create rules that will automatically file or archive certain emails. Many platforms let you set up rules that will automatically sort items into specific folders or even delete emails from particular senders. For example, you can flag emails from your boss with a follow-up reminder so you don’t forget to respond asap. Ideally you would be moving these emails around anyway based on categories, so why not take advantage of functionality that does it for you? If you explore your email provider, you’ll see there are a lot of options for streamlining various email processes and saving time on organization. One of the biggest email organization mistakes you could make is not becoming familiar with these options and continuing to manually categorize and sort email everyday.
Related Article: 11 Smart Email Management Strategies
Shift for Email: Better Organization at Your Fingertips
It’s incredibly helpful to avoid the mistakes we just covered when attempting to get your email system organized. However, there are bigger issues in play when it comes to email. It would really be helpful if there was a better way altogether to streamline email messages and deal with them in the ways that are best for your working style.
Good news: there is. It’s called Shift.
Shift offers notification management that can apply across all the apps you use every day, from Outlook to Facebook to Slack and beyond. With a couple of clicks, you can mute all notifications temporarily or control the sounds that play when a notification comes through. This means you won’t constantly be interrupted by new message notifications. The old principle “out of sight, out of mind” is often repeated for a reason: because not continuously getting reminders of email piling up will allow you to focus on the tasks at-hand.
Not only that, Shift brings together all of the notifications from any of your apps and email accounts and displays them in one place. You don’t have to look in multiple places anymore just to see what new alerts you have. Instead, you can simply check the number that appears in the little red bubble on the Shift icon in your taskbar, and there you go! This is truly the easiest way to avoid overload from email notifications. Users save a ton of time that previously was wasted by constantly checking their latest email notification and digging into their inboxes. Not only that, you can even turn off notifications or remove the notification badge for particular apps within Shift if you don’t want to be alerted to things within that particular platform. This is particularly helpful for drawing boundaries around your email work and only checking email on a proactive - rather than reactive - basis.
Furthermore, a platform like Shift will make sure you have all your apps in one place. As you go through the process of linking your favorite tools, you’ll see software and apps that you don’t use anymore. As you deactivate and delete those tools, you’ll lose any notifications that went with those services. It’s not only streamlining your entire desktop, but you’re deleting time-sinks in the process. Download Shift now to see all the ways that it can help you to streamline and collaborate across all of your accounts and workflows.