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McKinsey’s 5 Rules for Effective Email Communication

Photo @florianklauer via unsplash.com

Emails are an important part of internal communication in large companies. I recommend using official emails to agree on anything that is important and requires consideration, while urgent matters can be taken to a business chat.

There are five basic rules that are used in business consulting to communicate more effectively using emails.

  1. Delegate
  2. Delete
  3. Postpone
  4. Rewrite
  5. Deactivate

Delegate email writing as soon as possible

How valuable is your time? Seriously. Close your eyes and think for a moment. According to the 2012 McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) study, “On average, consultants spend 28% of their work time communicating via email”. This means that during a 12-hour workday, you spend 3.4 hours writing letters. Seems unbelievable, doesn’t? I reckon that the average employee spends even more time on correspondence – about five hours a day. So, how many emails do we send a day? According to another study by Fortune magazine analysts, “we send on average 40 emails daily”. That’s probably too much to write something meaningful each time. Roughly speaking, we spend less than five minutes on one email. But, as we all know, less is more – if you focus and write an actionable response, it will shift the correspondence to a more effective level. If you are a team leader, you should stop responding to annoying signals of incoming emails and immediately jump to the reply. Try to delegate. From your project associates, choose someone reliable and willing to practice writing important letters.

Delete all junk emails when traveling or flying

The time when you are traveling to work or go on a business trip is valuable. And it must be used wisely. If you are tired, get a good sleep; otherwise take the time to clear up all your low-priority emails. This will buy you time in the long run, while also make you feel efficient in your work. The focus should be on deleting all unnecessary emails without reading them unless it is something important and requires immediate action. According to the Fortune research, “An analysis of 5 million emails (using Baydin) showed that the average email user receives 147 emails per day and deletes 71 of them (i.e. 48%).”  A cleaned up inbox not only frees up the space needed for further work, but also makes the process of finding important messages easier.

Postpone

Some incoming emails make you want to write a response immediately. It could be a letter to your project teammate or a friend you studied in the university with. But this is when it’s best to have a break and not try to intuitively and quickly respond to the message. While it is impossible not to reply, this is the kind of a situation where the “postpone” option works best. In your head. E.g., you can filter such emails to a dedicated folder or forward them to your personal mail address to continue the communication in your free time. Important: Decide on a time when you will return to these emails during the day or week.

Rewrite and shorten

Make a rule for yourself that as you write an email you check it for errors and typos, reread it and delete all unnecessary words (redundant words and phrases) if they do not convey anything meaningful. The most obvious ones include “in order to”, “by the way”, “whether you like it or not”, etc. I can recommend reading “The Elements of Style” by E.B.White and William Strunk.

Deactivate emails on Friday night

And don’t open your email inbox until exactly the time you set. This is the hardest test – our constant connection to the Internet makes our virtual life more convenient for checking emails, especially work-related messages. iPhones and other gadgets facilitate the email checking process giving rise to the 24/7 response expectations. We cannot imagine a world without emails and mobile technologies. Studies have shown that people’s patience in waiting for an answer has dropped significantly. In the future, this will become a big communication problem. However, at work, you need to give your best and be efficient which means following the rules. Rule of thumb: check your emails (well, at least, answer them) only on Sunday evening. And if it doesn’t work, remember: it’s not about emails, it’s about management.