Managing Your Email 2: How to be Part of the Solution

By The 1440 Doctor: Jennifer Kanapicki Comer, MD

I recently read an interesting article from the Harvard Business Review (HBR) that described the act of sending a letter in 1635.  In the past, the recipient was responsible for paying the postage, regardless of what the content contained (picture paying to receive an advertisement about locum tenens in the tundra?!).  Not until 1840 did the mail system change into one in which the sender was responsible for the postage. This makes me think about our email system. When I look at my exploding in basket, I’m left with the thought that, as recipient, I’m paying the cost for all the emails I receive.

In this second installment of managing your email, I thought we should concentrate on being part of the solution and learn how to be a responsible sender of email.  There is an art to sending email that will not only lessen the burden on your recipients but, in turn, save you time.

How to send a 1440 doctor email: 

Keep emails to less than 5 sentences.

Have you ever opened up an email and saw multiple paragraphs only to close it and “save it for later?”  Long emails take time to write and secondly take time to read. Keep your email short and sweet. Get to the point and get to it fast.  Also remember that 55% of emails are opened on a mobile device and will look 10x longer!

Stop overthinking each email.

Have you ever spent an hour drafting the perfect email to send out to faculty or colleagues?  I know I am guilty of re-reading an email 50 times before sending it out. Why did I lose my minutes doing this?  When drafting an email, the 1440 doctor gets to the point in 5 sentences or less, scans for grammar/spelling, and then hits send.  

Done is better than perfect.

Tell people what you want from them in the subject line.

Being in charge of busy residents, I have had my fair share of issues getting people to respond to my emails.  I found a good way of getting people’s attention is to tell them what you want from them right up front. My favorite is saying “ACTION REQUIRED.”  This way you are telling someone (especially important in email “scanners”) this email is important and they need to respond.

In residency, we had a faculty member who always wrote the content of the email in the subject line.  We used to joke about it as the email would not have any content, just a long subject line. It took me some time, but now I get it.  In this digital overloaded society we live in, people most often just scan emails on their mobile device. If you want to get your message read, put it in the subject line.  18 Tricks for the Perfect Email Subject Line is a nice read that talks about what to put in the subject line to get people’s attention (especially if you do any marketing).  I think it will work for colleagues too!

Overuse of the CC.

I’m in charge of our core curriculum which, unfortunately, means a lot of emails.  Sometimes, it can be very tempting to CC or FYI additional parties to “keep them in the loop” of current conference happenings.  However, every time you send an email you increase your risk of receiving an email back. Not only are you flooding someone’s inbox (impinging on their minutes) you’re also potentially losing minutes for yourself when that person who didn’t need to be cc’d responds to you with questions or concerns.  Do a gut check before you CC people, does that person really need to be included?

Send less email to receive less email.

Create email templates.

Do you ever find yourself composing the same email over and over again?  For me, I get many inquiries from people interested in our residency or fellowship.  Each time, I’m basically responding the same way about the application process. This is a waste of minutes!  There are easy ways to make templates on whichever email platform you use. This one for mac mail gives easy instructions to building a folder of template emails for easy access.

Going away?  Use an autoresponder.  

Next conference, retreat, or vacation set up an autoresponder.  By telling people you are away, you are more likely to get less emails while you are gone and therefore less of a massive inbox upon your return.

When to read and respond to email.

1440 doctors use time to their advantage.  Use your downtime to send email; waiting at the dentist’s office, to board a flight, etc.  Maybe it’s the EM in me, but I hate to wait. However, If I’m being productive, it feels a lot better. Use the “waiting” minutes of your life to read and respond to emails.

So, the next time you send an email, remember that your recipient is paying the postage for whatever concoction you’re sending to them.  Be kind, just say what you need to in as few words as possible, don’t cc people who don’t need to know, and use the subject line when you can.  These email practices will leave you with grateful recipients and a little less email in your own in basket.

1440 Doctor Action items:

☑️ Next email you write, try to keep the content to 5 sentences or less.  Put in your subject line what you want of the recipient (ex. FYI, Action Required).  Think about which people really need to know about your content and only cc those people.

☑️Figure out how to make templates for your email platform.  Make a folder for all of them and start using them to save time on emails you write often.

Want more?

  • Forbes put out a great article about taking control of your email.  It reiterates a lot of the points I mentioned. Check it out.
  • Here is a list of potential auto-responses that you might consider using to help set expectations for people sending you email.