Quick Tip: Leverage Email Subject Lines for Efficiency

Would you like to help others, and yourself, spend less time on email? If so, here’s a valuable reminder, along with four tips that focus specifically on a single piece of the email efficiency puzzle, the subject line.

Recently at a volunteer fund-raising event, I was matched up to work with an employee of a non-profit where I delivered a personal effectiveness workshop last year.

She had attended the workshop, had enjoyed it a lot, and began telling me about the various valuable takeaways she had left with.

Although I shouldn’t have been, I was a bit surprised when she told me how valuable the ideas I had shared about email subject lines had turned out to be for her and her team.

All her team members adopted the use of concise categories in the subject line and it’s made their email exchanges must clearer and faster. She was very appreciative.

It was nice to hear her positive feedback, but it was also a great reminder of how impactful small improvements can be when applied to a huge time-consumer like email.

Given her team’s experience and her excitement, I thought you might enjoy learning what I shared with the workshop participants.

Here are four ways to make better use of email subject lines:

  • Use simple categories to create context for the reader. The three I use are Action, Info and Request. When used, they are usually the first word in the subject line. Each one creates a unique context and signals to the recipients what their reply probably will require. Two others that you might consider are Confirmed and Delivery.
  • Be concise, but descriptive, with your subject line text. Concise, but clear, subject line descriptions offer the essence of what is contained in the body of the email. With the combination of a category word and a concise description, the recipient can more easily prioritize, sort and search their emails without having to read the content first.
  • When possible, put the entire message in the subject line. This is a great time-saver and makes sense if the message is just a few words. When doing this, you’ll want to end your subject line with “eom” (end of message) to tell the reader there is no more content in the body of the email.
  • Change the subject line when the subject changes. As an email thread grows, the topic often ends up changing. When it does, you’ll want to modify the subject line to reflect the new direction of the thread. Or sometimes a better solution is to create and send a new email.

My first exposure to these ideas was through a somewhat quirky, but valuable little book called The Hamster Revolution. I want to give it’s authors their credit due and suggest that if you’re looking to improve the management of your email, this is one resource to go to.

Another book with lots of good ideas is E-MAIL – A Write It Well Guide, by Janis Fisher Chan.

I’ve found over the years that email is one of those productivity tools that requires constant attention if you want to keep from drowning in it.

I’m always on the lookout for new and better ways to handle my email. Sometimes just a small trick here and a small change there can yield big time savings.

“Everything can be improved.”  ~Clarence W. Barron (American journalist)

Question: What small changes or tricks have you found to bring about the greatest efficiency for you and others around email management?