Finding Sanity

in Your E-mail Communications

Finding Sanity in Your E-mail Communications Let's talk about e-mail communications and e-mail sanity (or lack thereof!) There are two primary ways e-mail can drive you insane: 

1) You just get way too much of it, and you don't have a good strategy for taking care of it. That has been a big part of my focus for the last several years, and I would expect most of you that have attended my past programs on Taming the E-mail Beast know at least some of the strategies I have been sharing in this area. But there is a second way e-mail can drive you insane that may be even more difficult and annoying for many of us: 2) people not using proper
communications and etiquette skills when it comes to composing, sending, or replying to email.

You can usually identify a problematic email very quickly – it usually has some or many of the following characteristics:

  • It is "red hot urgent", but the only way you know that is red hot urgent is when you open up the email and find out.
  • It is very complex, with too much information and/or info that could be easily misunderstood or misinterpreted.
  • Or, it is simply emotional in content. It will most likely cause a negative emotional reaction if sent.It could also not even really serve any particular
  • Or identifiable purpose. In essence, it is a waste of space and time.
  • Or, more commonly, you have to be able to read minds to figure out what it is the sender wanted you to do with it. You have to hunt through the message to find the action items, deliverables, and due dates – that is, if they even take the time to share the due date.
  • And lastly, the subject line has nothing to do with what the email is actually about.

When I discuss these breakdowns in my e-mail management programs, people often perceive at this point that I am anti-email. Nothing could be
further from the truth. I love email – when it is used properly.

When is e-mail used properly?

  • When the e-mail is short and to the point, using proper grammar and spelling.
  • When the instructions, deliverables and due dates are clear and upfront.
  • When the subject line tells you which projects, people, and/or activities are included in the message. When the people that actually have action items and/or deliverables in the message actually know quickly and easily what action items or deliverables they are responsible for.
  • When the message is not critically time sensitive or urgent. E-mail isn't really good for that, because not everyone is checking their email
  • constantly all day long, nor should they be.
  • When the email is sharing simple information, tasks, or text. This is when an email is used best!
  • And, when the writer realizes that things are about to get difficult, complex, or emotional, the writer of the e-mail actually suggests a conversation or meeting to continue moving things forward, rather than getting into the "nitty gritty" within the e-mail, thus creating more problems than solving them.

Looking at everything mentioned above, I really believe that the biggest way to stop or at least greatly limit e-mail communications aggravation is for the sender to THINK before sending. The sender is the most responsible party, because they have within their power the ability to either create a successful e-mail communication leading to desired action, or create chaos and consternation. Think about whether the e-mail you are about to send is clear and easily
understood. Think about whether assignments and deadlines are obvious and upfront. Think about whether the recipient may respond emotionally. Simply think about whether or not e-mail is the most effective way to meet the current communications situation. And if it is not, use a different, better communications tool.

But just referring to the checklist above (both for bad and best practices), and possibly sharing it with others in your work group or team, might help greatly

reduce the misuse of e-mail. I might even recommend that the topic and information above could make for a very effective and useful discussion at an
upcoming staff meeting, with a desired output of people coming to an agreement of what they will do and not do when it comes to crafting, sending, forwarding and replying to e-mail communications. Good luck in creating the positive change we are discussing here.

If you want to learn more, check out Randy's excellent course on this topic: Taming the E-mail Etiquette Beast: Strategies for Finding Sanity in Your E-mail Communications.


Randy Dean, MBA, The "Totally Obsessed" Time Management Technology Guy has been one of the most popular expert speakers on the conference, corporate, and university training and speaking circuit for several years. The author of the recent Amazon e-mail bestseller, Taming the E-mail Beast, Randy is a very popular and engaging time, e-mail, and technology management speaker and trainer. He brings 22 years of speaking and training experience to his programs, and has been very popular with programs including Taming the E-mail Beast, Finding an Extra Hour Every Day, Optimizing Your Outlook, Time Management in "The Cloud" Using Google and Other Online Apps, and Smart Phone.