Top tip on email etiquette: punctuation matters, even on the least formal email and the apostrophe is one of the least-understood marks. One of the difficulties in writing email is that it has replaced so many forms of business communication from the telephone conversation, through the informal memo, to a letter even a short report. Whatever the formality of the document, it is the punctuation that gives your words voice tone and makes your meaning clear.
Over 90% of the people who attend my in-house workshops on punctuation name the apostrophe as the mark they would most like to understand and be able to use correctly. Whether it’s whether one is needed at all, whether to place it before or after the ‘s’ and how to use it when names end in ‘s’.
Most people look blank when faced with rules such as, place the apostrophe after the ‘s’ on a plural unless the plural is not made by the addition of ‘s’ in which case the apostrophe is placed before the ‘s’. And who can blame them!
One of the best-kept secrets in punctuation is that there is actually only one rule that matters, because it encompasses all the other ones and ensures that the apostrophe is always in the right place.
Before you can use the rule you have to answer three simple questions:
1.Is anything owned?
The apostrophe is a hook, it hangs on a word to warn the reader that it is not a plural, the ‘s’ indicates ownership.
2.What is owned?
This might be something tangible like a pen or laptop, or something less so like an office. It might be a mood, feeling or advice. The terms ‘owned’ or ‘used’ are generally used to loosely describe this.
3.Who is the owner?
This might be a named person, a group, and organisation, etc.
So the punctuation rule that everybody needs? Draw a circle around the name of the owner and the apostrophe will always go on the circle.
Good email etiquette and punctuation means its easier for people to read your email and less scope for mis-understanding. All this saves time, reduces email overload and hence helps improve productivity and well-being.
Joanna Gutmann, author of Readability and leader of in-house workshops on punctuation and the mechanics of writing gives a useful tip to get the apostrophe right every time.
Monica looks back on an impressive 30 years in business – come with us as we take a journey through our history and all we’ve achieved.
1989 what happened that year?
1989 was the year the Berlin Wall fell, the first GPS satellites were launched, Sir Tim Berners-Lee invented the world wide web, ‘The Simpsons’ debuted, Daniel Radcliffe and Taylor Swift were born, and I launched Mesmo Consultancy! Email had been invented by Ray Tomlinson (in 1971) – although like the world wide web, it was just a dot on the horizon because of the lack of user friendly hardware.
My career and work experience has always positioned me as the middle-man between the IT Department and the ‘end user’ trying to help them to learn how to use technology to improve their personal and business performance. This was pre user-friendly computers and software.
In 1993 sponsored by my client PA Consulting, I conducted an in-depth study of one hundred main board executives to establish some models and guidelines on how they could improve the bottom-line of their organisations by using personal computers. This was a time when a PC could easily take up your full airline cabin bag weight allowance. Battery life was about 30 minutes, the Blackberry had just been invented but mobile devices as we know them were still about six years away. Not everyone had access to email and even if they did, they often did not deal with it themselves. Indeed in some organisations you had to be a certain level to have your own email account. The results of the study were the basis of my PhD and my first book ‘Using the PC to Boost Executive Performance’.
In the 1990’s, executives were already complaining about how much email they received and how much time they had to spend trawling through it to find the items of importance.
However, many left their PAs to deal with email. So few executives had any idea how much time their staff were actually wasting dealing with the inbox and how it was rapidly overtaking the in-tray as their main focus. While on a contract to a major Government Department, I spent many months trying to explain this to a Permanent Secretary who said this was nonsense. He changed his mind when a train strike left him working at home and he saw the hundreds of trivial emails in his inbox. My life as an email management consultant and the ‘EmailDoctor’ began with a call from his Special Private Secretary (SPS) who said they wanted me in the office at 8.30 the next morning. I was told to ‘solve the problem of email misuse’. The rest is history, three books and hundreds of articles later.
Email Management – what has changed over 20 years?
But what has changed about how we deal with email? I trawled back through nearly twenty years worth of articles specifically on email management which included five years as The Times ‘Crème’ columnist, Director Magazine IT user columnist; Huffington Post; etc. Several key themes can be identified and in particular how to:
Perhaps the last is one of the most interesting. On the one hand you have the up and coming generation of Millenials who are so technology focused that they feel it’s ‘job done’ by hitting send, and are often the most reluctant to walk and talk. Furthermore the shorter the message the better. I agree with this, but short does not always mean unequivocal and especially to a generation of who are not digital natives of which there are still many at the top of the organisation.
