Updated: Nov 19, 2020
A love-hate letter to my inbox
My first experience with an adult quantity of emails occurred at Agent99, a PR and advertising agency in Sydney. They received lots of emails. And as the sole intern, I managed the inbox frontline. Along with all my overall personal growth during my junior semester abroad, I finally began to workshop my rocky relationship with emails.
I'd never been one to respond to emails within 24 hours. I usually succumbed to inbox avoidance and resorted to apologizing for my delayed response days later. At Agent99 we were expected to respond to emails within 15 minutes, at most. I once observed an account manager reply to an email while maintaining her conversation with someone across the room. On another level. I, on the other hand, took 15 minutes (at full focus) to simply answer an internal, informal email. And important emails? 30 minute minimum at best.
The problem began with inbox intimidation. Even a few messages seemed overwhelming to deal with. Insecure about my clearly-novice email writing skills, I dreaded responding and let days pass by. Then each reply escalated into a whole ordeal: notice it's been a full week since receipt, experience a stab of anxiety, respond frantically with an essay-length paragraph, re-read aggressively, say a prayer to the email lords, and hit send.
Email etiquette and tone felt like a foreign language I was most certainly not proficient in. Every time I faced my inbox, I experienced neck cramps and way too much stress-sweat after second-guessing and re-reading my drafts at least 10 times.
I'm only slightly dramatizing the situation. It was bad. But, by the end of the three-month internship experience, I could officially say my pulse no longer spiked at the sight of an email notification.
Which brings us to the present. I am by no means a cool cucumber when facing my inbox. More like stressed spinach. But I can write a decently concise email (gone are the days of essay-length responses!). And I usually reply within two business days. I've even started to develop specific pet-peeves beyond just "receiving an email..."
Last week, I reached out to reconnect with a marketing director who had previously emphasized the importance of effective communication for successful business careers. In her response to my message, she included a compliment about my email.
I almost fainted. I had to get up and do a celebratory dance right there and then. Because who would have thought I, Sofia Sulikowski, could ever write a stellar email? And mere years after the anxious email days, too, *pat on the back*.
Yeah, it's taken me forever to get here. I still send some questionably-phrased emails. I can't say I've gotten any faster at whipping up my higher-quality drafts (just yesterday I spent 45 minutes writing a 150-word email). And I still have a very low email quantity tolerance.
But, I love connecting with people and email puts windows and doors in places that used to just be walls. Thus, the struggle to rise to an averagely capable emailer was worth the effort and stress. Thanks to the bumpy experience, I feel very qualified to give beginners some email advice. See below and add anything I missed in the comments!
Respond to emails as soon as you open them. No "mark as unread" action allowed. I admit, I still overuse the tempting function. I recently removed its swipe shortcut, though, which has somewhat helped.
Send lots of emails. Repetition creeps into all my advice lists, but: the more emails I write, the faster, more concise, and more confident I become.
Set an "email time." Experts recommend late morning and early evening. I've received this tip countless times yet resist implementing it. In case you find it useful though, I've included the suggestion. Disclaimer that it has not been tested for effectiveness by moi.
Use templates. Eventually, I found myself sending the same types of emails. So I created templates to replace digging through my sent mail looking for the latest similar email to copy-paste from. Templates save brainpower by providing a starting point and preventing the blank-page freeze. Use them.
Avoid the default Apple Mail app. There are many great email apps out there (Spark, Edison Email, Canary). Mail is not one of them.
Install Grammarly. Effectively alleviates typo stress.
Unsubscribe and spam-mark all unwanted emails. The extra time to do so (instead of just deleting) will save you from frustration and inbox clutter in the near future.