Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 4, Issue 2;   January 14, 2004: Email Antics: III

Email Antics: III

by

Nearly everyone complains that email is a time waster. Yet much of the problem results from our own actions. Here's Part III of a little catalog of things we do that help waste our time.

When we waste time with email because of our own actions, complaining about email doesn't make much sense. To get control of email, we have to change how we work with it. Here's Part III of a little catalog of ways to waste time with email. See "Email Antics: II," Point Lookout for December 31, 2003, for more.

Forward off-color "humor"
Don't rely solely on your spell checker

There are some errors that spell checkers can't catch (yet). Don't rely on spell checking or grammar checking alone. Human-powered proofreading is still necessary. Proofread before sending.

Forward tired humor
While the more innocent and witty jokes can be relatively safe, some of what circulates is pretty old and tired. I've been receiving some items for years. Forward only the current and fresh.
Misuse your address book
When someone's address changes, remember to update your address book. If you have two nicknames for the same person, that's OK. But when the actual address changes, you have to remember to update all the nicknames that resolve to it. And most people forget to update at least one.
Present a complex point-by-point rebuttal
Email just isn't a medium that supports complicated discussions. Save it for a face-to-face conversation. See "Email Happens," Point Lookout for September 5, 2001.
Rely on your spell checker
Since Wasting time is OK,
but complaining bitterly
about what we ourselves
are doing isn't
misspellings can reflect badly on the sender, you've probably turned on your spell checker. But most email spell checkers don't warn you when you've used a wrong word that's spelled correctly. Read what you've written — you never know what you'll find.
Infect your friends and colleagues with viruses
Some viruses spread so quickly that you can't avoid passing them on, but there's no excuse for spreading an old virus. Update your virus definitions frequently.
Omit someone important from the recipient list
Always, always, always read the recipient list before you click Send. Remove anyone who doesn't really belong there; make sure everyone who does belong is there. Substitute selected individuals for group lists to further focus your message. See "Emailstorming"
Mistype an email address
Mistyping is an alternative way to omit someone from the recipient list. See above.
Forget to click Send
Clicking Send is an important step. Periodically check your outbox — most of us have some unsent messages. Get rid of them, either by sending them, deleting them, or filing them.
Believe that since you received no reply, you're being ignored
Maybe you are being ignored, but silence isn't proof, especially when email is involved. Unless you requested a "return receipt," you don't know for sure that the recipient received what you sent. Maybe you forgot to click Send. Check your outbox to see that it went out, and try resending. Feeling insulted won't help.
Expect that email can be the primary channel of communication for a geographically dispersed team
This is an unrealistic expectation, usually driven by hopes of limiting travel expenses. To work well together, people need to meet face-to-face occasionally. See "Dispersity Adversity," Point Lookout for November 6, 2002.

If you do some of these, and you'd like to stop, tack this list on your wall. Track how often you catch yourself doing (or not doing) them. Use the energy you get from your successes to focus attention on the ones you want to stop. First in this series | Next in this series Go to top Top  Next issue: Coping with Problems  Next Issue

Reader Comments

Bob Leigh
In many cases, getting the return receipt back only indicates that a computer received what you sent. Which computer? It might be a department-wide or company-wide mail server, or it might be the computer on the recipient's desk. But getting the receipt back does not tell you whether or not the recipient actually opened or read what you sent.

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Where There's Smoke There's EmailAnd if you have organizational responsibility, you can help transform the culture to make more effective use of email. You can reduce volume while you make content more valuable. You can discourage email flame wars and that blizzard of useless if well-intended messages from colleagues and subordinates. Read Where There's Smoke There's Email to learn how to make email more productive at the organizational scale — and less dangerous. Order Now!

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See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness, Writing and Managing Email and Virtual and Global Teams for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Raquel Welch (left) and Gilda Radner (right) from a @Cite{Saturday Night Live rehearsal, April 24, 1976Coming December 20: Conceptual Mondegreens
When we disagree about abstractions, such as a problem solution, or a competitor's strategy, the cause can often be misunderstanding the abstraction. That misunderstanding can be a conceptual mondegreen. Available here and by RSS on December 20.
An engineer attending a meeting with 14 other engineersAnd on December 27: On Assigning Responsibility for Creating Trouble
When we assign responsibility for troubles that bedevil us, we often make mistakes. We can be misled by language, stereotypes, and the assumptions we make about others. Available here and by RSS on December 27.

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When Person-to-Person Communications: Models and Applicationswe talk, listen, send or read emails, read or write memos, or when we leave or listen to voice mail messages, we're communicating person-to-person. And whenever we communicate person-to-person, we risk being misunderstood, offending others, feeling hurt, and being confused. There are so many ways for things to go wrong that we could never learn how to fix all the problems. A more effective approach avoids problems altogether, or at least minimizes their occurrence. In this very interactive program we'll explain — and show you how to use — a model of inter-personal communications that can help you stay out of the ditch. We'll place particular emphasis on a very tricky situation — expressing your personal power. In those moments of intense involvement, when we're most likely to slip, you'll have a new tool to use to keep things constructive. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

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Most Ten Project Management Fallaciesof what we know about managing projects is useful and effective, but some of what we know "just ain't so." Identifying the fallacies of project management reduces risk and enhances your ability to complete projects successfully. Even more important, avoiding these traps can demonstrate the value and power of the project management profession in general, and your personal capabilities in particular. In this program we describe ten of these beliefs. There are almost certainly many more, but these ten are a good start. We'll explore the situations where these fallacies are most likely to expose projects to risk, and suggest techniques for avoiding them. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

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Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

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