Tips to keep email from being a burden to productivity

Email makes businesses more effective and efficient, but it can also take our focus off of what we’re all here for — our customers.

Carelessness and overuse with email is bogging down our information superhighway. I get hundreds of emails daily, and they range from crucially important to trivial — with far too many falling in the latter category. Too often, email causes us to play defense, and our offense suffers as a consequence. If we’re digging out of email, chances are good we’re not being strategic or doing the best work we can for customers.

Last year, our 200 global Riversiders collectively sent and received 5,276,304 emails. Experts estimate that 40 percent of the time we spend on work emails adds no value to a company, which adds up to a lot of money. You know the ones — a response like “OK” or a CC just for good measure. We all need email to do our jobs, but its ease of use leads to overuse — including by me!

A handful of easy best practices can help us all trim back and save countless hours. Here are some ways to better manage inboxes around your company — including your own:

■  Just don’t. Does a recipient really need that email? Instead of trading emails, could you communicate what you need to in person with a quick phone call or an IM? Direct interactions usually lead to more productive communication.

■  Use NRN. No reply needed. Let the recipient know that it’s OK not to respond. Just type NRN at the end of your email and your recipients will love you more.
■  Always use the subject line. A clear subject line helps recipients quickly prioritize their reading and follow-ups.

■  Make every word count. Get to the point quickly, starting with that relevant and pithy subject line. Don’t hesitate to change that subject line in a chain of email when it makes sense to do so.

■  “Reply all” and CCing kills! If you’re copying recipients, think in terms of needing to know. Likewise, when replying to an email with multiple recipients, chop the chain whenever you can.

■  Think before you send. If you’re dealing with sensitive subjects, a phone call might be your best bet. Also, consider deadlines and expectations when sending during weekends or holidays. If you are making a request, make your needs clear with respect to timing.

■  Call out important data. Say “per the highlight below” or “in the [specific section of a document] attached” to save time and let recipients know to look for things.

I’m passionate about finding ways to reduce email because it makes our firm run better and frees up all Riversiders to focus on our customers. In fact, our IT team is striving to identify other collaborative tools that can significantly reduce email. Keep your team dedicated to great ideas instead of cleaning inboxes. Cutting back on email frees up more time to spend on big questions and solutions to make us all more successful.

Stewart Kohl is co-CEO at The Riverside Co.