Productivity drain – email pet hates

Before I get into full rant mode, please can I clarify something: this is a case of ‘physician heal thyself’, as much of what I’ve identified as email pet hates are things I’ve been guilty of and am still working on. But when I hear people saying they’re getting over 300 emails a day, I worry about it – and them. What’s to be done?

It’s not that long ago that we talked about giving an email the ‘two minute test’: in other words, if you could deal with it in two minutes or less, get on with it; if not file it and make a date/time to deal with it later. So let’s say that our 300-a-day person gives each email no more than 2 minutes – sure, they’ll delete a lot (hopefully!), but there will be others that take longer, so we let’s try this rough average – that’s 600 minutes. Which equals… ten hours. Maybe they’re an email ninja master, and can tear through the stuff at a ferocious average of 1 minute each – that’s 300 minutes, or five hours. It’s still a sizeable chunk of time, and chances are, not all of it productive because of poor use of the medium.

Here are my pet peeves:

Huge long screeds. Help me out here – please use paragraphs, shorter sentences, and some common-sense punctuation. Numbers are also good. But also stop to think: is email the best medium or would this be quicker for all parties if the sender just picked up the phone? If different time zones are involved, it may still make sense to email, but beware how the essay will land with other cultures.

No title or subject line. ‘Re:’ doesn’t really make the cut if I’ve got dozens of emails in the inbox and am sifting for the most important; nor does ‘FYI’. And here’s one I’m learning to do: yes we can edit the subject line when we’re forwarding! So we can add ‘thought you’d find this interesting’ or ‘read this and then call me’ or ‘hold the front page there’s a problem’ in front of the original subject line. That way the recipient knows what they need to do with the thing. On which point, I love it when senders clarify the action in the subject line, such as ‘invoice for you to check and pay’ or ‘to be read before your teleconference – they’ll have read it, so should you!’ or ‘print out and take to venue’ or simply ‘for your records’.

No names, no drill. Using people’s names can do some useful things: be more personal, add greater clarity about who’s being asked to do what, keep others in the loop. It can also smack of barking orders, so worth using some simple courtesies as well.

I could go on, but won’t, as I need to make sure I’m staying clear of these three pet peeves in the stuff I send to others. As I say, physician…

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