6 Email Mistakes Killing Your Career
May 6, 2015
As you read this article, it is probably safe to assume that your inbox is filling up with emails for you to respond to -– many of these requiring your immediate attention. Whether you realize it or not, email plays a prominent role in your success in the workplace. In fact, it is the one single activity that consumes the most amount of time in the workplace every day: A recent survey conducted by Kelton Global found that over 90% of Americans spend 90 minutes on email every day.
Email is also very revealing. Whether you like it or not, your emails reveal a lot about you to your colleagues and especially to your superiors. Think of the number of times we stereotype and react to people based on their “email behavior”: We run from the “ramblers,” are exasperated by the “one-line repliers,” hate the “always-keep-everybody-looped-in” people and are irritated by the shoddy writers.
With that big of a spotlight on email correspondence, there’s little room for mistakes that could cause your boss to question your efficiency. Don’t panic and start combing through your “Sent” folder yet. Instead, check out these six email mistakes that could be killing your career, plus the fixes you can make, before it’s too late.
- Being trigger happy with “Forward”: You see an important update in your inbox that you are excited to inform your boss about. It’s tempting to instantly hit forward — you might even feel a sense of accomplishment getting it off your plate and into your boss’s inbox. But think again. Forwarding an email without a note or explanation forces your boss to spend valuable time figuring out the context of the message, and gives no insight into why you thought the message was important for him or her to read.
The fix: First, review and edit the subject so that it gets your boss’s attention and provides the right context. Next, write a clear and concise summary. Reference the email (or email chain) below, calling out the key takeaways. Need approval? Clearly outline the request and the positive impact you hope to achieve. Remember that bosses are always interested in outcomes. Bonus points: When possible, make an informed recommendation regarding next steps. Your boss will likely appreciate your insight.
- Getting lazy with grammar:
It’s been decades since anyone expected you to diagram a sentence, but there’s still an expectation in the workplace to send well-written, grammatically correct emails.
It’s been decades since anyone expected you to diagram a sentence, but there’s still an expectation in the workplace to send well-written, grammatically correct emails. You won’t convey your intelligence and polished writing skills by sending emails full of run-on sentences, multiple exclamation marks, errant semicolons or (worst of all) emoji.The fix: Convey your message via smart language, not unnecessary symbols or poorly written sentences. If you’re excited about something, provide a succinct explanation why instead of using 12 exclamation points and a smiley face. Use short, meaningful sentences that get to the point. With email, always remember: Shorter is better.
- Spewing jargon: Writing perfectly composed emails shouldn’t involve “boiling the ocean,” but you will need to take this process from “soup to nuts…” Groaning yet? Even if you aren’t, your boss will be. If you’re cluttering your email with jargon that provides no real insight into the issue at hand, you’re not helping your boss do his or her job. Rather, he or she is going to roll his or her eyes every time your name pops up in the inbox. Not good.
The fix: Rid your email of overused jargon. Instead of including phrases like “noodle on it” or “circle the wagons,” think about what you actually want to say. Do you need time to think about a recommendation because you want to do research or speak to another team? Say so and go do it.
- Srsly, don’t even: Your boss is not your BFF, and you should not be writing emails that include informal or trendy acronyms. This includes obnoxious abbreviations and, unless it’s in a social media context, hashtags.
The fix: Think about how to sound approachable but informed. It’s fine to be conversational with your boss, but be sure to keep the topic and your views professional. Make your emails relevant, and help your boss relate by tying your recommendations and insights back to real-world events and anecdotes, not by making pop-culture references or using slang for the heck of it.
- “Replying All” all day long: Every office has one –- a person who refuses to stop using “Reply All.” Most teams use an email alias/group to communicate important updates and ask questions. These are great tools, but only when used wisely and only if relevant to everyperson in the alias/group. “Replying all” in the wrong context will unnecessarily clutter your boss’s already overflowing inbox –- something he or she is sure to be annoyed by.
The fix: If senior team members are included in an email group, then use it only when necessary. If you are going back and forth with team members, take the alias off the note. Once you’ve come to a point where you need senior input, then re-add the alias or engage your boss directly.
- Filing and sorting: Did you know that one in six Americans say sorting through emails actually decreases their productivity? Although it is sometimes a task you feel you have to tackle to be productive, sorting your inbox may cause you to lose focus and, in turn, lose time. What’s more, keeping emails perfectly filed becomes increasingly difficult as you climb the corporate ladder, so kick this habit now.
The fix: Focus on smart prioritization of tasks that you need to accomplish, and make goals with concrete deadlines. When relevant, share these with your team. Your time is far better spent crafting a to-do list based on the projects/moving pieces for the day than by letting inbox clean-up drain your attention and productivity.