Sometimes being kept in the loop can feel more like a noose around your neck. Take e-mail, for example. The constant alerts and the “reply all” frenzy can really choke your thought process and work flow.

Jason Rogers/Flickr

Jason Rogers/Flickr

Recently, we at C2 Strategic Communications have been working on a large project involving team members at multiple entities and in different cities. E-mail and conference calls help us organize and prioritize. But after a while, “reply all” was about to get the best of everybody.

We found a workable solution, but the entire scenario had me thinking about best practices to use e-mail efficiently, specifically with “reply all.”

Think before you respond

  • Don’t reply all to say “thanks” or “agreed.” If you’re not adding something meaningful to the discussion, simply reply to the sender. Or not – if your lack of response indicates agreement or lack of interest.
  • Do include only recipients who need to know – whether it’s your response or an original message. Carefully consider the relevance of your e-mail’s content to recipients.

Simplify meeting planning

How many times have you received a group e-mail asking when everyone is available for a meeting, and EVERYONE on the list hits “reply all” to chime in with their availability? There’s a better way:

  • Use shared electronic calendars. When everyone in an organization shares their calendars, meeting organizers can see at a glance where common openings are. No e-mails other than the meeting invitation are necessary.
  • Doodle. If you need to plan meetings across organizations, where shared calendars aren’t possible or appropriate, then Doodle, an online scheduling site, is great. One meeting organizer is free, but other packages are less than $100 a year. An organizer sets up an event with, say, two or three preferred time slots and sends out the link to attendees to let them “vote” for their preferred times. Then the organizer can see which time slot would have the best attendance.

Regroup and (gasp!) TALK

On the C2 project, we designated team members to focus on particular task areas of the project, which helped narrow down who should be included on what e-mail threads.

To lessen teamwide e-mail updates, we planned for regular conference calls with itemized agendas to keep everyone in the loop. Focused meetings succinctly update the team at large – and give team members opportunities to offer input and feedback on areas outside their project focus.

In addition, just TALKING about the overload of the “reply all” e-mails has made team members more judicious in using the function.

Our new internal communications process for this project doesn’t always work perfectly, but these days we’re breathing easier when managing our e-mailboxes.

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