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:
- Don't Worry, Anticipate!
- Dramatic changes in policy or procedure are often challenging, especially when they have some boneheaded
components. But by accepting them, by anticipating what you can, and by applying Pareto's principle,
you can usually find a safe path that suits you.
- Recalcitrant Collaborators
- Much of the work we do happens outside the context of a team. We collaborate with people in other departments,
other divisions, and other companies. When these collaborators are reluctant, resistive, or recalcitrant,
what can we do?
- The Deck Chairs of the Titanic: Obvious Waste
- Among the most futile and irrelevant actions ever taken in crisis is rearranging the deck chairs of
the Titanic, which, of course, never actually happened. But in the workplace, we engage in activities
just as futile and irrelevant, often outside our awareness. Recognition is the first step to prevention.
- How to Foresee the Foreseeable: Preferences
- When people collaborate on complex projects, the most desirable work tends to go to those with highest
status. When people work alone, they tend to spend more time on the parts of the effort they enjoy.
In both cases, preferences rule. Preferences can lead us astray.
- Virtual Clutter: II
- Thorough de-cluttering at work involves more than organizing equipment and those piles of documents
that tend to accumulate so mysteriously. We must also address the countless non-physical entities that
make work life so complicated — the virtual clutter.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming July 8: Multi-Expert Consensus
- Some working groups consist of experts from many fields. When they must reach a decision by consensus, members have several options. Defining those options in advance can help the group reach a decision with all its relationships intact. Available here and by RSS on July 8.
- And on July 15: Disjoint Concept Vocabularies
- In disputes or in problem solving sessions, when we can't seem to come to agreement, we often attribute the difficulty to miscommunication, histories of disagreements, hidden agendas, or "personality clashes." Sometimes the cause is much simpler. Sometimes the concept vocabularies of the parties don't overlap. Available here and by RSS on July 15.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenfPisQwhtshXzxJVvner@ChacUYLEiQVcXCoqJzufoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.
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Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:
- Get 2001-2 in Geese Don't Land on Twigs (PDF, )
- Get 2003-4 in Why Dogs Wag (PDF, )
- Get 2005-6 in Loopy Things We Do (PDF, )
- Get 2007-8 in Things We Believe That Maybe Aren't So True (PDF, )
- Get 2009-10 in The Questions Not Asked (PDF, )
- Get all of the first twelve years (2001-2012) in The Collected Issues of Point Lookout (PDF, )
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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.
- Bullet Points: Mastery or Madness?
Decision-makers in modern organizations commonly demand briefings in the form of bullet points or a series of series of bullet points. But this form of presentation has limited value for complex decisions. We need something more. We actually need to think. Briefers who combine the bullet-point format with a variety of persuasion techniques can mislead decision-makers, guiding them into making poor decisions. Read more about this program.