Tuesday, July 31, 2007

More effective email

Our CIO, John Halamka, recently authored a column for Computerworld in which he offers some ways for dealing with the large influx of emails many of us get and also suggestions for reducing the quantity we get in the first place. He notes, "With some enforced discipline, we may be able to learn how to communicate with one another more effectively and get back to our creative work." I reprint excerpts with his permission. Adding to item number 5, I would also encourage people to diminish the use of exclamation marks in the text of their emails.

I believe we need to rethink our e-mail communication habits before our workday devolves into a continuous ping-pong of e-mail messages without any time for creativity, thought or judgment. Here are 10 suggestions for returning sanity to e-mail:

1. E-mail marked with a “high importance” exclamation point must pass the “cry wolf” test. Is the sender a habitual “high importance” e-mailer? Are his e-mails actually important? If less than 50% are, the e-mail loses points.

2. Give points to high-priority people: your boss, your family members and your key customers.

3. Same for high-priority subjects: critical staff issues, health issues and major financial issues.

4. Rate according to the “To,” “cc” and “bcc” fields. If you are the only person in the To field, the e-mail gets points. If you are in the To field with a dozen other people, it’s neutral. If you are only cc’d, it loses points. A bcc should lose a lot of points to keep folks from the reprehensible practice of using blind copies as a political maneuver. Similarly, an e-mail from a co-worker who cc’s your boss should lose points. E-mail should not be used as a weapon.

5. E-mail with emotional words, capital letters or anything less than civil language should be penalized.

6. E-mail threads that go back and forth more than three times should be downgraded. So should e-mail messages longer than five BlackBerry screens.

7. E-mail responses that say only “Thanks,” “OK” or “Have a nice day” are social pleasantries but should be moved to the bottom of the queue.

8. E-mail with colorful backgrounds, embedded graphics or mixed font sizes lose points.

9. Companies that send bulk e-mail should be forced to pay before an e-mail gateway delivers their mail. How many newsletters have you “opted in” for? A micropayment fee system will keep companies honest about their opt-in and unsubscribe policies by aligning financial incentives.

10. Spam filters need to be more effective. Although they are very good at removing clearly labeled ads for Viagra or mortgages, they aren’t effective against ads for V 1@G RA or mortgage offers embedded in graphic files that are readable by humans but not computers. The more we tune our spam filters to eliminate offensive content, the greater likelihood we will miss real mail. Thus, the approach used by Earthlink, which requires first-time senders to be added to an approved buddy list, may be the defense with the highest sensitivity (block the bad stuff) and specificity (don’t block the good stuff).

OK, John! Thx!! Have a nice day! :)


Anonymous said...

I agree!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Yay for Dr. Halamka's Rx for email. There's an old saw among email commentators (I just made that up - email shouldn't have commentators) relative to his #6. After three volleys in email, switch media, i.e. pick up the phone. And I absolutely agree with his #7. I have a biz acquaintance famous for sending emails that read " :) " or "thx" or, on the rare occasion, ":)))". That's all. When I get these, I worry about his being at risk of carpal tunnel seems he seems to send a lot like that. Same guy does a lot of cc'g. Same, strange guy.

Anonymous said...

Looking into this issue at our company, too.
Recently came across this: http://www.seriosity.com/

It creates an internal market for emails... hard to describe, but we're going to trial it. It does many of the things this post suggests.

Anonymous said...

I agree with most except for including all in the "bcc" - these are often done simply to not share email addresses for privacy's sake and/or to prevent someone hitting "reply to all" with simple logistical questions that might inundate others' email boxes unnecessarily!
PS - Paul, will you be including your CNN article on the "Crackberry" in your blog? :)

Rob said...

Most of this would be cleared up if people were taught to write clearly, concisely and politely.

Not gonna happen. People won't learn to act that way in real life, let alone on a page.

So how will a big long list like this help? It won't, but it feels good to share that we all suffer.

Anonymous said...

I would add to 2. Give points to high-priority people: your boss, your family members and your key customers. - your staff. They're high priority too. Let's them get on with their work and not wait from a response from you