Six Steps to Email Efficiency
By Lauren Rikleen
fantasy persists. We arrive at work, reflexively start our
computers, and find an automatic “Out-of-Office Assistant”
universally displaying the following message across the country:
“The endless stream of emails – and the expectation that people are
constantly available to read them – is leading to incalculable
inefficiency and impairing the quality of life. Accordingly, if you
would like to reach me, please call.”
fantasy invariably leads to the urgent recognition that we must gain
control over this burgeoning behemoth. In just a few years, email
has evolved from a convenient way to communicate into a demanding,
incessant tool that has blurred any remaining boundaries between the
workday and personal time.
problem of email overload has become so intrusive that the
Washington Post recently wrote about the growing trend of
declaring “email bankruptcy” in order to assert freedom from
responding to old emails. But for the majority of us who cannot
truly opt-out of the email world, there is a need to develop some
reasoned expectations about the effective and controlled use of
email and to create a semblance of order in the unregulated universe
where email resides.
time to become aggressive about decreasing the trillions (yes,
trillions) of emails sent annually. With no regulating body, and
nothing but our own self-restraint to guide us, perhaps it is time
to develop consensus around how we should control – rather than be
controlled by – email. The following are six suggested rules to try
to reclaim control over our computer-driven lives:
1. Stop the proliferation of illiteracy. We know how busy everyone is,
but there is a reason why grammar and punctuation were invented;
they make words easier to read, and create order out of written
communications. Stop wasting other people’s time trying to discern
where one sentence ends and another begins. What worked for e. e.
cummings’s form of prose does not translate into today’s electronic
2. If you must forward nonessential emails, have the courtesy of
deleting the endless stream of “Re: Fw: Fw:” that precede the
text. It is a waste of the recipient’s time to endlessly scroll
down in search of an actual message. And the message is generally
lost on blackberry users who give up rather than wait for the screen
to continually be prompted to search “More.”
3. Do not “Reply All” unless you absolutely, positively must – and even
then, check to be sure it is necessary. Very rarely do others need
to see your reply to a sender’s inquiry, especially when so many
group emails are simply announcements, scheduling inquiries, or a
notice of some sort. Other people do not care that you have said
“thank you” in response to the sender. Really.
4. Do not use email to lessen your own burden by placing an unnecessary
burden on someone else. Too frequently, emails are now used to
escape tasks by leaving the follow-up burden to others. A prime
example are the emails asking someone else to call you. In the old
days – that is, two or three years ago – if you wanted to talk to
someone on the phone, you would call them. Replacing telephone tag
with email tag is inefficient and annoying.
5. Speaking of unnecessary burdens, simplify efforts to schedule calls
and meetings among multiple parties. The only thing more
inefficient than the old way of scheduling meetings and conference
calls via telephone, is to use email alone. A sender’s email
listing preferred dates is generally followed by a steady stream of
“Reply All” responses which invariably are not responsive to each
other. Moreover, the burden is then placed on the recipient to
continually click back and forth between dates proposed in the email
and one’s calendar to check for availability. Recipients then
often suggest new dates, with no offer to coordinate the numerous
options. Even worse, however, is the request for a meeting that
begins: “Please send me some available dates.”
6. Stop incorporating email into your family life. You are not doing
your children any favor if you cannot look up from your hand-held
device to watch their sporting events. They know your head is not
lowered because you are praying, and they also see how unengaged you
are in their activities while sitting in the stands. Being present
requires your physical and mental presence.
bottom line is that email should be a tool that serves us, rather
than the form of slavery it has become. As we all experience the
proliferation of emails overtaking us, we need to gain control and
create a more ordered cyber-universe that evolves from a common
ground of email etiquette.
cannot start soon enough. So please, email these recommendations to
a friend. Just remove all the forwarding details.
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about Lauren Stiller Rikleen.
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