Overload your ‘To’ address field: Don’t do that. Do this instead.

This article is part of our Don’t do that. Do this instead series.*

Too Many Cooks (or in this case, recipients)

What have cooks got to do with anything? What am I talking about? Well, here is what I’m talking about: ‘too many cooks spoil the broth‘.  In essence, this means that if too many people are involved, no one knows who is meant to do what: “have you added the salt, do I need to add the salt? I’ll just throw a little extra in to be safe”.

The same thing happens when you include everyone in the To box when addressing your emails. If you pile everyone into the To box then those you are writing to don’t know what their role is meant to be: are they meant to reply? reply all (this requires a whole post of its own!)? ignore it? wait until someone else replies first? HELP!

Mass all your recipients in the To field: DON’T DO THAT
When you lump everyone in that one box you generally create confusion, and here is what happens (or doesn’t happen) as a result:

  • No one knows who is expected to act
  • No one replies (because they are waiting for someone else to do so)
  • Some people reply, but forget to ‘reply all’, so only you get the information
  • Some people do ‘reply all’ but forget that they are speaking to everyone, and inadvertently cause offense
  • Everyone replies, at the same time, with differing ideas and opinions – leaving you to sort out the ensuing mess

There are other scenarios but we haven’t got the time. So, instead of being the architect of the above (or worse):

DO THIS INSTEAD: Clearly address your emails
The genius of email is that it offers up terrific options to organize your audience. This not only helps you sort out who needs the information but also helps your audience understand their roles. Couple this with a clearly worded email (letting every one know their part) and you will be on to a winner.

This field is for the people on the email:

  • Who have an active role
  • From who you need a reply and/or opinion
  • Are required to participate

For those too young to have taken Grade 10 typing (22 words per minute, thank you very much!), C.C. stands for Carbon Copy.  The was the copy of the correspondence that went into a file or to people who needed to be kept informed but where not required to act. The same rule holds true in email.  If you use C.C. well, then you will lesson confusion among your recipients. It should be used for:

  • People who need to be kept informed but have no active role
  • People who may not be currently involved but will have an active role in the future
  • ‘Interested parties’ i.e. a colleague, boss or other person who might be keeping an eye on things

Blind Carbon Copy. This is a great (and under used) tool for sending out bulk emails. It allows you to send one email to many, while keeping their details private. There are many people who don’t want their contact details shared with others, using B.C.C. ensures information stays hidden. B.C.C. is best used for:

  • Bulk emails
  • Emails to a group (even if small) who may not know each other
  • People you want to keep informed but who wish to stay anonymous

Your Message
If you combine the above use of the address boxes with a clearly laid our message then your messages will be acted on and answered by all the right people.

Cooking up a storm
Let’s take a look at two examples. If we go back to the broth for a moment, your first message might look like this, which may, or may not, get you edible broth:


TO: Fortesque@cooksrus; Esmerelda@toomanycooks; Fred@kitcheniscrowded; Felicity@itshotinhere; Lucretia@wheresmyladdle
Subject: Please make broth before I get home

Dear All,

I will be home late. Please make sure the broth is made by the time I get in.


The Hungry Land Lady

In the above example, I haven’t set a specific expectation (simply a vague ‘I’ll be late’) and no one knows who is in charge.  The results of this vagueness could be:

  • Time wasted while they all work out what to do
  • Disagreements about who is in charge resulting in internal strife
  • No action at all because no one wants to take responsibility
  • Everyone trying to pile into the kitchen at once to impress the boss
  • The broth not ready when I get home because I haven’t given specifics

Try this instead:


TO:   Felicity@itshotinhere
CC:   Fortesque@cooksrus; Esmeralda@toomanycooks; Fred@kitchenscrowded
BCC: Lucretia@wheresmyladdle
Subject: Please make broth before I get home

Dear Felicity,

I will be home late this evening; I expect to be in by 8:00pm. Please co-ordinate with Fortesque, Esmeralda and Fred make sure the broth is made by the time I get in.


The Hungry Land Lady

Although this email isn’t much longer, it’s much more straightforward:

  • The expectation is set, and a time line is provided
  • One person has been put in charge but those who will be helping have been copied so that they understand what’s going on
  • One person has been blind copied because although they are important to the message they are merely observing the correspondence.

Setting the information out this way saves a HUGE amount of back and forth.  I will say this again because it’s that important: setting the information out this way saves a HUGE amount of back and forth. It reduces the time spent as well as misunderstandings.

Take five
Take the time to think through who really needs to be in the To box, and why. Then put everyone else in the CC box.  Once you’ve done that, lay out your message so that everyone has a clear idea of what they are meant to be doing.

If you do this you will be seen as a truly polished professional.


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Your Stories
We’ve all fallen foul of rude or thoughtless behaviour…sometimes it’s even we who have been guilty of it.

If you have a story you’d like to share, please feel free to send me a note using the contact form and I’ll include it here.


*What is this series about?
Have you ever had your relationship with a colleague, client or boss change suddenly – and not for the better? Yet you’ve not been able to put your finger on why.

Small actions. Big Impact.
I’ve always maintained that some of the smallest things we do often have the biggest impact on how our professionalism is viewed.  In this series, “Don’t do that. Do this instead.”, I help you avoid the tiny (and not so tiny) things that can trip you up and place barriers between you and your success.

Small bites for easy digestion.
Each entry is intended to cover one small piece of a larger topic. However, even though seemingly small, each and every action has a big impact.