The Email Charter: 10 Rules to Reverse the Email Overload Spiral: Part 1

Rachel Dotson —  February 16, 2012 — Leave a comment

Have you seen “Pay it Forward”, a Kevin Spacey movie from 2000? If you have, there’s no doubt you were inspired to adopt this karma-generating lifestyle of doing good deeds for our immediate circle, hoping it would spread and catch on universally. But let’s be honest, that movie came out twelve years ago and since then our time has been radically monopolized by keeping up with day-to-day issues. At a time when the personal computer had just become affordable we weren’t yet being bombarded with email overload and the guilt of not responding to a message. The idea is to make life a little easier for someone else. Since we are all glued to our smartphones and in constant contact with the people we email, why not challenge ourselves to “Pay it Forward” to make life simpler and emailing less aggravating.

This is the basic concept behind the Email Charter, created by Chris Anderson, the curator of TED. The Email Charter is a list of 10 ways to reverse the (daunting) email spiral. If you carry out these steps in your daily email habits, your recipients will appreciate you and you’ll start to see them catching on to your philanthropic email skills.

Rule 1: Respect Recipients Time

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This is the guiding principle behind the Email Charter.  A technology market research firm has predicted that in the year 2013 there will be 507 billion emails sent a day. With always being pulled in different directions whether it be at work, with the family, or all of our grocery list of obligations, there’s no way we can process that amount of information. This is where we rally the troops and fight to make email easier for everyone. The war has to start with someone, and today you are that email-battling solider. It is your duty as the message sender to minimize the time your email will take to process, even if it means taking more time on your end before sending. Discover your intention, articulate it clearly and before you commit to sending proofread and tie up things you’ve left open-ended.

Rule 2: Short or Slow is not Rude

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Remember when people used to write each other letters? Each line was written with intention and no questions were left unanswered if in response to another letter. With the instant gratification of hitting the send button and the pat on the back of “your message has been sent” by the anonymous voice of your inbox, we’ve become accustomed to needing to reply to every message the instant it lands in our inbox. And in return we’ve adopted the expectation that everyone else should respond in the same Speedy Gonzales fashion. Let’s mutually agree to cut each other some slack. Given the email load we’re all facing, it’s OK if replies take a while coming and if they don’t give detailed responses to all your questions. Give your recipient a heads up if you’re only providing answers to a portion of their questions. Or, put it away and get back to it when you do. Your recipient would much more appreciate a purposeful response than a perfunctory remedy.

Rule 3: Celebrate Clarity

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Slow and steady may win the race but short, sweet and well-thought-out is a sure crowd pleaser. It’s getting harder and harder to keep people’s attention. If we slim down the fluff and get right to the meat we can avoid the risk of loosing our audience. The strategy is to condense your email content to get directly to the point you are addressing. Start with a subject line that clearly labels the topic, and maybe includes a status category [Info], [Action], [Time Sens], or [Low Priority]. By doing this you can prepare your recipient for what is expected of them in response. That way you leave no room for missed deadlines or lost content.

If the email has to be longer than five sentences, make sure the first provides the basic reason for writing. From there, keep every line crisp and muddle-free. Your email doesn’t have to shoot fireworks, sing and dance to hook and reel your reader. There’s no need for different colors or strange fonts, although bolding key words/messages points the  reader to what’s truly important . Simplicity and clarity gets rid of any confusion or the dreaded virus of “miscommunication.” Know what you’re going to say before you type it, this way you can be sure to be clear and direct with each statement. When your presentation is of this quality, it sets the bar for what is to be anticipated in return.

Adopt these 3 routines and watch your web of social contacts develop the same sense of pride in their email communication and email management. “Pay it Forward” right from your inbox. Stay tuned for the next 7 tips to Reversing the Email Spiral.

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Rachel Dotson

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Michigander turned Angeleno. Teach For America alum turned startup marketer. I spend my days at SaneBox, saving the world from email woes one interruption at a time.

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