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9 Bad Email Habits You Must Break in Order to Actually Get Work Done

9 Bad Email Habits You Must Break in Order to Actually Get Work Done

You and I waste an enormous amount of time on email. The problem is worse than you think.

The BBC reported earlier this year that we spend as much time answering email each week as we do conducting actual work.

What a waste! Just think of the creativity that could be unleashed, the innovative ideas that could be realized if each of us spent less time on email and more time on creative thinking.

Here are 9 bad habits that most of us have developed over time. Habits that are gutting our effectiveness and the productivity of those around us.

Let’s break these habits now so that we can focus on more important matters.

Nine Bad Email Habits You Need to Break

1. CC’ing people unnecessarily.

I get copied on dozens of emails each week from my team members. Most of the time, I don’t need to do anything with them. My team is just keeping me in the loop. It becomes a problem, though, when everyone else starts hitting “Reply to All.” Now my inbox is swamped with needless messages.

If your goal is just to keep your boss or another team member informed, I suggest you not copy her on the original email but simply forward it to her afterwards with a note, “This is just an FYI. No action required on your part.” She’ll appreciate you for keeping her inbox free from clutter.

2. Using “Reply to All” unnecessarily.

When you receive a message that has a large number of people copied, be careful of hitting “Reply to All.” Unless everyone on the list needs to read your response, be kind and reply only to the sender.

3. Not using “Reply to All” when it’s necessary.

Has this ever happened to you? You send an email to several team members asking for feedback on an idea. But then someone replies only to you. He shared great thoughts but now you are required to forward his email to everyone else. That’s inefficient. When the goal is collaboration, copy everyone.

4.  Not providing complete information in the first message. 

Omitting important details invariably leads to needless follow-up emails. Here’s a rather mundane example: “Are you free for lunch today?” The lack of specific details — such as time and place — requires a series of follow-up messages in order make things happen. And since each message is separated by the time it takes for the person to receive it, read it, and then respond, you’ve created an unnecessarily long process just to set up a lunch date.

Try this instead:  “Free for lunch today at noon? I was thinking The Thai House. If today doesn’t work, I’m also free tomorrow at 11:45am. Let me know what works for you.” Now the recipient can reply just once and you’re off to lunch.

5. Not using timezones with someone in another state.

If you’re setting up a phone appointment with someone across the country, be sure to use a timezone. If you write, “I’ll call you at 3pm” then they’ll assume you mean 3pm their time. That causes confusion which often leads to several follow-up messages or the possibility of missing the call altogether. Be explicit. As a courtesy, I recommend using their timezone first. “I’ll call you at 2pm your time, 3pm mine.”

6. Not using a subject line that describes the content of the message.

Most of us use the subject line to find an email thread quickly. If you use specific details in the subject line, you save the recipient’s time in searching for your important message.

7. Covering more than one topic in a single message.

I’ve had people ask, “Did you not get my email about the Franklin client?” As it turns out, I did get it but it was tucked in a message that covered several other topics. Many people use their inbox as a task list. They respond to a message and then delete it. Help others keep their inbox clean by using one message for each topic.

8. Not getting to the point early.

It’s a good practice to list the main point of your email at the outset. No one wants to wade through a long message before getting to the conclusion. Better to put the action point right up front: “After researching our options, I’ve concluded we need to purchase the new accounting software. Here’s why.” This saves time.

9. Not making long emails easy to scan. 

Short paragraphs, bullet points, and numbered lists make it a breeze for the reader to scan your message. Use them to break up long sections of information. It facilitates better communication.

The Most Powerful Email Tip You’ll Ever Read

The best email advice I can give you can be summed up in five words:

Pick up the phone instead. 

You can get an answer on the phone in a fraction of the time it takes to send emails back and forth.

Often the best use of email is not using it at all.

Suggestion: If you found this list helpful, perhaps you should share it with your team. Sometimes advice coming from a third-party is perceived as less threatening and more likely to affect change. Just a thought.

Other than the ones I listed above, what email habits drive you crazy? Share them in the comments below.


  1. Kimberley Spencer-Popken

    Greg, I would like to share this with my fellow RN Clinical Informatics Coordinators!

    This was another excellent blog that is beneficial.

    Believe it or not, I do follow your ‘rules! I use ‘Arizona Time’, as we have hospitals spread over 2-3 time zones depending on the time of year. (Arizona does not participate with DST)

    On a happy note, this is finally one of your blogs that leaves me smiling instead of feeling ‘convicted’.

    • Greg Lhamon

      I’m glad I left you smiling, Kimberley. I’ll try harder next time to make you squirm (smile).


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