December 02, 2015

Student holding a laptop

It’s easy to understand when you’re breaking a written rule. Speeding, without wearing a seatbelt, while texting – that’s a trifecta of broken rules.

Unwritten rules are trickier. They fall in a foggy gray area of wrongdoing--like waiting until the last possible moment to merge into a line of traffic, or taking up two parking spaces. Maybe you haven’t run afoul of the law, but you’ve probably fouled up someone’s morning.

Unwritten rules don’t stop at the interstate. The workplace is full of them. Much like conference room etiquette, here are five simple rules to abide by when emailing your colleagues:

  • Always give context in your subject line. “Hello” is not a subject line. Neither is “Status.”
  • Cut to the chase. Put the most important items in the beginning of your message.
  • Use attachments sparingly. If you’re sending 20 photos, or a 20MB file, try a file sharing service like Dropbox instead.
  • Write for a person reading on a smartphone – use short, easy-to-scan blocks of content and bullets to get your point across.
  • And finally, resist the temptation to reply all unless you’ve been asked to and you’ve got valuable information to share.

Improving your email skills may not get you an immediate raise or promotion, but it can help you be much more productive at the office. If it seems like you’re always checking email, it’s true. You spend over a quarter of your time at work managing your inbox. Getting more efficient can help you shift focus to more important tasks that should account for the lion’s share of your day, like sales, management, or research. And it can help free up time to develop other essential traits that’ll advance your career, like strategic thinking, leadership and interpersonal skills.

Looking for more ways to get ahead at work? Start by filling out the form right on this page.