If you look at your inbox right now, chances are good there are several unnecessary email trails. Do your part to stop the madness by adopting the following habits.
First, and most importantly, before you automatically start writing an email, ask yourself, “What is the fastest and most efficient way to communicate about X?” Then use that method unless the other person has explicitly stated a preference.
Set a limit for how many emails are acceptable and stick to it. If you’re trying to schedule a lunch, it can easily take 10 back-and-forth emails to nail down the date that works for both of you. (“How about Thursday? No, how about the 15th? What about the 27th?”) If you can’t agree on a date within 2 rounds, pick up the phone and compare your calendars in real time. It’ll take 5 minutes and save you endless frustration, email volume, and a lot of distraction.
If you’re on the receiving end, only respond to the thread if you have something substantive to say. “Thank you” does not count. You can always let the sender know you’ve received the email privately if that’s your concern.
Ask to be taken off the email trail if your participation is unnecessary. Send a separate email or make a quick call. Give your subordinates guidelines so they know when they should cc you on messages—which should be almost never—you can always ask them to forward the trail to you later if you need to review something.
Your time is valuable. Make sure you keep strong boundaries so that you are using your energy for the highest payoff activities.