Stop Email Abuse


By Jeff Oltmann 

Portland, Oregon, USA

Execs and Interns Alike

Everyone from executives to interns endures the effects of email abuse.  In many organizations, email abuse is even worse than meeting abuse.  I strongly recommend that project teams establish rules of engagement for project-related email.  Here are my seven favorite ground rules.

What to Write

The first four ground rules concern the content of an email – what you write. 


Select a valuable subject line.  To survive the onslaught of hundreds of emails every day, many people delete emails after scanning only the subject line.  Make everyone more efficient by keeping subject lines concise and accurate.  You can use certain standard prefixes in subject lines to quickly convey what action is needed before the recipient even opens the message. For example, AR means immediate action required, and FYI means for your information.  Also agree on what circumstances justify marking an email as urgent.


Stick to a single topic.  If you add more, chances are high that the recipients will only notice the first one, and then you’ll have to send a follow-up email anyway.


Stay above the fold.  Keep emails short.  Program manager and author James T. Brown recommends a one page limit, but I think that nearly all emails should be even shorter than that.   Newspaper editors use the term “above the fold” to refer to any story that appears in the top section of a folded newspaper, and thus gets more readership.  Similarly, try to make the total content of your message appear above the fold, readable at a glance without scrolling. 


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About the Author

jeff-oltmannflag-usaJeff Oltmann

Oregon, USA

Jeff Oltmann is principal consultant at Synergy Professional Services, LLC in Portland, Oregon (www.spspro.com).  He is also on the graduate faculty of the Division of Management at Oregon Health and Science University.  Jeff welcomes your questions and ideas.  You can contact him at [email protected] or read previous articles at www.spspro.com/resources.htm.