If you feel like a good chunk of your day is squandered reading and responding to pointless emails, you're not alone. Executives estimate that nearly 20 percent of the hours they spend on work email is a waste of their time, according to a study from Robert Half.
The largest culprit is spam, with nearly 40 percent of those surveyed saying this is the primary time-waster for work email.
However, spam isn't all to blame. Other distractors include being copied on irrelevant emails, reading messages that could have been delivered in a better way, and deciphering long and rambling messages.
Paul McDonald, a senior executive director for Robert Half, said that while spam can be addressed using filters and technology to prevent unwanted email, the other issues often boil down to good judgment from those sending messages. [See Related Story: Get the Feeling No One is Reading Your Emails? You May Be Right]
"Keeping your messages short, relevant and actionable will improve the chances your emails are read and responded to quickly," McDonald said in a statement.
To make your emails more efficient, Robert Half offers six etiquette tips:
- Watch your CCs. It's important to copy colleagues only on emails that they must see. If it isn't something they need to take action on, they likely shouldn't be copied on an email. It is also important to avoid hitting "reply all" when responding. Doing so is likely a waste of time for all the recipients who didn't need your response.
- Be brief. The shorter you can make your emails while still getting your point across, the better. The longer the email, the longer it takes to digest. And the longer it takes to digest, the more likely it is that the reader is going to become uninterested. When possible, keep your emails to fewer than two paragraphs.
- Make your point early. Rather than making colleagues read through your entire email to only find out at the end what you want and why they were being copied on the message, summarize your main points at the top. You can then provide the details as background if needed.
- Send less. Try resisting the temptation to immediately respond to an email, especially if it is a request that may resolve itself without your input. In addition, consider having no-internal-email days, such as "email-free Fridays," to cut down on the number of messages filling up your offices' inboxes.
- Focus on the subject line. Make your subject line direct and to the point, so as to give readers an immediate insight into your email. Try using subject lines with phrases like "RSVP," "for your review" or "meeting rescheduled," so readers can quickly understand what your email is about.
- Be professional. In today's digital world, emails should be written with the same professionalism as you would use in a formal business memo. Be sure to check your spelling and grammar. Also, try reading the email aloud before sending it. Your recipients will appreciate it when you take a few moments to fine-tune the message's content and tone.
The study was based on surveys of 2,200 chief financial officers from companies in more than 20 of the largest U.S. metropolitan areas.