On the new Chris Anderson “Email Charter”, Some additional notes

There’s clearly a trend in the last few years of a serious growing concern on email processing overload. Yes I suffer from this too. Who doesn’t? :)

The Chris Anderson Email Charter

Recently, Chris Anderson took the stand on this and did a precious effort in trying to gather some of the best guidelines available on the issue. And so we have now the a new Email Charter with 10 small/quick to read good practices.

I love Chris books & posts, the amazing TED work Chris does as curator, but I really think people are getting the email issue a little wrong!

I can’t also agree with even a much more radical view of email :) of one of my favorite bloggers, Leo Babauta on his amazing zen habits blog.

Disclaimer:The following applies mostly to work related email, that’s email we all exchange with team members, partners, customers, suppliers . In this context we’re almost always goal driven. Mail, as a communication tool, supports all involved in pursuing specific goals.

And as a communication tool, what’s the main purpose of sending an email? It’s actually getting recipients to have the better perception possible of the reality around a a specific task/goal, so they can take the best action possible , avoiding misunderstandings, misperceptions and so working towards the goal with the minimum effort.

What’s the purpose of communication in general? getting recipients to have the minimum perception-reality gap regarding any subject you’re trying to present at the moment. And trust me, that’s not as easy as it seems.

With this in mind, let me explore some rules on the Chris Email Charter for which I have some doubts:

1. Respect Recipients’ Time
This is the fundamental rule. As the message sender, the onus is on YOU to minimize the time your email will take to process. Even if it means taking more time at your end before sending.

No, it is not!!! (IMO) it should be …. the onus is on YOU to minimize the time recipients will take to complete the intended goal/task the mail is all about, not only “reading/processing” time . Even if it means taking more time at your end before sending.

Do you see the difference? Yes, all seems great when we’ll start receiving cryptic twitter like mails with partial information… that we read in a snap in order to cure our “mail” problem, only to waste much more time fixing bad decisions later caused by wrong perceptions and lots of misunderstandings.

5. Slash Surplus cc’s
cc’s are like mating bunnies. For every recipient you add, you are dramatically multiplying total response time. Not to be done lightly! When there are multiple recipients, please don’t default to ‘Reply All’. Maybe you only need to cc a couple of people on the original thread. Or none.

Yes, I agree not overuse cc, but be careful not sharing relevant information with recipients that may have to take decisions on the thread at a later date. CC recipients aren’t usually required to get back to you so it won’t delay total response time.

As a personal note, I read all my mail carefully, being in the to or cc, I don’t care. Yes, I’m aware that I’m a kind of information “freak”…

“9. Cut Contentless Responses
You don’t need to reply to every email, especially not those that are themselves clear responses. An email saying "Thanks for your note. I’m in." does not need you to reply "Great." That just cost someone another 30 seconds. “

Yes, but you should judge this wisely, always with the end goal  you’re pursuing  in mind. Would you spare a thank you email which costs both 30 seconds, risking demotivation of your coworker or team member?

Yes, sometimes people like getting feedback, sometimes they need it to boost motivation, and guess what happens when people feel motivated? Goals are much easier to reach! Focus on your goal, the mail is a only tool! Don’t trade mail time for wasted time!

My alternative email best practices

So, some rules of my own for work related email that have been very useful to me:

1) For the need to communicate you’ve identified, is email the best tool you have so that the recipients can get the message with minimal perception-reality gap? Some times it is, sometimes it isn’t. Judge it carefully. (this only would need another post)

2) Get rid of irrelevant emails, in which you have no role whatsoever. Or at least create some rules to move them out of the way, being able to recover them at a later time if needed. Almost all mail I receive serves a specific work purpose.

3) Actually read the emails! carefully… don’t speed reading for the sake of “email processing productivity”. That’s not the point, the point is improve your decision making skills and reach goals.

You will avoid lots of bad decisions and wasted time just carefully reading the mails. I actually can read relatively fast… and I have a bad habit of scanning through emails when stressed out …. avoid that!

You should want to get all the information you can, with minimal distortion. Take your time. There have been times when only reading a mail for the 3rd time I got the proper message in a way that finally my perception closely matched reality allowing me make a better decision.

4) When writing emails: It’s not about how good your writing skills or style are!! That’s not the point It’s about helping recipients getting the message loud & clear as easy as possible. It’s about getting results! 

Resist the embellishment of your mails just because you’re skilled . Control your “ego”!

I was so damn guilty of this… I feel ashamed. People really don’t like long & verbose emails (I actually do but I don’t mail me very often… :) ) they will miss important information lost in your long paragraphs (like this one)… and misunderstandings are more probable to happen.

Currently I try to only use a sentence per line.

Like this.

With lots of space between sentences.

Got it?

5) When you know your recipients mail reading habits, adapt your style accordingly to make their life easier. Know the probable context.

For example, some people don’t read ccs, some don’t read long emails, some don’t read emails, some only read subjects, some only read the mail if is stays on the mailbox long enough to be visible at the top…

Don’t assume everyone should or is handling mail the way you do! Don’t assume to much, you’ll be disappointed.

6) Don’t trade email processing time for wasted time on misperceptions & misunderstandings! If you’re a decision maker, and you need 4 hours a day reading & processing mail in order to make very good decisions you’re probably doing what you must.

Be careful with “lets kill email once & for all strategies”. You’re probably much better to keep paying attention to the mail.

7)If you’re working or leading teams, train & mentor them on writing & reading email skills, always with focus on attaining good communication flowing constantly, supporting good decisions and getting results faster.

8) Do not read what it’s not there! Our mind loves to fill the gaps, not knowing is something that feels naturally uncomfortable… We like to know everything, and when we don’t…. we create our own version of reality, not what is, but what we think it is…. and we don’t note the difference!

Although filling the gaps is one of our most powerful skills, at the least note the difference between what you’re reading, and what your mind is creating for you.

Final thoughts…

Our senses get an huge, HUGE, input of data (visual, sound,etc) every second… but that’ wasn’t a reason for an overload or shutdown, its actually critical so that we perceive the world around us and make our survival possible with a really close view of reality.  Brain evolved to handle the load.

So it should be with communication tools like email and others. Yes, we need more publicly accepted charters and guidelines (Chris has a good start), but never forgetting that communication has a purpose that may well pay back the time you spend using it.

That’s it, I’m relieved this is not a mail, so long that it turned out to be! :)

What do you think?

 

Kind Regards,

Rui

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