How To Improve Your Emails…By Doing Nothing

If someone could, by literally doing nothing, reduce the number of emails in your inbox, would you want them to?

I’m guessing the answer is ‘Yes’.

So if you could also, by literally doing nothing, reduce the number of emails in other people’s inboxes, would you want to?

Well then…ditto.

Whoever you are and whatever you do, fewer emails to wade through is nearly always a good thing, so I now offer you the way to achieve exactly that (drum roll please):

Ignore the ‘Reply all’ button

Yep. That’s it. Pretty simple, eh?

To be clear: I don’t mean you shouldn’t reply at all. Disappearing completely from people’s inboxes won’t do your personal brand much good.

What I mean is you shouldn’t reply to everyone. That way, when you do appear in someone’s inbox, they’ll associate your personal brand with a positive feeling instead of frustration.

Here’s what I’m talking about…

I was due to deliver a workshop for a leadership group in the run-up to Christmas. A dinner, to which I was invited, was planned to follow the session. The organiser sent an email to all those attending with the menu options and asked us to reply to her with our choice.

I hit ‘Reply’ and did just that. Unlike the multitudes of other attendees who hit ‘Reply all’. Next thing I knew, my inbox was flooded with requests for the butternut squash soup, or the turkey dinner, or the trifle, or whatever their taste buds were in the mood for.

I got pretty p*ssed off. It may not take much effort to delete them, but it was wasting my time and diverting my attention from the emails I should be reading.

This was information I did not need to know

So next time you get an email that needs a response, I’d like you to do nothing…well, at least with the ‘Reply all’ button. Instead, here’s what you do:

  • Hit ‘Reply’.
  • Compose your reply.
  • Decide who you want your reply to go to by asking yourself:
    What do I want this person to do with this information?
  • In the ‘To’ and/or ‘CC’ boxes, manually add in the names of those for whom you came up with a decent answer to that question. (And omit those you couldn’t.) It’s a tad more involved, but the predictive function will help.
  • Hit ‘Send’.

You may well end up with the same list as if you’d hit ‘Reply all’. The point is, you’ve stopped and thought consciously about your response and, in doing so, showed you’ve thought consciously about the other person. (Including – and especially – those you left off the list.)

What’s your take on the matter? Is your perspective a different one? Or do you too find it frustrating to be replied to with all and sundry? There’s a comment box below waiting for your thoughts. Thank you!

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9 responses to “How To Improve Your Emails…By Doing Nothing”

  1. Nicola Ralston says:

    I quite often do this, as it seems more efficient, which is obviously the case with your dinner menu example. But most topics are not quite so clear cut, and when everyone else hits “Reply All”, I worry that others will think I’ve been rude by, perhaps, not replying at all.

    • Jennifer Holloway says:

      That’s a good point, but on balance, especially if lots of people are on the list, I don’t think people will notice who has and hasn’t replied.

  2. Martin Smith says:

    Completely agree, there’s so many emails with no relevance to anyone but the sender and the recipient it’s silly, particularly the “thanks” reply all email. There are instances where being removed from the distribution list can be a problem, however, the discipline described above should help mitigate these.

  3. Tony O says:

    I agree with you entirely. Defaulting to “Reply to all” is often a sign of either not thinking or laziness, neither of which are good for your reputation. The danger is that people who do it all the time then do not get read when they do want to send a message that is eventually specifically directed. I know of someone (not me!) who had a serial offender’s messages automatically directed to their Spam box. It came to light only when months later they had a query that needed follow-up and the person had to confess to what they had done. As bystanders we found it hilarious, and probably wish that we had thought of doing that too.

  4. Denis Kaye says:

    Good advice Jennifer, as always. Sadly I think many people who indiscriminately use ‘Reply All’ are keen to show how much work they are doing; often the case when people higher up the foodchain were on the initial mail list. Needless to say, it has the converse effect!

    • Jennifer Holloway says:

      I agree Denis – some people definitely use ‘Reply all’ as a bit of smoke and mirrors for productivity.

  5. Luke says:

    One tip I recommend when in a reply-all storm, is to consider moving people to BCC so that they can see you have replied but don’t get caught up in the email ping-pong thereafter. This helps with the scenario Nicola Ralston commented on. Particularly useful where there are senior people on the CC line and who might appreciate knowing that there is action being taken. I acknowledge that in the reply. “xxx moved to BCC for visibility.” Then describe the next steps so they can see what will be happening thereafter.

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