Although letters are still written, for many an e-communication (email or text) is now a binding business communication and so the tone and wording is important to convey the correct image of the organisation. A constant plea from senior management is therefore to educate new joiners how to write professional emails which reflect the organisations values and culture.
What new trends have emerged over the last twenty years?
The same themes are still present even now in 2019 with some even more pronounced. For example we now receive on average 121 emails per day compared to 77 in 2003. Those who are digital natives and find technology easy to use, still do not appreciate that for many, despite the suppliers claims, it is not intuitive. This makes finding budgets for email management and email software (eg Outlook) training hard. Even today, less than 50% of Outlook’s time saving features are used by the average user (eg Rules, Quick Parts and Quick Steps).
Interestingly, we think the fax is dead but it is still used and especially in the medical profession! On top of these, six new challenges have emerged relating specifically to email management:
i. Cyber crime
ii. Data protection and GDPR
iii. Social media
iv. Collaborative tools
v. 24x7x365 work ethos
vi. Impact of digital distractions on our cognitive ability
i) Cyber crime was barely given a mention until the late 1980s and then only in passing. Now not a day passes without at least three cyber crime related stories/blog being published.
ii) Data protection was always an issue but organisations were not quite so obsessed about it. Not surprisingly, with the FOI, GDP and continued instances of hacking, most organisations now have a very heightened awareness of the need to be compliant and protect their most valuable asset – data.
iii) Social media wasn’t even born thirty years ago. If you wanted the latest news and gossip, it was garnered from a conversation around the coffee vending machine, photocopier, landline telephone chats or lunch outside the office. The loss of the art of conversation is perhaps one things which greatly saddens me . Especially when you hear of suicides caused by social media bullying.
iv) Collaborative tools are now seen as a way to reduce email overload but it still takes time to read the electronic notice board. If you elect for electronic updates then these of course often arrive by email!
v) 24x7x365 work ethos. Yes we worked just as hard thirty years ago but it was much easier to switch off and leave your work behind you when out of the office or on holiday. Constantly being in communication, is a 21st Century disease which is giving rise to concerns about our well-being and life-work balance. These are words which never existed in the board’s vocabulary until the last decade.
vi) Impact of digital distractions on our cognitive ability. Several studies have now found that constantly being distracted by email (or social media) is significantly reducing our powers of concentration and thinking to that of a three year old child.
Good, bad or indifferent
I have been very privileged to work during the ‘white hot revolution of technology’ to borrow the late Sir Harold Wilson’s words. They have been and will no doubt continue to be exciting times. I love working with young people who tell me about the latest app or hardware device. Such things still excite and amaze me. During my journey over the last thirty years I’ve met some amazing people and made many friends. However, with the exception of the impact of digital distractions on our cognitive ability, most of the problems related to email look just like new wine in old bottles but with fancy labels. For how much longer are we going to be slaves to our inboxes rather than the other way around?
Or have I been in the business so long that mine is a biased cynical view? What is your view about how technology has changed our working lives over the last thirty years (for better or worse)? Let us know on our social media channels!
How many emails do you currently have in your inbox? More than three screen’s full? That is too many and might be an indication of email overload. Your inbox should be your ‘work in progress’ folder. It is not just a general dumping ground rather like either the spare room or ‘round to it’ folder.
A clean inbox is a win-win way to reduce email overload related stress because it is easier to:
Hence you can save time dealing with your (and the boss’s) inbox and therefore improve your performance and well-being. Here are five tips to help you clean up your inbox ready for the Easter break and subsequently reduce email overload on your return. They do not form a sequence, rather they are individual tips; you can of course either use them all or just choose which suit you best.
If you are having time off, remember to set an Out of Office message which reduces the risk of email borne cyber crime and improves compliance to to the GDPR. And when all else fails you could always declare email bankruptcy.
Still need help with email management to reduce email overload? Call us now to ask about Mesmo Consultancy’s Smart Email Management workshops and coaching programmes.
Studies over the past decade, link the rise in musculoskeletal disease to the increased time we spend working at our computers. In 2013 it was estimated that in the UK businesses lost about 30 million days through musculoskeletal related illness such as chronic back, lower limb, wrist and hand problems.
Improve your performance by keeping your whole body energised
Here are ten top tips drawn from talking to a range of medical and related experts (such as physiotherapists, orthopaedic specialists and ophthalmic consultants) to keep you at peek performance and ultimately save time whilst dealing with email (and indeed any technology related task). Click here to read more.
