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How to survive in a world filled with email

5 October 2012

± minute read

    How to survive in a world filled with email
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Everyone knows how to use email and almost all of us rely on it as a productivity tool to communicate. It is supposed to make us more efficient, but for many it is nothing but an ever present source of stress and overwhelm.

Very few people take the time to learn how to use email properly, and as a result they sit with 1000+ emails in their inbox, they respond by writing exhaustive letters, CC the whole company and expect you to thoroughly read the walls of text they have written. Perhaps this is you?  

The ideal scenario:


  • 0 emails in your inbox.
  • You spend between 10 minutes and 60 minutes per day processing email (if even)
  • Processing time is scheduled at specific times and not spread out throughout the whole day
  • All actions and reminders are tracked in a trusted system.


  • People seem to get what you’re trying to say (fewer misunderstandings)
  • People appreciate that you get back to them in a timely fashion
  • People appreciate your short, thoughtful style as it saves them reading time


So lets get down to the nitty gritty of how to:


When reading email:

Tip: Before we start, create a folder called ARCHIVE. Gmail has this built in. Everything that has been processed and has future value, goes here. When reading through an email, ask yourself the following questions:

Is there a task here for me? Will I need the information in the future?

  • If yes: Write down the action in your task list and archive the message. Get it out of your inbox. If you need to find the message in the future you’ll find it by searching.
  • If no: Delete
  • Rinse and repeat

This is the simplest system for dealing with emails and you might want to add a little more complexity for follow-up items and other important messages. Always try and keep your system as simple as possible.

When writing email:


First ask yourself WHY.

One of the first rules in communication and learning is that as human beings we don’t do anything without sufficient reason. Asking why clarifies your reasons for emailing, which will help you to craft a meaningful message.  

Think of your reader.

Now that you are clear on why you’re doing the effort of sending a message, clearly communicate your intention to your reader. End the email by giving them what is termed in the advertising industry as a ‘call to action’. That is, clearly tell them what you want them to do with the information. Tip: Write in second person. I.e. replace we, or I, with you. Also write as if you are writing to one person, even if you are addressing a group of people. This will make your message seem more personal and thus more important to the reader.  

Subject lines are headlines.

Everyone gets a lot of email. Your message can get lost very easily in the clutter. If you have a particularly important message to send, make sure that your subject line grabs attention, is semantic and indicates if relations to possible actions for the recipient. Tip: Prefix your subject lines with FYI:, or ACTION:, or REVIEW: etc. This will tell your reader up-front what is expected of them and why you sent the email.  

Keep your body content short and readable.

Don’t write more than you have to. People find it tiring to read on a computer screen, add to that how distractable we are when using a computer and you can see why no-one really responds to your emails until they see you in person. Make your email scannable by writing short, simple paragraphs and simple language.   Simple and short, does not mean poorly written. Simplifying your message forces you to think about what you are trying to say and achieve with your message. People appreciate clear concise thinking and they will thank you if your emails reflect this style.  

Use bold, uppercase and italics, but don't do overboard

It is useful to accentuate certain aspects of your message to make it scannable, but don’t write whole paragraphs in ALL CAPS with BOLD RED LETTERS! People don’t pay more attention to your email because of this. Your tone will create an aversion in your reader and chances are good that they will ignore your message.


For more information, please contact us on +27(0) 11 781 3705/6/7 or send an email to

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