Experts weigh in on this and other common email misconceptions.

By Jillian Kramer
February 12, 2020

We've all heard the term "inbox zero," which means to whittle down our must-read messages to exactly zilch. Many of us feel the pressure to get there every day—no matter what else we have on our to-do lists. "We feel pressure to have our inboxes clear because we anticipate the stress we'll feel the next day if we get behind," explains Jennifer Spoelma, career coach and host of the Career Foresight podcast, "and the feeling of being behind at work is incredibly hard to shake. It's what makes us distracted at dinner and keeps us awake at night." But is that pressure warranted? Do we really have to reach inbox zero by the end of every day?

Getty / Yuri_Arcurs

According to Spoelma, the notion of inbox zero is a misconception, and it's actually something that can be detrimental to our mental health. "Email is unpredictable," Spoelma explains. "You never know who will pop into your inbox, what their request of you will be, or how long it will take to respond to them. Prioritizing emails is really prioritizing everyone else's needs above your own." Of course, if you are a business owner, in sales, or in a role that directly supports customers, then it becomes more important to at least read your emails by the end of each day. "Responsiveness to clients and potential clients can make or break deals for your business," Spoelma explains. But inbox zero is hardly the only email misconception many workers believe in and stress over. Here are three more things about email you may believe—but aren't necessarily true.

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You have to answer questions immediately.

When someone sends a question via email, it can be tempting to answer immediately. But if the question requires research or outside communications, Kaitlyn Merola, email marketing expert and founder of Möve Marketing, says that it's better to take the time you need to craft the correct reply. "In the meantime, just shoot the person an email back that says, 'I'll look into it and get back to you,' or 'let me do some digging and see what I can find,' to give yourself the time you need to put your answer together," she says. The emailer will feel heard, and you won't feel stressed.

You have to add exclamation points and emojis.

You might think that adding exclamation points and emojis make you seem warm and bubbly, but "a straightforward reply is always better than one with too much fluff," says Merola. "Just because we're women and it's in our nature to make those around us feel nurtured and taken care of, sometimes that's completely unnecessary in email. For the sake of forward progress and getting a project done, it's okay to reply with, 'got it,' or, 'sounds good,' or 'looking forward to it,' and leave it at that."

You have to cram everything into an email.

When a conversation has started via email, it's easy to keep it that way—but it's not always the best method for communication. "There are times when it's better to get on the phone with someone and explain your response in your own voice as opposed to typing it all out in an email," says Merola. That's especially true in cases where there could be conflict or tension. "There are inflections in the way you speak versus the way you might type that help the recipient understand where you are emotionally," she says. "So, email them back and offer your cell number so they can give you a call. Something like, 'I'd like to talk further about this, and here's my number. Would you give me a call so we can chat?'"

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