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Vox Pop: Your best "best practice" for email?

Short Subject: Now You're Talking (1927)

prosaic [on email]

Chris Streeter picks up on a thread that I've been thinking about a lot lately (and he's kind to mention the relationship to Inbox Zero).

He reminds us that the etiquette for using a telephone was once well-established enough to earn a place in the encyclopedia:

the encyclopedia told you how to answer the phone. not how to pick it up and dial or how the phone switching system worked, but what to say. it even had illustrations (little susie picking up the phone, announcing her residence, listening attentively, etc.). anyway, the point is, nobody ever set the ground rules for email. nobody ever said, this is what the subject line should cover, this is how many sentences an email ought to be, this is how long you should reasonably expect a person to wait to reply, etc. they just threw it at us and let everyone make up their own rules. of course, everyone will make up their own rules anyway, and that encyclopedia sure did a helluva lot of good with our phone manners, didn't it? but still, the idea that we have never, ever, worked out a set of rules or mores for email is kind of incredible.

I think a lot of people would scoff at the idea of a standard for email communication, and I'll admit that I'm not sure what a truly comprehensive -- or even 80-percent-universal -- set of best practices would look like. But, that, in some ways is the problem.

"Netiquette" was pounded into my head from day one on the 'net, but I'll freely admit I've never been 100% -- at least partly because email was clearly the Wild West from a lot of people's perspective. We've each been free to evolve or fall ass-backwards into an understanding of how email should be used. How would we begin to ensure that any two given strangers could be on roughly the same page about what email is even for?

I doubt this is a problem that has one answer, but I'm intrigued to consider how we might start solving it if it were. So...

The Question to You:

Think about what you’d do if you ran the world. If you had to choose a single best practice for email usage — format, length, subject matter, even when not to use email.
If you could wave a magic wand and put one guideline in place that would be honored by 80% of civilized people, what would it be? Be creative as you like, but remember: it has to be generic enough that it would work for 80% of email communication everywhere.

What should almost everyone start doing differently with their email today?

Ruth's picture

Wow. What a lot of...

Wow. What a lot of hatred for email. I wonder if this is a generational, personal, or organizational culture thing.

Best things about email: - Asynchronous. You can send me something and I get to it when I get to it. This is especially useful for communicating with people in different time zones. Note: You do not have to have alerts turned on. If they disturb your work, turn them off and check your mail when it's convenient for you. - Paper trail. I find this just as useful for looking up what I said as it is for tracking what other people said. Not to mention filing receipts from online purchases. (Yes, I have actually referred to these later. I would never do that with a paper receipt for personal purchases.) - Written. Personally, I'm a visual learner, and I dislike talking on the phone. I will retain what you tell me much better if you write it out than if you say it out loud, and I'll be much more comfortable if you email me than if you call me. - Cheap. Most of my closest friends live far away. Email is cheaper than long distance for discussions and staying in touch. This is true both for long, involved discussions, and the short sort of notes that we would never call each other about because it's too trivial.

One email hint for people who are looking for better systems: As a general rule, people don't read, especially when it comes to business email, so put the most important thing first. We did an informal experiment here where my coworker sent out details for a meeting asking for an RSVP. He got much better results when he asked for the RSVP at the top of the email with the details below than when he put the details first and the RSVP request second.




An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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