Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 5, Issue 18;   May 4, 2005: Email Antics: IV

Email Antics: IV

by

Last updated: August 8, 2018

Nearly everyone I know complains that email is a real time waster. Yet much of the problem results from our own actions. Here's Part IV of a little catalog of things we do that help waste our time.
Thor's Hammer, Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah, USA

Thor's Hammer, Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah, USA. Courtesy U.S. National Park Service.

When we waste time with email because of our own actions, complaining bitterly about it doesn't make much sense. To get control of email, we have to change how we work with it. Here's Part IV of a little catalog of ways to waste time with email. See "Email Antics: III," Point Lookout for January 14, 2004, for more.

Gossip about people in a message, then accidentally send it to them, too
Gossiping in email is dangerous. Even if you don't accidentally send the gossip to the wrong people, someone else can, at any time. It's called the "Forward" button.
Assume that the sender is the actual sender
Most often, the From does contain the actual sender's name and address. But there are viruses, spammers, and others in the world who know how to "spoof" the From, with malice in mind. Before you launch a tirade, consider whether the person in the From really is the sender.
Age your inbox
Aging a message in your inbox before answering might be OK, but would you like one of your urgent queries to be treated that way? Your delaying might be a serious inconvenience to your correspondent. If you really are so busy that you can't reply fully, send a short note explaining the delay and estimating when you can respond.
Print a message before reading
Unless you Humor is culture-specific,
and often personal.
Tag your humor somehow.
have a health reason for printing before reading, get used to the twenty-first century. Learn to read directly from your display. If your display is hard to read, change the default font and colors to something you like better. After you've read the message, you can print it if it's important enough. Most of the truly important messages still come to you on paper anyway.
Forget that humor is cultural — even microcultural
Humor is culture-specific, and often personal. That's why we so often disagree about what (or who) is funny. Assume that some people won't understand your humor, or worse, that they'll understand it but don't think it's funny. Tag your humor somehow — smileys work pretty well. Seriously. ;^)
Use sarcasm
Sarcasm is usually obvious in live conversation, when we can use voice tone, body language, and facial expressions to signal the sarcasm. In email, sarcasm is dangerous, because the tone of the voice in your head as you write isn't attached to the message. The consequences of misunderstanding can be truly horrible. If you must use sarcasm, indicate it in some explicit way, such as: <Begin sarcasm>attaching to the message a drawing of a hammer that recipients can use to hit themselves over the head until they get it<End sarcasm>.

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. First in this series  Go to top Top  Next issue: Nine Positive Indicators of Negative Progress  Next Issue

101 Tips for Writing and Managing EmailAre 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!

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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When we deliver news at work — status, events, personnel changes, whatever — we sometimes frame it in a story line format. We start at the beginning and we gradually work up to the point. That might be the right way to deliver good news, but for everything else, especially bad news, deliver the headline first, and then offer the details.
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See also Effective Communication at Work and Writing and Managing Email for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

A pair discussion in a speedstormComing February 27: Brainstorming and Speedstorming: II
Recent research into the effectiveness of brainstorming has raised some questions. Motivated to examine alternatives, I ran into speedstorming. Here's Part II of an exploration of the properties of speedstorming. Available here and by RSS on February 27.
A meeting that's probably a bit too largeAnd on March 6: A Pain Scale for Meetings
Most meetings could be shorter, less frequent, and more productive than they are. Part of the problem is that we don't realize how much we do to get in our own way. If we track the incidents of dysfunctional activity, we can use the data to spot trends and take corrective action. Available here and by RSS on March 6.

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