Chris Anderson laments we can “spend most of our working week simply handling the contents of our in-boxes. And in doing so, we’re making the problem worse. Every reply, every cc, creates new work for our friends and colleagues. The total time taken to respond to an email is often MORE than the time it took to create it.” Mr. Anderson’s ideas for “fixing” email aren’t new but well worth sharing here:
Respect Recipients’ Time. This is the fundamental rule. As the message sender, the onus is on YOU to minimize the time your email gobbles at the other end — even if it means taking more time at your end before sending.
Be Easy to Process. This means: crisp sentences, unambiguous questions, keep it short. If the email absolutely has to be longer than 100 words, make sure the first sentence is clear about the basic reason for writing.
Chose Clear Subject Lines.
Here are some that don’t work:
Subject: Re: re: re: re
Subject: Hello from me!
Subject: next week….
Subject: MY AMAZING NEW SHOW starts next week at the Vctory Theater at 113-86 Broad Lane, every night 8 PM 6/7–7/12
Here are some that do:
Subject: TED Partnership Proposal
Subject: Rescheduling today’s dinner with Sarah G.
Subject: Noon meeting cancelled (eom). EOM means ‘end of message.’ It’s a fine gift to your recipient. They don’t have to spend the time actually opening the message.
Short Does Not Mean Rude! Let’s mutually agree that it’s OK for emails — and replies — to be really short. They don’t have to include the usual social niceties, though the occasional emoticon is no bad thing ;-) . No one wants to come over as brusque, so don’t take it that way. We just want our lives back!
Slow Does Not Mean Uncaring! Let’s also agree that it’s OK if someone doesn’t respond quickly, or ever. I’s not that they don’t love you. They may just not want to be owned by their in-box. Avoid sending chasing emails, unless you’re desperate. It’s only exacerbating the problem.
Abhor Open-Ended Questions. It’s really mean to send someone an email with four long paragraphs of turgid text followed by “Thoughts?”. It’s generous to figure out how you can offer people simple yes/no questions – or multiple choice! “When you have a moment could you let me know if you’re A) firmly in favor, B) mildly in favor C) against or D) no opinion. Thanks!”
Cut Gratuitous Responses. You don’t need to reply to every email. If I say “Thanks for your note. I’m in.” You don’t have to reply “Great.” That just cost me another 30 seconds. If you must confirm, put it in the subject line with an ‘eom’.
Think Before you cc: cc:’s are like mating bunnies. Like Tribbles from Star Trek. Like spilling a tub of olive oil-coated spaghetti on a well-waxed floor. Like too many metaphors. Most of them are unnecessary, and they are hard to get rid of. The rule should be: for every additional cc, you must increase the time you spend making sure your outgoing email is crisp and that it’s clear who needs to respond, if anyone. And if you reply to an email, take care to ask whether you really need to include everyone cc’ed on the original email.
Speak Softly. DO NOT USE ALL CAPS IN THE BODY OF YOUR EMAIL. It’s rather like screaming at someone. And they’re hard to read – as are most unusual fonts and colors. Simple sans serif fonts like Arial, Helvetica, Verdana work best. If you want to add some zing to your emails, design a personalized signature tag.
Attack Attachments. Don’t use them unless they’re critical. Some people have all kinds of graphics files as logos or signatures that appear as attachments at the receiver. Not cool. Time is wasted trying to see if there’s something to open. Even worse is sending text as an attachment when it could just as easily have been included in the body of the email and saved that extra click-and-wait.
If you send an invite to an event, it’s fine to include an attachment that announces it visually. But:
-If there is a URL, include it in text form so it shows up as a clickable link. Or make the whole image itself a clickable link. Not fair to expect someone to retype a url !
-Please include the location, date and time in text format so that the information can be quickly copied and pasted. That way it can quickly be added to a calendar. (And error free. You don’t want “The Knickerbocker Club, 7:30 PM, black-tie required” to morph into “The Kickboxer Club, 7:30 AM, black-belt required”.)
Make it easy to unsubscribe. If you send out email newsletters, please make it easy to stop the flow. Letters that prompt rage are not helping your brand!
Think about the thread. Some e-mails depend for their meaning on context. Which means it’s usually right to include the thread which they’re responding to. But it’s rare that a thread should extend to more than 3 emails. Before sending, cut the crap!
Don’t reply when angry. Just walk away from the computer. Stamp your feet. Scream out the window. Do not send an email until your emotions have calmed. One rude, jerky email can tar you for life… and spark an even worse response.
Use NNTR. “No need to respond.” Use it in a subject line, right before EOM. Or use it at the end of an email. What a gift to your recipient!
Pay a voluntary email tax. The reason email is escalating is because it’s free. No one wants to change that… but what if at the end of each month, you quickly totted up how many emails you had sent, multiply by the average number of cc’s, and pay that number of cents into a personal book-buying account. You’ll end up with a lot of great books… and it might just pull you away from the goddam computer for a bit! Speaking of which…
Switch off the computer! This could be the most important rule of all. If we all agreed to spend less time doing email, we’d all get less email! Consider… calendaring half-days at work where you refuse to look at email. Consider… email-free weekends. Consider… setting up the following auto-response. “Thank you for your note. As a personal commitment to my and my family’s mental health, I now do email only on Wednesdays. I’ll reply to as many as I can next Wednesday. Thanks for writing. Don’t forget to smell the roses.”