Think before you send.By Chris Anderson (from the Washington Post)
It's barely 8 a.m., and I'm already drowning in e-mail. In the blink of an eye, my day's priorities have been commandeered. And more missives keep pouring in. It's essentially a fire hose of information all day long.
In the not-too-distant past, when you wanted to set up a meeting, ask for help and advice, or simply share something of interest, you would pick up the phone, send a letter, or meet face-to-face. Each involved a certain amount of effort, tact, and planning. Unless you were extremely close friends or in extreme crisis, you'd have been unlikely to barge into someone's house or office and expect, then and there, 20 minutes of thoughtful, focused attention.
But today, communication is friction-free. You can send a message from anywhere in the world, at any time of the day.
I love the power of instant communication to connect us across continents. But the unintended consequence is that the volume of communication is expanding to the point where it threatens to take over our lives. An e-mail inbox has been deemed a to-do list that anyone in the world can add to.
Why is e-mail volume getting ever worse? I believe it's because e-mail is easier to create than to respond to. This seems counterintuitive-after all, it's quicker to read than to write. But reading a message is just the start. It may contain a hard-to-answer question, such as "What are your thoughts on this?" Or a link to a Web page. Or an attachment. And it may be copied to a dozen other people, all of whom will soon chime in with their own comments. Every hour spent writing and sending messages consumes more than an hour of the combined attention of the various recipients.
One afternoon, after yet another tiring sparring session with the 200-plus messages in my inbox, my colleague Jane Wulf and I made a list of the most burdensome e-mails we'd encountered that day. That lighthearted brainstorming led to a blog post about the problem-a post that has been viewed more than 60,000 times-and an e-mail code of conduct. The points we ended up with encourage senders to reduce the time, effort, and stress required of responders. The idea is not just to change how you e-mail but also to consider whether you should even be sending an e-mail in the first place.
1) Respect recipients' time.
The onus is on the sender to minimize the time e-mail takes to process.
2) Give some leeway.
It's OK if replies take a while to come back and if the responder doesn't give detailed responses to all your questions.
3) Be clear.
Start with a subject line that clearly describes the topic. If the e-mail is longer than five
sentences, provide your reason for writing in the first line.
4) Avoid open-ended questions.
Don't send a four-paragraph e-mail followed by "Thoughts?" Even well-intended open questions like "How can I help?" may not be that helpful.
5) Slash surplus CCs: CCs are like mating bunnies.
For every recipient you add, you are dramatically multiplying total response time.
6) Tighten the thread:
It's rare that an e-mail thread should extend to more than three e-mails.
7) Attack attachments:
Don't use graphics files as logos or signatures that appear as attachments. Also, don't send text as an attachment when it could have been included
in the body of the e-mail.
8) Cut contentless responses.
A response saying "Thanks for your note … I'm in" does not call for you to reply "Great." That just cost someone another 30 seconds.
If we all agreed to spend less time e-mailing, we'd all get less e-mail!