Top 10 Email Tips

Email is something many people have been using for 10-15 years now. I remember first getting an email address in 1999 although the way I use email has changed dramatically since then.

I would never have thought of checking my emails over breakfast in 1999 yet now my breakfast email session is ingrained into my daily routine.

When I started teaching in 2004, I would never have thought about emailing parents. Now a day rarely goes by where I don’t have some sort of email correspondence with parents and I send out an e-newsletter fortnightly (I wrote more a post about emailing parents here).

It’s safe to say, email is a big part of my professional and everyday life.

While the first email was apparently sent in 1971, it didn’t start to become more widespread until the late 1990s. The popular webmail provider, Hotmail, was launched in 1996, while Yahoo Mail was released a year later in 1997. Interestingly, Gmail wasn’t launched until 2004 and didn’t come out of beta (trial) until 2007!

Even though email is far from new and is a form of technology most people are now “using”, I often wonder how well it is being used.

People not checking or replying to their emails is an absolute pet peeve of mine. I am quite amazed that email has been around for so long now yet in many businesses and organisations, it seems to be optional whether it is used or not. I wonder, for the first 10 to 15 years that phones were around, did people sometimes decide not to answer them?

Many people complain about getting “so many emails” and they just seem to throw their hands in the air and not know what to do about it.

I kept track of how many emails I was receiving for a few days and was extremely surprised to find I am receiving well over 100 emails each day! I knew it was a lot but because I have clear organisational strategies, email isn’t a frustration to me as it is to many.

It seems to me that there is very little information given in workplaces or schools about how to use email efficiently. I wonder if many students who are provided with an email address are given any management advice. The tips below may help fuel a discussion with your class or make your life easier.

Image: 'autoroute à emails...' http://www.flickr.com/photos/29647247@N00/60963915
Image: ‘autoroute à emails…’ http://www.flickr.com/photos/29647247@N00/60963915

Here are my top ten tips for making email a seamless and useful part of your life rather than a constant hassle

1. Three choices – delete, file, respond: If you deal with each email once, you will save a lot of time. When you read a email, delete it if it is not useful or the correspondances if over, file it in a folder if you need to keep the email for reference or respond straight away if the email needs a response that will take only a few minutes. The only time I leave emails in my inbox is if they need a response that will take more investigation or longer than five minutes to compose.

2. Create folders: In order to complete the first step well, you need to have folders. I use Outlook which also allows you to create sub folders. Eg. I have a folder called “school” and sub-folders such as “parents”, “excursions” and “PD”. I prefer this sub-folder method so I don’t have scores of folders to wade through.

3. Check daily: Many experts say it is best to choose set times during the day to check emails in batches (eg. at lunchtime and at 4pm). This is a good idea if you find you are being distracted by email, however I prefer to have Outlook open all the time and I just check it whenever I have a few minutes. Regardless, it is a good idea to come up with a routine to make sure your emails are being attended to regularly.

4. Use a subject line and paragraphs: Make your emails easy to read. A subject line lets the reader know what the email is about and paragraph breaks make emails so much easier to read.

5. Keep your mailbox size down: Some web-based email programs like Gmail have a very large storage limit, however many work emails. like Edumail, have a set storage limit (although Edumail was recently increased). This means you need to empty your sent folder and deleted folder regularly. If you don’t, your inbox will become full and you won’t be able to receive any more emails. Even if you’ve put emails in folders, they still count towards your storage limit. When emails come with attachments like photos or documents,  I usually save the attachment and delete the email immediately.

6. Think before sending: This probably doesn’t need too much explaining. When you send out an email, it is permanent. You need to make sure you’re not writing something that could be taken the wrong way or be considered controversial. If you’re not sure, leave the email to reread later or ask a friend to read over it for you. Err on the side of caution!

7. Get to know your email program and save time: While some email programs have more features than others, it is a good idea to take the time to play around and learn how to use the features available to you. A little time spent learning can save you a lot of time in the future. Some example of time-saving features include distribution lists which let you create a group of people you email regularly all at once (eg. a school team or parent group). Email filtering is a feature that lets you automatically process emails into certain folders or into a certain priority order. Some programs, like Outlook, also let you drag and drop emails into your calendar.

8. Don’t open suspicious attachments: Everyone should know not to open email attachments from people you don’t know as they could contain viruses or other unwanted programs.

9. Use a signature: Create an email signature with functional links to help people get to know you and your digital footprints. My signature links to my blogs, Diigo and Twitter accounts.

10. Unsubscribe from emails you don’t need: I used to be guilty of getting too many email from newsletters, “deals of the day”, blog feeds etc that were wasting a lot of my time and not proving to be overly useful. Last year, I did a cull of these sorts of emails and now enjoy a less cluttered inbox. You will find an “unsubscribe” button at the bottom of most automatically generated emails.

What are your email tips?

Emailing Parents

For the last three years, my class blog has been a great way to communicate with parents. The blog acts as a window into our class and the parents can stay up to date with our activities and achievements.

This year, I’ve introduced a parent email newsletter which has been well received.

At the start of the year I asked all of the parents for their email address. Out of 21 students, I currently one have one parent without email.

I entered these addresses into my Outlook contacts and created an email distribution list.

Every fortnight I write an e-newsletter to parents. It includes information on our current learning focusses, upcoming events, reminders etc.

*Tip* If you are emailing a group of parents, put the distribution list or email addresses in the BCC field. This means recipients will not be able to see the other email addresses on the list and the privacy of your parents is protected.

This year I also use email frequently to contact parents individually.

I have had a couple of students who would have had a communication book in the past but the parents and I find email an easier solution.

Parents also email me about absences, medication and general queries.

Contacting parents via email seems like such a simple concept but one that, in my school circle, is not widely used.

It is important to note that email contact does not replace all face to face interaction, but with most parents working and busy, it allows for frequent, ongoing communication.

The benefits I’ve found are the instant access, reliability (no lost notes), privacy (personal notes not read by students) and ease of use. It’s sad to say that I can type up a note in about half the time it takes me to handwrite it!

To ensure the parents receive the email, I have made business card sized notes that say “I sent you an email today“.  I only hand these out when it is essential that the email is read. Most of the time it is not necessary but I have found it is handy to have some sitting on my desk.

Do you use email to communicate with parents?

What do you think about the idea?