6 Simple Tricks to More Productive E-Mail

In 1994, my prep school friends dispersed across the country to their respective colleges and universities. Back then, only a handful of us has access to email. I barely remember my address: l-hayes@ux5.cso.uiuc.edu. (Side note: the first digital picture I received - from a computer whiz kid across the dormitory hallway: a dolphin jumping out of the water. Really? A dolphin? Still, it was pretty amazing to transmit a picture, even at the 45-minute conversion!)

Despite social media, browsing algorithms, and other direct messaging, email is still very alive. But it does appear, that email skills and etiquette have been tainted with the increase of those other more casual communication platforms.

The Illinois Model exists to increase productivity, adaptability, decision-making, and project management. Its theories are applied to email as well.

Here are six simple tricks you should be using to enhance your email productivity and efficiency. There is nothing spectacular here. Yet I continue to see poor email skills, especially in our younger folks:


What's the image I get from a potential business collaborator when her email address is CubzWin23@xxx.com? Except for your grandmother, no one should be using one centralized email address. Separate work and pleasure.  I maintain three: an official government account, a side business account, and a personal account. They each serve their own purpose, speaking for the appropriate brand or organization.

When content drifts (like new business messaging to/from a personal contact), kindly shift the conversation to the appropriate account. Simply explain why certain accounts exist; I've yet to have a recipient challenge a request to shift to an alternate account. And be sure each of those accounts has an individualized...


Who the heck are you? Who do you represent? This isn't a text message or a passed note in middle school. Sign your email. The signature function allows for a pre-formatted closure to your email or reply. Again, personalize these signatures to match your account purpose.

While I stay away from images in my signatures, one of mine in particular includes:
  • name
  • organization
  • location
  • physical address
  • telephone numbers
  • hyperlinks to social media accounts
In short, you know who you are,. Make sure others do too! Don't forget the signature functions on your mobile devices! Because you communicate with a variety of people for a variety of reasons..it's also time to set up...


Maybe your work email is used to coordinate a few separate projects. Maybe you subscribe to a variety of e-newsletters or catalogs. Maybe you oversee a few different functions. Maybe you can gather clients, vendors, or customers into certain groupings. If this is the case, set up multiple "folders" in your inbox or account.

Folders allow you to categorize messages...and quickly access them. Which brings us to the next trick...


Some email services allow a user to set up "rules" for messages. For example, I receive a daily intelligence briefing at work. I have a rule set up so that all of those briefings go directly into their own special folder. In fact, I have a half-dozen rules set up for various auto-generated emails, lists, subscriptions, and subjects. It makes things really neat for me to scroll my inbox and stay on point.

And to maximize the effectiveness of rules, it can help if your communications also include well-structured...


If there is one thing I'm a stickler about with email, it's the subject line. A clear and pointed subject line can help organize your inbox...and is respectful of your recipients' inboxes! One of my pet peeves is when I see ambiguous subject lines such as:
  • Training
  • For Your Approval
  • Thought You'd Like This.

Instead, tailor your subject lines so they snapshot the content. Some frameworks I've pulled from my sent folder:
  • Team / Project / Task (ex: Firearm Instructors / Range Cleaning / HazMat disposal)
  • Project / Action Item (ex: Growing Adaptive Thinking course / review handout)
  • Team / Event / Date (ex: Training Committee / quarterly meeting / 01 June 2017)
  • Media / Genre / "Title" (ex: Video / TEDx / "The Power of Generalism")

Keep in mind that while you might be focused on one or two projects or teams, your email recipients might be spinning a dozen plates and juggling even more balls. Categorizing your email message by using crafty subject lines can help everyone stay on task.

In keeping with this practice, consider limiting the number of topics in each message. 

And lastly...when you're not going to be responding right away...


With today's tech connectivity, we all expect immediate responses. We can argue whether or not these are reasonable expectations or not. Or we can simply work according to them. Set up an auto-reply message that includes:

  • that you will or will not respond
  • when the sender can expect a response
  • who is handling certain tasks or functions in your absence
  • how you can be reached (if you even want to be reached!).

Email is not going away anytime soon. The above list contains some simple tricks to boost productivity and efficiency in your communications.

We can certainly get into a list of even more email courtesies and practices. Like when to CC or BCC. Or what format to send attachment documents in (like .DOCX versus .PDF for example).  For now, let's be sure we are utilizing some of these most basic email productivity practices.

What other tricks do you use to keep yourself and your inbox on track?


Lou Hayes, Jr. is a police training unit supervisor. He studies human performance, productivity, emotional intelligence, and adaptability. Follow Lou on Twitter at @LouHayesJr


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