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

Email Antics: IV

by

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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People who habitually interrupt others in meetings must be fairly common, because I'm often asked about what to do about them. And you can find lots of tips on the Web, too. Some tips work well, some generally don't. Here are my thoughts about four more.

See also Effective Communication at Work and Writing and Managing Email for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

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When projects overrun their budgets and/or schedules, we sometimes "downscope" to save time and money. The tactic can succeed — and fail. Three common anti-patterns involve politics, the sunk cost effect, and cognitive biases that distort estimates. Available here and by RSS on October 5.
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We sometimes "downscope" projects to bring them back on budget and schedule when they're headed for overruns. Downscoping doesn't always work. Cognitive biases like the sunk cost effect and confirmation bias can distort decisions about how to downscope. Available here and by RSS on October 12.

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