We waste a lot of time by choice. That's OK, but when we've chosen to waste it, complaining bitterly about what we ourselves are doing isn't OK. And that's what many of us are doing with email.
Here's Part I of a little catalog of painful things we do (or don't do) with email. See "Email Antics: II," Point Lookout for December 31, 2003, for more.Wasting time is OK,
but complaining bitterly
about what we ourselves
are doing isn't
- Forget to attach the attachment
- Not so bad if you realize it, and then quickly send another copy with the attachment. This one is so common that an explanation for the second message is no longer necessary. Truly embarrassing, though, if you don't realize it and someone chooses to Reply All to tell you, especially if "All" is a large number of important people.
- Forget to remove their attachment from your reply
- Some email systems include the attachment in replies by default, which is annoying to people on mobile devices or slow connections. Change your preferences.
- Reply to All when replying to one will do
- Especially when your reply is something like "thanks." Restrict your reply to the people who really care.
- Reply when you're angry
- I call this Typing Under the Influence (of adrenaline). You're sure to regret it, perhaps as soon as you click Send. Before you click Send, Breathe. See "Avoid Typing Under the Influence," Point Lookout for May 23, 2001.
- Write an outrageously angry reply, not intending to send it, and then send it accidentally
- You might think of the writing as a therapeutic exercise, but it's dangerous. Never type anything into your computer that you wouldn't want the entire world to see.
- Participate in an email feud with many CCs
- Even with no CCs, this is worse than a waste of time. You can't "win," and you're bound to look foolish (or worse) to some of the observers.
- Try to resolve in email any issue that has high emotional content
- Even a great writer has difficulty dealing with emotions in words. Deal with emotions in person or at least by telephone. See "Email Happens," Point Lookout for September 5, 2001.
- Get their address by replying to an old message that predates their change of address
- You'll think you sent them the message, but what if they no longer check email there? If you're lucky, you'll get a bounce report. If not, you both lose valuable time.
- Believe that your writing is so clear that nobody could possibly misinterpret it
- It's strange, but when somebody interprets our words in a way different from what we intended we call that a misinterpretation. Maybe what we sent was a misstatement.
- Believe that your first interpretation of someone else's words is the only possible interpretation
- If you can't think of three ways to interpret something, keep thinking. Or maybe start thinking.
If you do some of these, and you'd like to stop, tack this list on your wall. Highlight the ones you want to avoid, and review it once in a while to see how you're doing. Be patient, expect lapses, and celebrate your victories. Next in this series Top Next Issue
Are you so buried in email that you don't even have time to delete your spam? Do you miss important messages? So many of the problems we have with email are actually within our power to solve, if we just realize the consequences of our own actions. Read 101 Tips for Writing and Managing Email to learn how to make peace with your inbox. Order Now!
And if you have organizational responsibility, you can help transform the culture to make more effective use of email. You can reduce volume while you make content more valuable. You can discourage email flame wars and that blizzard of useless if well-intended messages from colleagues and subordinates. Read Where There's Smoke There's Email to learn how to make email more productive at the organizational scale — and less dangerous. Order Now!
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More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
- The True Costs of Indirectness
- Indirect communications are veiled, ambiguous, excessively diplomatic, or conveyed to people other than
the actual target. We often use indirectness to avoid confrontation or to avoid dealing with conflict.
It can be an expensive practice.
- Mitigating Outsourcing Risks: II
- Outsourcing internal processes exposes the organization to a special class of risks that are peculiar
to the outsourcing relationship. Here is Part II of a discussion of what some of those risks are and
what can we do about them.
- Sixteen Overload Haiku
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is not to be overloaded. Here's a contemplation of the state of overload.
- Solutions as Found Art
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aren't purely new. Many contain pieces of familiar ideas and techniques combined together in new ways.
Accepting this as a starting point can change our approach to problem solving.
- How to Waste Time in Meetings
- Nearly everyone hates meetings. The main complaint: they're mostly a waste of time. The main cause:
us. Here's a field manual for people who want to waste even more time.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming April 25: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: VI
- Narcissistic behavior at work distorts decisions, disrupts relationships, and generates toxic conflict. These consequences limit the ability of the organization to achieve its goals. In this part of our series we examine the effects of exploiting others for personal ends. Available here and by RSS on April 25.
- And on May 2: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: VII
- Narcissistic behavior at work prevents trusting relationships from developing. It also disrupts existing relationships, and generates toxic conflict. One class of behaviors that's especially threatening to relationships is disregard for the feelings of others. In this part of our series we examine the effects of that disregard. Available here and by RSS on May 2.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.