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You've Got Mail (Do You Ever!)

By Sreenath Sreenivasan, National Journal
National Journal Group Inc.
Friday, Dec. 7, 2001

Once a curiosity, e-mail is now an integral part of the workday world for most professionals. Here are some tips to help you use e-mail more effectively and efficiently on the job.

Watch what you type. Too many people have learned the hard way that e-mail is not private. Never put anything in an e-mail that you wouldn't want read by one or more of the following people in your life: your boss, your mom, your spouse, or your worst critic. If you visualize each of these people reading your note before you hit "send," you will save yourself from sending things that will get you in trouble.

Use folders. Don't keep all your mail in your main inbox folder. Almost all programs allow you to sort your mail into personalized folders for easy retrieval and searching.

Keep it short. People don't like reading on computers, and don't have enough time to read all your thoughts. Write snappy, digestible prose, and you will be read.

Deleted e-mail is not gone. As Monica Lewinsky learned a couple of years ago, almost all messages that you delete from your inbox live on for an indefinite period on your hard disk, your company server, or your Internet Service Provider's computers.

Make better use of subject lines. Vague, imprecise subject lines are a waste of a recipient's time. Be detailed, if possible. And change the subject line if your note's subject matter has changed. Never send e-mails with blank subject lines.

Sign yourself. Be sure to create a signature file for yourself. Or at least spell out your name at the bottom of the message, if it isn't obvious from the e-mail address. It's irritating to get a note from, say, if you don't know who it is.

Don't forward chain letters. Ditto for virus alerts, pleas for helping sick little kids, or free stock from Microsoft. Far too many e-mail messages are circulating without you adding to the confusion.

Don't send attachments. And don't open them unless absolutely necessary. If someone sends me an attachment I don't want, I politely write back, asking that it be sent as a plain-text e-mail message.

Acknowledge messages, if possible. Even a short, one-line reply -- "I got it, thanks. Looking into it." -- is a nice professional courtesy.

Use vacation messages. Set up your program's auto-reply or vacation function when you are away from your e-mail for more than a day.

Unsubscribe from mailing lists. When you go away, take yourself off mailing lists so you are not flooded with messages when you get back.

Hit delete. Instead of getting worked up about a flood of messages, use the delete button. And if you find yourself overwhelmed with messages that are more than a month old, try deleting a whole bunch of them. If it was really important, the senders will ping you again.

Adjust to the other person's schedule. People seem to think that others have the same e-mail habits. Just because you check your e-mail obsessively does not mean others do. You have to adjust to the other person's habits. Unlike voice mail, which has accepted conventions, the ones for e-mail are evolving. Be patient.

Paper still counts. Try sending on occasion a handwritten card (gasp!) on nice stationery. See the impact it has.

Use eom for "end of message." If you are just communicating one quick thought, try using just the subject line. Then put an eom at the end of the subject line. This hasn't caught on yet, so it's always helpful to write "eom=end of message" in the first line of the body text, thus avoiding any confusion.

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