Friday, May 2, 2014

On Email

I brought up "email" at our staff meeting this week.  I encouraged staff to consider a real reverence for the power of the subject line - you can get a LOT across in that sweet space.

Is this email an FYI?  Is there ACTION NEEDED?  Is it a NNTR?  (no need to reply)

The whole point is, we want our email to be concise (if I can't read it on my mobile device, I may not ever really hear from you) and we want to know what you need from us.  And we certainly want to avoid a situation in which our email recipient replies with TL;DR  (too long, didn't read)!

I am working on only looking at email a few times a day instead of having a Pavlovian reaction to an incoming message (I've turned off alerts and minimize my email most of the day) and I'm using the OHIO method (only handle it once) - which is a kinder, gentler way of regarding those pesky new messages so your inbox doesn't choke your breathing.  Email isn't as cool as I once thought.

In my preparation for the staff meeting, I came across some funny email habits, written by someone else but I had to share, as I'm guessing you may recognize these communicators, too:

The doctoral candidate

This group is the polar opposite of the Gen Y'ers who are accustomed to texting with word shortcuts like "u" for "you." Though admirable for their need for absolute clarity, the Doctoral Candidates send the kind of email you dread opening. Their emails include greetings and salutations, the complete history of the issue at hand, and a request for a reply that stops just short of a self-addressed stamped envelope.  I know I sound like a real tool dissing the politeness of such emails, but, as it is with everyone else on the planet right now, my time is tight. If your email requires CliffsNotes, I'm likely not going to welcome it.

The stream-of-consciousness emailer

You know this kind of email. It's the I-guess-he-knew-what-he-was-saying-but-I have-no-idea-what-he's-talking-about kind. This is the person who is so intent on getting down the thoughts that flitter through his brain that he doesn't take into account how the recipient will perceive the message. I don't mind the occasional run-on sentence, but if your emails require the employment of a secret decoder ring, then you might want to flesh them out a bit. And say what you will about proper punctuation, but a missing or misplaced comma can make a big difference in meaning. (There's a big difference between "Let's eat, Mother!" and "Let's eat Mother!")

The out-of-context puzzler

Our jobs require that we communicate with about 50 people regularly and roughly 100 billion others occasionally. At least once a day I get an email from someone that simply says, "Do you still need that?" or "What did you think about that issue?" I don't care if I had a petabyte memory chip lodged in my head, there's no way I can remember the context of every message I get without a little background reminder.

The emotive emailer

Have you ever gotten an email that is so full of formatting (!) that you're EMOTIONALLY exhausted by the time you finish reading it?!! Or ones that contain keyboard emoticons that you've never seen or heard of? I'm really not up on the art of keyboard hieroglyphics, so I'm likely to interpret a laughing emoticon as a screaming one. And that can make a big difference. Also, I think human beings should be given a finite number of exclamation points to use in their lifetime and no more.

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