Does email in your inbox multiply like rabbits? Do you ever sit down to work on a project, but find yourself, two hours later, still dealing with email? 

Email wouldn’t be such a plague if were not also such a blessing. Provided one has Internet access, email is free, quick, easy, can be sent to multiple parties, and allows one to add attachments.

The problem is that it’s free, quick, easy, can be sent to multiple parties, and allows one to add attachments. 

How do you handle your email? Anyone who shops or does business online gets multiple automated solicitations for any number of things. Those, however, can usually be identified easily and deleted en masse without being opened. That can be a pain, but maybe one in 20 of those Groupons or travel deals might be just what you need, and make the effort worthwhile. 

What drains our email time budget are emails from real people, whether personal or business-related. While many of them are welcome or necessary, others can be a real chore. 

A few weeks ago I heard of “the email charter,” an idea that started with a blog post by TED curator Chris Anderson and TED scribe Jane Wulf. They posed some ideas for civilizing email, got hundreds of responses, and put together a “charter” of 10 ideas that could go a long way toward making email more managable. 

I won’t list them all, but most of the ideas grow from the first one: “Respect the recipient’s time.” For example, don’t cc people who don’t need to be in the loop, or “reply all” unless everyone on a group email needs to know your response. 

Acknowledge that the people to whom you send email have other things to do. They may not be able to drop everything and respond immediately, or in the detail you might like. The second rule on the charter is “Short or slow is not rude.”

You can also respect the recipient’s time by using a meaningful subject line and writing clear messages that are easily understood. Avoiding open-ended questions is also helpful. Ask what you need to know, and ask as specifically as possible. 

The charter urges email users to “Tighten the thread” by eliminating emails that may seem polite, but take up more of the recipient’s time, bandwidth, and hard drive space. If a message is received, we don’t always have to respond with a “thank you,” and if we receive a “thanks,” we don’t have to send a “you’re welcome.” Someone has to break the chain.

An innovative notion is to include a gift with the email, when appropriate. If your email is only a few words, put it all in the subject line, followed by EOM (End of Message). Then the recipient doesn’t even have to open it. For longer messages that don’t require a response, add NNTR to the end (No Need To Reply), and the recipient is off the hook.

Have other ideas for managing the email flood, like separate accounts for online transactions, personal email, and work?

Share your good ideas here, and you won’t need to send by email … 


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