Best Practices: business tips from the pros

By Professor Chris Palmer, American University
January 1, 2008

By Professor Chris Palmer, American University

With so much business conducted virtually, it is important for your career success to use e-mail effectively and efficiently. Follow these 14 rules and colleagues will notice the difference, and your future career prospects will blossom:

1. At the start of each day, check your emails quickly for key messages if you feel you really have to, and then turn your email off. Select the most important and valuable strategic task you are facing in your career and work on that until it is finished. Resist the temptation to begin your day by wandering around on Facebook or YouTube.

2. Turn off your email while working on other tasks. Allocate certain hours to read and respond to emails. Don’t keep your email on constantly or read emails as they arrive.

3. Clear your in-box within eight hours or sooner. Don’t keep people waiting. Try to respond in the same business day. Delete all unimportant emails and also delete those you have dealt with. Only keep those in your in-box that serve as a reminder of something important to you.

4. Your goal is to respond so effectively that you end the exchange of emails. Be succinct and don’t ramble. To the extent possible, respond immediately when you read an email so it is dealt with and done.

5. Respond to people who are powerless and insignificant. They deserve respect, too. If you are not the right person to answer their question, direct them to someone who is.

6. Acknowledge a significant email you receive so the sender knows you have received it and isn’t left wondering what’s happened to it.

7. Include your telephone number so people can easily contact you if they need to.

8. Don’t write in all capital letters. It looks like you’re yelling.

9. Don’t write an email in anger. Calm down and then talk to the person with whom you are angry. Try to never be negative in an email. It’s likely to come back to haunt you.

10. Use a subject line that says clearly what your email is about. Cover one topic per email. If that isn’t possible, make the subject line ‘Four issues to discuss.’

11. Use clear, informal and personal language. Don’t use exclamation points in professional emails and don’t use the passive voice.

12. Use ‘Bcc’ when sending an email to a large number of people. Put your own name in the ‘To’ box. Your recipients don’t want their email address sent to strangers.

13. Always use spell-check and re-read your message before pushing the ‘Send’ button.

14. At meetings, don’t do text messaging on your cell phone or use your BlackBerry, iPhone or Treo. It’s rude.

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