7 Ways We Can Work Together to Restore E-Mail Sanity

7/13/12Follow @wroush

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never use the Reply All button—unless, of course, you’re trying to take revenge on someone who cc:d you.

4. If your message is simple enough, put the whole thing in the subject line.

The recipient will not be offended by your brevity. On the contrary, just think what bliss it will bring when they receive a message that they can read and delete without even having to open it. There’s an acronym to signify this type of one-line missive as well: EOM, for End of Message.

Many e-mail clients will resist you on this one, asking you in a pop-up whether you really meant to leave the body of the message empty. Ignore it and move on.

5. Don’t send an e-mail when an IM, a text message, or a DM on Twitter will do.

All of these other forms of communication encourage shorter messages that are more goal-directed and to-the-point. Also, there’s a less rigid set of expectations around them—people don’t get as antsy and irritated if you don’t respond right away. (A phone call is sometimes a good substitute for an e-mail—but think carefully, since a ringing phone is an interruption and is often even more bothersome than an e-mail.)

A hat tip to New York Times blogger Nick Bilton on this item. He wrote last week that he’s going to take a cue from his teenage cousin, and shift more of his communication over to text, Twitter, Facebook, and Google Talk while paying less attention to e-mail. I hope it works out for him.

6. Don’t send an e-mail when Google or Siri can answer the question.

Are you looking for directions, trying to find a phone number, or confirming an appointment? Don’t take up a fellow human’s time. Let today’s super-duper search and calendar tools take care of it—that’s why our defense establishment invested billions of dollars in AI research. Of course, if you’re lucky enough to have minions who keep track of all these things for you, feel free to bother them. Just don’t be surprised if they reply by directing you to lmgtfy.com.

7. Don’t spam people.

Do I even need to say this? Apparently so. I’m not talking about true industrial-strength spam, which is a separate problem, or about e-mail lists or subscription newsletters. I’m just talking about the mass messages we send out even when we’re not really sure if the recipients will be interested. To give you a personal example: every day, I get dozens of press releases from PR representatives who clearly haven’t bothered to check whether I cover their industry or their geographical area. With a little research, they could have narrowed down their e-mail blasts to people who would be more likely to respond—and less likely to be annoyed.

* * *

There you have it—seven small ways you can help to stem the e-mail flood. Of course, I’m as guilty of contributing to the crisis as everyone else. I want people to think I’m nice, for example, so I often break Rule No. 2 about not replying unless asked. But when I have to spend every other weekend zeroing out my inbox, the cost of being nice is getting too high. It’s time to try something different.

If you’ll stop e-mailing me, I’ll stop e-mailing you. Deal?

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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  • http://www.facebook.com/VCRrepairman Del Riley

    What did we ever do before email? I know, we actually got real work done.

  • Jill D.

    You give me hope! : )

    • http://www.xconomy.com/san-francisco Wade Roush

      Great Jill! We have to work together on this! Also, I’m still on the lookout for better e-mail management tools and will continue to report back about that. Right now I’m trying out one called Sanebox.

      • Jill D.

        you are Jill’s parent? don’t you think it’s a little biased praising her post?

  • Jordan

    This article sucks

  • http://www.facebook.com/tammy.karn Tammy Smith Karn

    I suspect that many people handle e-mail like most of male colleagues – they ignore it until someone tells them “Hey, I need a answer to…” or “Have you….yet”.

  • http://about.me/miketrap Mike Troiano

    The model is broken, Wade. Turns out empowering the whole world to push what they want at us with no variable cost was a bad idea. Hence, social media…http://bostinno.com/channels/helping-people-over-30-get-social-media/