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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?

Andy's picture

I disagree. I'm not sure...

I disagree.

I'm not sure about the no HTML email rule. I just recently began work in an office with a system that doesn't support HTML email and it is a much less rich system than I'm used too. Picture attachments won't show up in the body of an email so you can't arrange your text about the picture around it. You can't post things from the web in and expect them to look anything like they did online. In general it feels like going back in time.

Another rule at my office is “no managing by email.” In a lot of ways this is good because it reduces misunderstandings and you can be sure someone got your message because you looked them in the eye. What I have learned about myself is that I had become accustomed to organizing my tasks via an email system and now I'm constantly being given things to do in person. So I have to write them down or they slip through the cracks. For a while I used post-it notes but then after they overwhelmed my desk I switched to emailing myself and using MS outlooks task list feature. Every time I go into outlook to task myself, I wish the person who gave me this task would have sent it in email in the first place.




An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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