This article first appeared in Executive Secretary Magazine, a global training publication and must read for any administrative professional. You can get a 30% discount on an individual subscription when you subscribe through us. Email firstname.lastname@example.org and tell them we sent you.
Most of us suffer from chronic business email overload. The new 2018 Adobe Email Research revealed that the most irritating email phrases include:
There is little doubt that these are words which make the blood pressure rise and can destroy good relationships. The question is why does it happen?
Mesmo Consultancy’s research indicates that we receive roughly one new email every five to seven minutes of which over 50% are deemed unnecessary by the receiver. After a one hour meeting about 12 new emails are now on top of the existing backlog. If like many you spend at least two hours a day in meetings that’s 24 new emails added to the already bulging inbox. Little wonder business email overload is a cause of high blood pressure and sleepless nights. It’s not uncommon to see 500+ unread emails in the inbox.
Whose fault is it that emails are not answered and what can be done to reduce the need for these highly irritating email follow-up? Does every email sent add business value or instead flatter the sender’s personal ego? Are we so disorganised and have such a high degree of email overload that it’s impossible to see the wood from the trees?
There are a number of reasons why your email has may have been overlooked. Many related to common sense business email etiquette. Here are the top five we see most often and tips to overcome them to save time to reduce business email overload and hence improve business performance.
1. Email is too long. You are time poor and wrote the sentences as they came into your head. You didn’t have to re-read and revise it.
Tip #1 – Use the 5S Principle of Business Email Etiquette for writing good emails – keep it structured, short, succinct, spell-checked and simple formatting. If appropriate start with a one line executive summary.
2. No clear indication of what action is expected. Did you use the correct protocol for To and Cc and make it clear in the subject-line if any action is expected and by when?
Tip #2 – Always put the recipient in the To box if you expect action. Use the subject-line to be explicit if there is a deadline for action.
3. Sent well outside normal office hours. Now it is buried in the pile of other unread emails .
Tip #3 – Draft outside office hours but only send within normal office hours.
4. Wrong medium for the message. Oh dear we are so addicted to email that we forget there are other ways to communicate and especially if the message is urgent.
Tip #4 – Pick the right medium for your message, for example if it’s urgent phone/text message/walk and talk. Look outside the inbox for discussions, for example using a collaborative platform, conference call etc.
5. Love the sound of your own voice. In the days of silent open plan offices the easiest way to chat is by email. Some people just like to look busy by emailing.
Tip #5 – Take a look at your inner self and ask why you are sending the email, what purpose is it serving? To satisfy your own ego or add real business value?
Why did you ignore that email? Here are the top five reasons we see when coaching people to manage their email more efficiently
1. Email overload – too much email. You need to take control of what your receive and if needs be use filters to send less important emails directly to folders.
Tip #1 – Audit your inbox and reduce the number of emails you receive. Unsubscribe, use filters and remember it’s OK to say ‘No thank you’ to colleagues when included in a circulation list.
2. No adequate way to spot quickly emails from key contacts. With an average of 60 plus new emails a day, how do you spot those from important contacts and ensure they are dealt with?
Tip #2 – Implement a way of flagging/highlighting incoming emails from key contacts.
3. Email is too long and unclear what is expected. It really is not your fault if the sender rambles on, asks too many questions in one email etc.
Tip #3 – Push back. Don’t ignore the email hoping it will go away. Instead be bold and ask what is required and if needs be prioritise.
4. Too little time to check emails properly. We are all time poor and you need to prioritise your day.
Tip #4 – Make a meeting with yourself every day dedicated to dealing properly with your inbox instead of just surfing and skimming the content.
5. Easily distracted by new emails. You have a batch from yesterday, the meeting you have just attended and ping, you are distracted every five minutes as yet another new email arrives. Little wonder you probably have 500+ emails in your inbox.
Tip #5 – Turn off all those new email alerts. If needs be set one only for emails from the boss!
Whose Really At Fault
Over arching all these is the question of priorities and an organisational culture cover my backside culture. Given these different pressure points between the sender’s and the receiver’s perspective it is little wonder that emails go unanswered. Neither party is to blame, it is a combination of mismatches in personalities, styles and priorities. Hopefully these tips will help reduce the email overload caused by those annoying and irritating email follow-ups.
Can we Help You and Your Organisation?
For more ways to improve performance through more effective email management why not come on one of Mesmo Consultancy’s Smart Email Management masterclasses or workshop
Tags: 5S Principle of Business Email Etiquette, Adobe, business email etiquette, Business email overload, Business Performance, Irritating Emails, Mesmo Consultancy, Spell Check, To versus Cc, well being