Effective Email

Robert Scoble recently wrote about a two-minute-rule for processing email. One option for dealing with email overload is to delete any email that requires more than two minutes to reply to. Bah. That’s an emotional and inappropriate reaction to a real problem.

Leaving aside the insulting nature of the suggestion it begs the question. Does the technology serve us, or do we serve it?

I don’t have to deal with the volume of email Robert does, so I understand that his issue is much more pressing than anything I’ve faced. The principles, though, should hold.

First, why do we feel we have to reply as soon as email comes in? Do you find yourself reacting to every incoming? Don’t. Sort your email as it comes in. For example, I use Microsoft Outlook’s rules to sort incoming mail by sender and subject. Emailed error reports and any email from clients gets the highest priority with a desktop alert. A few senders trigger sounds, too. For example, from the network manager who may be sending me an email about the network in the evening when I’m not at the computer.

Emails from friends are sorted into a friends folder which I can easily scan when I want to take a break from working. I don’t have to have coding interrupted for emails that aren’t vital.

If a client’s email requires a complex reply, I’ll call them, and email a summary of the conversation so later we know we talked about the original email.

Lastly, I try to be conscious of what I send. Is the email clear? Do I have a sensible subject line, and do I clearly say what I want the recipient to do? Should they reply with an answer to a question? Do I want them to simply have the information for their records? Am I asking several unrelated questions in one email? If so, I break them out in to seperate emails. Do I include a unimportant information? Someone might be able to field one of my questions immediately, but they may need to get to others later. My failing is I’m inclined to make things really complicated. It’s odd, but more words can actually impede understanding.

I assume if you send me something, it’s important to you and I’ll acknowledge that. If I don’t have time to respond in a way that you would want, I’ll let you know that. I’ll never just delete something because I’m too busy. And, if I ever do, just remind me to get my head outta my butt. :-)

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5 thoughts on “Effective Email

  1. I totally agree – and wrote my thoughts up on my blog. The funny thing about posting on this was that about 20 mins after hitting the publish button, I thought I *must* have read Robert’s post incorrectly, got the less than mixed up with a greater than. I rushed back to my screen to check and found that, no, I had read it correctly. It would have been ironic to have posted on it in such a rush that I misread it!

  2. Hi, Matthew. Thanks for your comment. I never really believed Robert does actually do that. He could never afford to and he’s too damned curious anyway. But it’s hard to have sympathy for him on this matter…it’s rather like having sympathy for a beautiful woman complaining about how hard it is to be beautiful. Cheers!

  3. I agree with you and would add that the emails that take longer than two minutes to answer are usually the ones that really do require an answer. I can pass on the chatty ‘last word’ emails that travel around a couple of workgroups I’m in, but the ones where I need to gather thoughts and really think about what I’m writing are the most important, so to me, that two-minute rule is nuts.

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