This gremlin doesn't know his email etiquetteI was chatting with an old colleague last week and she was despairing of her charity’s massive email problem.

What she was saying was not new. It seems there is a major epidemic of ’email overwhelm’ breaking out in the third sector.

The symptoms? Too many emails flying back and forth, too much time taken up handling them, too many missed  (apparently we miss 1/3rd of our emails), too many crossed wires and too many frustrated staff.

One of the challenges I see is that we seem to have forgotten our email manners. So here’s my top tips for elegant email etiquette which will prevent you from adding to the deadly email overwhelm and hopefully encourage good practice in others. (See my March blogs for practical tips for how to stay on top of your emails.)

Be The Change Email Etiquette

Top Tip #1. Ask yourself, with every email. Do I really need to send this? What alternatives are there?

Top Tip #2. Keep your emails short. Use as few words, sentences and paragraphs as is polite for that receiver. Six lines seems to be the most we want to take in.

Top Tip #3. Got a lot to say? Add an attachment, as long as it’s not huge, or better still, arrange a phone call or chat in person. Talking really is the best way to engage about something important or complex, and restores good old-fashioned human connection.

Top Tip #4. Use useful, short headers which say exactly what your email is about and be consistent if you’re sending several emails on the same project. This way, you and your receiver can locate each one quickly.

Top Tip #5. One email = one topic.  If you want to start a conversation on a different topic, start a new email. This makes it easier for others to organise their follow-up.

Top Tip #6. Don’t expect a reply straightaway to internal emails. See if you can establish a 48-hour rule so colleagues can organise their work around their own priorities. If you need a reply before that, go and chat or pick up the phone.

Top Tip #7. Don’t bother with setting an automatic reply if you’re away from your desk for two days or less. It just clutters up people’s in-boxes.

Top Tip #8. Finding yourself going backwards and forwards to arrange a meeting or make a decision? It’s much more productive to talk.

Top Tip #9. If you need someone to take action, say so, politely, and include a deadline. Don’t forget to thank them for their help.

Top Tip #10. And finally, never, ever ‘cc all’ (unless you’re the CEO). You know why.


So, what next?

 If you would like to talk to me about how my coaching or Taming Time training can help your third sector organisation be more productive, email me at or call 0208 772 7808 for a chat.