Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 4, Issue 2;   January 14, 2004: Email Antics: III

Email Antics: III

by

Nearly everyone complains that email is a time waster. Yet much of the problem results from our own actions. Here's Part III of a little catalog of things we do that help waste our time.

When we waste time with email because of our own actions, complaining about email doesn't make much sense. To get control of email, we have to change how we work with it. Here's Part III of a little catalog of ways to waste time with email. See "Email Antics: II," Point Lookout for December 31, 2003, for more.

Forward off-color "humor"
Don't rely solely on your spell checker

There are some errors that spell checkers can't catch (yet). Don't rely on spell checking or grammar checking alone. Human-powered proofreading is still necessary. Proofread before sending.

Forward tired humor
While the more innocent and witty jokes can be relatively safe, some of what circulates is pretty old and tired. I've been receiving some items for years. Forward only the current and fresh.
Misuse your address book
When someone's address changes, remember to update your address book. If you have two nicknames for the same person, that's OK. But when the actual address changes, you have to remember to update all the nicknames that resolve to it. And most people forget to update at least one.
Present a complex point-by-point rebuttal
Email just isn't a medium that supports complicated discussions. Save it for a face-to-face conversation. See "Email Happens," Point Lookout for September 5, 2001.
Rely on your spell checker
Since Wasting time is OK,
but complaining bitterly
about what we ourselves
are doing isn't
misspellings can reflect badly on the sender, you've probably turned on your spell checker. But most email spell checkers don't warn you when you've used a wrong word that's spelled correctly. Read what you've written — you never know what you'll find.
Infect your friends and colleagues with viruses
Some viruses spread so quickly that you can't avoid passing them on, but there's no excuse for spreading an old virus. Update your virus definitions frequently.
Omit someone important from the recipient list
Always, always, always read the recipient list before you click Send. Remove anyone who doesn't really belong there; make sure everyone who does belong is there. Substitute selected individuals for group lists to further focus your message. See "Emailstorming"
Mistype an email address
Mistyping is an alternative way to omit someone from the recipient list. See above.
Forget to click Send
Clicking Send is an important step. Periodically check your outbox — most of us have some unsent messages. Get rid of them, either by sending them, deleting them, or filing them.
Believe that since you received no reply, you're being ignored
Maybe you are being ignored, but silence isn't proof, especially when email is involved. Unless you requested a "return receipt," you don't know for sure that the recipient received what you sent. Maybe you forgot to click Send. Check your outbox to see that it went out, and try resending. Feeling insulted won't help.
Expect that email can be the primary channel of communication for a geographically dispersed team
This is an unrealistic expectation, usually driven by hopes of limiting travel expenses. To work well together, people need to meet face-to-face occasionally. See "Dispersity Adversity," Point Lookout for November 6, 2002.

If you do some of these, and you'd like to stop, tack this list on your wall. Track how often you catch yourself doing (or not doing) them. Use the energy you get from your successes to focus attention on the ones you want to stop. First in this series | Next in this series Go to top Top  Next issue: Coping with Problems  Next Issue

Reader Comments
Bob Leigh
In many cases, getting the return receipt back only indicates that a computer received what you sent. Which computer? It might be a department-wide or company-wide mail server, or it might be the computer on the recipient's desk. But getting the receipt back does not tell you whether or not the recipient actually opened or read what you sent.

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Where There's Smoke There's EmailAnd 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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See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness, Writing and Managing Email and Virtual and Global Teams for more related articles.

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In this Part II of our look at solving hard problems, we continue developing properties of the solution, and look at how we get from the beginning to the end. Available here and by RSS on July 5.

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