The Email Charter: 10 Rules to Reverse the Email Overload Spiral: Part 2

Previously we revisited the lost endeavor of “paying it forward” and integrating the idea into daily email rituals.  We evaluated our email communication and what we could do on our end to make life a little easier for the recipients of our messages. Now that we’ve mastered how to respect each others time, let’s keep pushing to become email Samaritans.

As promised, here are the next three steps of the Email Charter.


Rule 4: Quash Open-Ended Questions

After reading an elaborate email stuffed with long paragraphs of turgid text, the last thing the reader wants to be bothered with is a dubious question like, “Thoughts?” While your intentions are only to help ease the readers mind, remember you’ve just packed a thirty-minute phone call into an email. The best way to provide a comforting valediction is to give clear options for the recipient if they choose to seek your help. Email generosity requires simplifying, easy-to-answer questions. “Can I help best by a) calling b) visiting or c) staying right out of it?!”


Rule 5: Slash Surplus cc’s

Have you ever been somewhere where the conversation is rolling and you thought to yourself, “No one would notice if I wasn’t here?” After the main points of the exchange were made, you felt no need to participate in the ongoing discussion. You could easily slip away and the focus of the group wouldn’t drift in the slightest; much like being cc’d on messages unrelated to anything of your concern.  Being cc’d on an initially relevant message is no problem. However, receiving emails from fellow cc’ers who have carelessly chosen ‘Reply All’ is like being stuck at an office party where the conversation and the open bar have run dry. From the start, for every recipient you add, you are dramatically multiplying total response time. Cut the superfluous. Maybe you only need to cc a couple of people on the original thread. Or none.


Rule 6: Tighten the Thread

How amazing would it be if we could click “remove” and instantly shed ten pounds? Unfortunately, loosing weight isn’t as easy as getting rid of excess threads. Relieve the build up of email threads to focus on what’s relevant. It’s rare that a thread should extend beyond three emails. If emailing starts to turn into texting, pick up the phone and make the call. Emails should be used for questions or notifications that require simple responses. Once emails begin to convert to ambiguous discourses nothing is being accomplished. Trim the weight of your email threads to stay on track and reduce scrolling through outdated information. Think of your email threads as a tight rope and you are a tight rope walker. To be effective you need to be focused and concise with no superfluous information. Tighten the content of your messages by eliminating extraneous threads this way you keep your rope tight and so there’s less risk of falling off (topic).

If you add these three tips along with the last edition’s tips you’ll become a pro at keeping emails and content to a minimum while keeping your context focused. Coupled with some handy tools for keeping e-mail overload under control in your own inbox, you should be all set. Stay tuned for the next 4 tips to Reversing the Email Spiral.