You get an email from a co-worker, and it just says, “What do you recommend?”  You notice this response is the most recent conversation piece of an email chain that’s 7 messages deep.  You’re not really sure to what issue the question is referring.  Do you start at the top and work your way down?  Do you start at the bottom, and try to decode this thing?  You’ve just spent 10 minutes trying to figure out how to read the darn thing, and you still don’t know what the topic of conversation is!  Who has time for a scavenger hunt?!

If this is a daily occurrence for you, you could be wasting hours on dealing with email chains.  Email can be the biggest productivity drain.  Here are 5 tips to get you started on managing those frustrating email conversations.  For additional help boosting productivity, visit us at CTC Productivity.

5 Tips for Dealing with Email Chains:

  1. Re-state the Subject Matter: When you respond to an email chain (aka a back-and-forth email conversation), be sure to briefly summarize the conversation before stating your question, comment or request.  This is especially important if you’re forwarding the chain to a new participant in the conversation.  The individual back-and-forth messages should exist as reference only.
  2. Be Specific When Referencing: If your reply refers to something in the conversation that is too lengthy or complicated to summarize, reference the subject.  Be as specific as possible, and use your email tools!  The highlighter function can save a lot of time, when trying to locate a piece of the conversation.  For example, “Per Jan’s response on 1/10/16, I recommend we proceed with action item 3 on the list.  See the highlighted section below.”
  3. Evaluate Your Input Before Replying: If you’re one of many individuals copied on an email conversation, don’t reply just for the sake of replying.  You’re only perpetuating the madness, in doing so. Yes, you are a unique and important person, and your mother loves you, but not every conversation requires your two cents.
  4. Use “Reply to All” With Extreme Caution:  Let me repeat.  Use “Reply to All” With Extreme Caution.  I was once part of a distribution list at a large corporation.  Periodic company wide emails would get sent out with information on topics like benefits, company-wide functions and other company news.  People too often made the mistake of replying to all with their personal questions and comments.  Don’t be that person.  It’s embarrassing.  Also, don’t be the person that replies to all to say “Don’t reply to all.”  Equally annoying.
  5. Four is Enough: If the conversation is four messages deep (give or take, depending on the topic, length of responses and number of participants), it might be time to ditch the email and set up a conference call or in-person meeting.  Don’t be afraid to make that decision if you’re getting lost in an email chain, and it’s draining your productivity.

Now that you’ve got email chains under control, be sure to always remember general email etiquette.  You’re a grown-up.  You can spell “two”, “four” and “you”, and most importantly: If you reply with “LOL”, you’re fired.



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