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The #1 distraction at work affecting productivity per many studies is email. Whether it is important or frivolous, whatever falls into your email inbox demands your attention.  You need to read it to see if action or response is required from you and ignoring them makes it worse as your inbox becomes overwhelmed with hundreds of emails.  Identifying what is important becomes more and more difficult because you are worried about missing an important message in the barrage of messages.  We have all felt the weight of the number of emails in your inbox that need your attention.

The solution is to reduce the number of emails in your inbox, obviously, and thus defining a company policy about email is beneficial so that everyone understands who should be included in an email thread.

The “To” Field

Add email addresses in the To field for people you are specifically addressing. When people see that an email is directly sent to them, they will be under the impression they need to respond or complete an action.  So, the To field should only include those people you are directly responding to or who need to take action on the issue contained in the email content.  If someone is not responsible for an action or are not the person who asked you to respond, they should not be included in the To field.

Avoid adding more people to the To line then necessary as they will think they need to take action on something in the email and if that is not the case, it may create confusion.

The CC (Carbon Copy) field

People often think by ‘CC’ing’ a colleague that they are ‘keeping them in the loop,’ but this isn’t always the best way to keep people informed. Firstly, this means the receipt has to read through the message to figure out why they received it and this could include going through a whole conversation of messages, which ultimately wastes time and may just create more questions anyway.  A better idea may be to bring it up with them at a daily/weekly meeting or sending them a direct email saying, “Bill, can you please read this section of the report” or simply copying and pasting the information they need to read and sending it to them directly.

Also, by ‘CC’ing’ your colleagues in too many emails they may begin to stop seeing your emails as important and may place them directly into a ‘reference’ folder or ‘read later folder.’  This may lead to important information being missed in the future.   The more email you get that is not specifically important to you, the more likely something important will be missed in the haystack of email.

Be kind to everyone in your firm and spend the time to determine who actually needs to read this email.  It should only include people who specifically asked you for something, people who are now charged with action on the topic and anyone who has immediate need of knowing that an issue is being handled by others.  Do not include everyone when they are not responsible for handling anything contained in the email.  The time saved on reading and then handling volumes of email will help everyone stay productive and avoid the task of having to clean an inbox that contains hundreds of emails that now need to be read and by now are probably no longer relevant.

Reply All:  Is it necessary?

Don’t use just because it is easy.  Choose who needs to be made aware of your response to the original email content.  We have all be part of a lengthy email conversation between 2 people with several others Cc’d until you just tune out the conversation.  At that point, if something important that did need to be addressed to you occurs, you will like not see it because of the needless Cc’ing that already occurred.


Use CC sparingly.  Do not cc anyone unless they need to be made aware of the current conversation.

  • Use CC when a department, members of a team or a manager need current information about the continual progress of a particular project, event Etc.
  • When interested parties such as management or team members specifically ask to be kept informed of certain projects or events
  • CC someone in when you are sending a message to someone else but you’re allowing the people in the CC line to be kept in the loop and you are letting the person you emailed it to; know who else is up to speed.  This should be used sparingly and should not be used to keep people in the loop who do not need to kept in the loop or who can be made aware of the status of an issue via weekly or monthly company meetings.
  • Use CC if you are doing a job on behalf of someone else so they can see the progress of the job

But Please Don’t:

  • Don’t CC someone if you are expecting them to respond to the email. They need to be addressed to in the To field
  • Don’t CC someone because it is just easier to include everyone than to determine who actually needs to get a “courtesy copy” of this email.

The more egregious that should be avoided at all cost.

  • Don’t CC people in to cover your arse, by CC’ing people so if something goes wrong you can say “but you saw my email.” This isn’t appropriate or cool
  • Don’t CC people to embarrass someone. We hear all too often about someone in a team will make a harmless mistake and when another colleague picks it up, emails them and CCs their managers and fellow workers in to passively embarrass them. No this is also not cool
  • Don’t CC your boss in to prove they were wrong on a comment or suggestion they made
  • Don’t CC people in to remove your responsibilities. For example, you’re working with another co-worker and you’ve completed your part so you email the other person and CC people from the department and management to let them know they haven’t completed their section

Other policies that can reduce email and thereby reduce time spent on this distraction:

  • Take a minute to unsubscribe from email that you get that you are constantly deleting without reading.  Unsubscribe knowing that if that sender subsequently becomes important to you, you can find them again.
  • Make sure you have enabled whatever Spam filters your email provider offers so that most of the phishing and other junk or dangerous email will be caught and put into your spam folder.
  • Have specific times during the day when you read and respond to email.  Choose 2 or 3 times during the day to dedicate yourself to reading and responding to email.  The rest of the day, focus on your work tasks.  Your work will be the better for it and almost everything in an email can wait a couple of hours before you need to respond.
  • Email is not the best form of internal communication, so if you can use something else that segregates internal messages from external messages, all the better.  Practice management apps, and any number of other apps are available that can host internal communication to the point where email is only for people outside of your firm.

Post Author: Tricia O'Connor CPA MBA