That first email you ever sent? Yeah, it was magical.
Remember? The carefully crafted message. The perfect grammar. The double (and triple) checking of the recipient's address. And, finally, the flush of anticipation just before hitting "send."
Now you just want to blow up the inbox.
What the Hell Happened?
From the dawn of this wonderful thing called electronic mail in 1993, sending and receiving digital messages has devolved from a source of wonder to a waterfall of TMI. Pouring in faster than even the most focused person can arguably handle, it drenches recipients with a heavier mixture of obligation, anxiety and foreboding than your guilt-tripping mother ever thought possible.
I'm going to become a social outcast for not answering this email.
I'm going to lose my job for missing that email from my boss.
I'm going to experience hell on earth forever for the email I just sent to my boss in my
semi totally drunken state.
The Struggle to Communicate
Like travelers massed in an airport during an unexpected storm, there is a certain comfort in knowing you're not alone battling this email tsunami.
Breathe. We'll get through this. Everyone is going to be late.
Statistically speaking, 17 percent of the time you spend at work is wasted on email — at least according to new research from Robert Half, a Menlo Park, Calif.-based staffing firm.
The finding is based on telephone interviews with more than 2,200 CFOs from a stratified random sample of companies in more than 20 of the largest US metropolitan areas, the company reports.
And while spam is considered the most egregious email-related time suck, the research also pinpointed a number of other distractions, including being copied on irrelevant emails.
Other problems: long, rambling messages that meander here, there and everywhere before getting even close to making a point (you know, the ones you answer with "What are you asking me?") and those that could be better delivered another way.
OMG why did he/she/they email me when we are literally in the same room?
Did she really just ask me to email her the very message I just posted on Slack?
Wouldn't it be easier to do a screenshare than email you a dozen screenshots of the problem I am having with this wonky new platform?
Common Sense Is Just So Uncommon
Robert Half Senior Director Paul McDonald noted that spam could at least be reduced with filters and other technologies.
“But the other issues often boil down to good judgment,” he noted in a statement.
So basically, we're doomed. Who has any common sense anymore?
In fairness, it's not totally our fault. We've been trained to get responses on telephone calls by acting angry or arrogant. Reality TV has reinforced the notion that bad behavior is acceptable. Social media makes it seem like everyone is interested in what we have to say — whether it's our poorly thought out political views or the results of our latest medical labs.
Given that, it's not surprising that the workplace is filled with people who think it is A-OK to blast a sarcastic email message to every single person in the company about someone's horrible stupidity and abject incompetence for failing to, oh, say, buy a certain flavor of bagels for the breakfast meeting … rather than walk across the room to say, "Hey Joe, I prefer poppy seed."
Whip Your Email Into Shape
McDonald said keeping your email messages "short, relevant and actionable will improve the chances your emails are read and responded to quickly.”
Good points. But if you really want to curry favor on the job, he said you should also:
- Be cautious about whom you copy. Use “Reply All” as a last resort. Don’t waste your time or the time of recipients who don’t need to read the email message.
- Go on a word diet. As often as possible, keep your emails under two paragraphs. Longer emails take too long to digest, and you could lose your audience.
- Save the detective work for Sherlock. Summarize the issue and what is needed at the top.
- Send less, sift less. Resist the urge to respond immediately, especially if it’s a request that may resolve itself without your input.
- Make the subject line count. Try using “RSVP” within the first three words. Otherwise, let recipients know immediately what action is required (e.g. “For your review” or “Meeting rescheduled”) so they can get the gist and prioritize their responses accordingly.
- Watch your tone. Email is an official record and should be written with the same professionalism as any business document. Check spelling and grammar and read it aloud to yourself before you click “send.”
From experience, let me add one more tip. Or maybe a thought — or a warning:
I know you're the funniest person on earth. People love your wit and humor. You could probably do stand-up comedy in your spare time. But never, ever, ever create a fake email account that looks like it came from the President of the United States and then add said email to the long list of names you generated by hitting “reply all” to that insulting, erroneous, accusatory email.
It's just not a good idea, especially if you work for the federal government. (Although I do wish I had retained PresidentObama@gmail.com. It would come in so handy so often these days!)