A few months ago I notice that a friend was linking to this email charter at the end of his messages. I ignored it several times, but eventually was curious enough to open the link and see what this was about. Perhaps this charter is already familiar to you, but I hadn’t seen it before. I found it eminently sensible. I’m still thinking about how to implement some of the good advice.
Take a few minutes to read the “10 Rules to Reverse the Email Spiral” for yourself. I’ll intersperse a few comments along the way in italics.
1. Respect Recipients’ Time
This is the fundamental rule. As the message sender, the onus is on YOU to minimize the time your email will take to process. Even if it means taking more time at your end before sending.
Good word. Let’s think about who needs this email and what we are asking from them, if anything. And let’s not ask too much. Pick up the phone if you want to converse at length.
2. Short or Slow is not Rude
Let’s mutually agree to cut each other some slack. Given the email load we’re all facing, it’s OK if replies take a while coming and if they don’t give detailed responses to all your questions. No one wants to come over as brusque, so please don’t take it personally. We just want our lives back!
Since we can respond immediately, we start to expect responses immediately. I find myself thinking, “It’s been two hours, what’s the deal?” Allow for hours or even days before a response. And let’s be okay with terse emails that don’t involve a lot of “how are things” and “I hope you are doing swell.” Email is a different medium than letter writing.
3. Celebrate Clarity
Start with a subject line that clearly labels the topic, and maybe includes a status category [Info], [Action], [Time Sens] [Low Priority]. Use crisp, muddle-free sentences. If the email has to be longer than five sentences, make sure the first provides the basic reason for writing. Avoid strange fonts and colors.
Yes. One bold or italicized line makes a point, but several different fonts with multiple colors and extraneous underlining and exclamation points makes it harder, not easier, to get the big idea.
4. Quash Open-Ended Questions
It is asking a lot to send someone an email with four long paragraphs of turgid text followed by “Thoughts?”. Even well-intended-but-open questions like “How can I help?” may not be that helpful. Email generosity requires simplifying, easy-to-answer questions. “Can I help best by a) calling b) visiting or c) staying right out of it?!”
Multiple choice is a great idea. Or again, pick up the phone.
5. Slash Surplus cc’s
cc’s are like mating bunnies. For every recipient you add, you are dramatically multiplying total response time. Not to be done lightly! When there are multiple recipients, please don’t default to ‘Reply All’. Maybe you only need to cc a couple of people on the original thread. Or none.
Don’t keep people in the know unless they want to know or truly need to know.
6. Tighten the Thread
Some emails depend for their meaning on context. Which means it’s usually right to include the thread being responded to. But it’s rare that a thread should extend to more than 3 emails. Before sending, cut what’s not relevant. Or consider making a phone call instead.
And please try to adjust your settings so that your reply comes at the beginning of the email instead of at the end of the whole thread. That’s a lot of scrolling to get your “You betcha.”
7. Attack Attachments
Don’t use graphics files as logos or signatures that appear as attachments. Time is wasted trying to see if there’s something to open. Even worse is sending text as an attachment when it could have been included in the body of the email.
Indeed, this has confused me before.
8. Give these Gifts: EOM NNTR
If your email message can be expressed in half a dozen words, just put it in the subject line, followed by EOM (= End of Message). This saves the recipient having to actually open the message. Ending a note with “No need to respond” or NNTR, is a wonderful act of generosity. Many acronyms confuse as much as help, but these two are golden and deserve wide adoption.
Like the goal, but not sure my life needs more acronyms. But I do appreciate “no need to respond.”
9. Cut Contentless Responses
You don’t need to reply to every email, especially not those that are themselves clear responses. An email saying “Thanks for your note. I’m in.” does not need you to reply “Great.” That just cost someone another 30 seconds.
Some of us find this harder than others. I feel like I should reply to someone’s reply, even if it is three words. But things would be simpler if we let clear responses have the last word.
If we all agreed to spend less time doing email, we’d all get less email! Consider calendaring half-days at work where you can’t go online. Or a commitment to email-free weekends. Or an ‘auto-response’ that references this charter. And don’t forget to smell the roses.
I heard this great idea years ago. Still don’t do. The spirit is willing but the mobile device is too convenient.
Final thought: just because you can email someone doesn’t mean they must email you back. Please respect people’s time and privacy, especially if they don’t know you. We are all more accessible than ever before. It’s not possible to respond to all (or most? or many?) of the strangers or long lost acquaintances that find a way to get a hold of us.