and colleagues call
the 100-ish messages I send out daily and the 20 e-mail lists
I run. I also receive more than 350 messages a day. Personal,
professional, spam, come-ons -- I get them all.
is a list of random tips I have gathered about dealing with
e-mail. Some are obvious, others are not. All should improve
your e-mail usage.
WHAT YOU TYPE
Too many people have learned the hard way that e-mail is not
private. Never put anything in an e-mail message 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 writing things that will
get you in trouble.
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.
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.
<eom> FOR END OF MESSAGE
If you are just communicating one quick thought, try using just
the subject line. Then put <eom> at the end of the subject
line. This hasn't caught on yet, of course, so it's always helpful
to write "eom = end of message" in the first line of the body
text, thus avoiding any confusion.
MESSAGES, IF POSSIBLE
Even a short, one-line reply -- "I got it, thanks. Looking into
it." -- is a nice professional courtesy.
FORWARD CHAIN LETTERS
Ditto for virus alerts, pleas for helping sick little kids or
free stock from Microsoft. There are far too many e-mail messages
going around without your adding to the confusion.
And don't open them unless absolutely necessary. If someone
sends me an attachment I don't want, I politely write back,
asking it be sent as a plain-text e-mail message.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org if you don't know who it is.
E-MAIL IS NOT GONE
Almost all messages that you delete from your inbox live on
for an indefinite period on your hard disk, your company server
or your ISP's computers. Assume they are still around and can
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.
Set up your program's auto-reply or vacation function when you
are away from your e-mail for more than a day.
FROM MAILING LISTS
When you go away, take yourself off mailing lists so you are
not flooded with messages when you get back.
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. If it was really important, the senders will ping you
again. I once read a tip from Web pioneer Guy Kawasaki, who
suggested deleting 300 messages at a time if your box is full
of old, unread messages. I didn't think it was a good idea then,
but do now.
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 others person's habits.
Unlike voicemail, which has accepted conventions, we are evolving
the ones for e-mail. Be patient.
Try sending, on occasion, a handwritten card (gasp!) on nice
stationery. See the impact it has.