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Read your emails

Posted on November 20, 2023
Illustrated image of a computer showing a number of emails floating around.

I’m hearing more and more complaints from a wide variety of folks about people not reading their emails. I know we get far too many emails on a daily basis – according to Prosperity Media – the average office worker receives 40 emails per day. I believe that is conservative. Personally, I get over 100 each day. While we need to work, collectively, on reducing the number of emails we receive (and send), it is so important that we read our emails, and not just with a cursory glance, but actually read them.

For those who don’t read all their emails – you are creating more work for others because they may be waiting for your response. This then leads to a follow-up email, creating more email in your inbox, as well as the time it took for the sender to keep track of these emails, as well as drafting and sending a follow-up email. You also put yourself in a difficult position by not being “in the know” on information that may be highly valuable, and this can take time in meetings, when you then ask for folks to explain something that was outlined in an email (that you did not read). In addition, your lack of a response can be viewed as dismissive, making the person who sent the email feel like you don’t respect them or believe their needs or ask is important.

For those who read only a portion of the email – how many times have you sent an email with two or three questions and the person responds to ONLY the first question? This can happen because folks are rushing to get through the myriad of emails on a daily basis. However, the 30 seconds you don’t take to fully read an email will likely result in additional follow-up emails, which both clogs your email inbox AND it means more time spent for both you and the sender. And the same principles I outlined to those who don’t read all of their emails applies here to those who rush through their emails.

So, what are email best practices?

  • Read through an entire email
  • Respond as quickly as possible with all the required/requested information
  • If you don’t have all the requested information, you should follow-up with the sender, noting when you will have that information
  • Unless the entire group needs your response, respond only to the sender to avoid clogging up everyone else’s inbox
  • File emails as soon as you have finished with them to keep your inbox as empty as possible

What about best practices for the sender:

  • Don’t hesitate to pick-up the phone or swing by someone’s office whenever possible – it is easier to solve an issue in a short conversation versus emailing back and forth eight times
  • Determine who needs to receive the email, avoid the cc:ing everyone default
  • Include those people who need to respond in the To: line and cc: those folks who need to know, but not respond
  • Make sure the subject line is specific and speaks to the content of the email and that it is searchable, i.e., avoid vague terms such as “Follow-up” or “Needed Information”
  • Keep your emails as brief and short as possible
  • If there are 3 things you need, then state that in you opening line, so the person is aware up front and knows to look for those – you can also use a bold font to emphasize the 3 things
  • When you need to send a longer email, use bullets whenever possible to make it easier to read and easier tracking for the eyes

In the end, you are in control of how you respond to your inbox, but keep in mind, not responding says something about you to your co-workers. It does not take long for folks to start talking, “Rob doesn’t ever respond to email – it’s so frustrating.” Ultimately, this can have an impact on your career trajectory. Don’t get passed up for a promotion because you are sloppy with your email responses or ignore emails. I want to add, everyone has missed an occasional email, in that case, just own it and apologize, and put measures in place to avoid missing emails.

Finally, there are tools to help you manage your email. You need to find what works for you. This might involve flagging emails that need your response to remind you to respond. This way you can see the flagged emails. You might consider leaving emails as “unread” until you have time to respond, which allows you to sort them. It might also involve culling through your inbox once a week to make sure you missed nothing.

Find what works best for you, just please read all of the emails you receive and read the entire email. While you feel it may cost you valuable time, it actually takes less time.


Anne Converse Willkomm
Associate Dean, Graduate College
Associate Teaching Professor, Dept. of Communication, College of Arts & Sciences
Drexel University
Posted in interpersonal-communications, professional-development-career-tips