email overload

Three Little Words

Three Little Words


Stores awash in pink and red, email boxes filling with ads for flowers and chocolates.  But this morning, my email box contained a message with three little letters that stand for three little words that bring a smile to my face every time they appear: EOM. End Of Message.

When the title of an email includes “-eom”, I know that I don’t even have to glance at the preview pane, and this makes me feel happy. It is the little things. Today, in the spirit of Valentine’s day, I want to share the love.

Share the love of one less email to open.

Everyone gets too much email.  This is not news. We sip our coffee and slog through our morning inboxes, deleting and deciding, and allowing various messages to shape our day.

Strategies abound for reducing email overload, but the challenge with “strategies” is that it can be difficult to get started.  The beauty of making a little change is that it is simple.  Easy.  Effective.

Two primary ways to use “-eom”

  1. If your message can fit into the subject field, tack on “-eom” at end and the recipient will know they don’t have to open the message.  Nice!
  2. If your message is short enough to fit into a standard preview pane (about 140 characters or 25 words), then write “-eom” at the end of message.  Assuming your recipient uses a preview pane, they are saved from opening your email.  Again, nice!

Today.  This week.  Give it a try.  Commit to including “-eom” at the end of your brief email messages.  It may take a while to see results, but sooner or later, people are going to realize how clever you are, and how happy they are to get your brief messages as opposed to the messages that drag on too long.

Think of it as my Valentine to you. – eom


5 Tips to Get Your Email Read

email symbol on row of colourful envelopes

“Did you see my email?”

“I have so much email, I haven’t had a chance,” Chris responds.  I groan on the inside.

Email remains the most popular form of business communication.  Research shows that the average business email account receives 81 messages per day, while sending 39.

There are only a handful of reasons people email each other at work, either within or without of their own organization.  As a result, the person getting your email is likely getting a lot of other, similar messages.  But your email is important, and you would prefer your answer sooner rather than later.  So, what can you do to get your message opened, read, and responded to?

1.  Start with a good subject line.

It makes a difference.  A good subject line significantly increases the chances that your message will be read.  Keep your subject line short, descriptive, and convey why your message is important to the recipient (as opposed to why it is important to you).

Consider the difference between:

“information relating to potential things in project”  and “Potential Project Delay”


something I’d like to talk to you about soon” and “Can I buy you breakfast tomorrow?

Stop sending emails with subjects lines containing only a form of greeting.  Please.  Unless you are Barack Obama, no one is going to read your message titled, “Hey!

2.  Begin message with the most important information first.

Get to the point and to the part that is most relevant to the recipient.  Every morning begins with scanning the inbox and pausing to read the preview pane of messages that might get opened before being deleted or ignored.

Ensuring that your critical component is in that preview pane will increase the likelihood of your message being communicated.  It will be refreshing for your recipient to not have to read a big long explanation while searching for your point.  Make your point first, and provide whatever background information or explanation you feel is necessary below.

3.  Be brief.  Use bullets.

When providing background information for your main point, strive to make your points in bullet form, rather than long sentences.  If you must use a lot of language, and email is your only true option, then write as briefly as possible and incorporate plenty of breaks so it looks like you are sending less.  White space (breaks between paragraphs) make it easier to read and less intimidating.  If your message is too long, it might get “saved” for that elusive “later”.

For example:

  • Use bullets.

  • Long sentences are too much work for reader.

  • Write brief sentences.

  • Break up text to create white space.

4.  Consider your recipient.

There are, (gasp!), other forms of communication available to you.  You may prefer email, but be aware that everyone doesn’t share your affinity.  Your goal is to get your message heard.  If the recipient is known for not reading and responding to email, then why send an email?  Find out what they prefer, and contact them that way.

5.  Develop your Reputation

Become known as someone who:

  • Is responsive to email messages that you receive.

  • Adds value to the conversation.

  • Is respectful of people’s time and doesn’t send unnecessary or hard-to-read messages.

People respond more quickly to others who respond to them. If you are known for never reading or responding to your email, why should someone take the time to read yours?


Are You Addicted to Email?

According to Radicati, “The average corporate worker spends a quarter of his/her work day on various email-related tasks. In comparison, the time spent in personal meetings accounts for about 14% of the typical day at the office, and phone conversations occupy only 9% of the typical workday.

In addition to this whopping 25% of your daily work effort, is the time it takes to shift gears in and out of your work flow to accommodate the incessant interruptions.

Recent research shows that having your smartphone at hand dramatically increases the interruptions as “checking habits” become, well, habitual and obsessive.

Email is a critical component in professional communications, yet it is a significant detractor to productivity.

That 25% of each day rapidly builds up into over 1 full work day each week.  What would YOU do with one extra day each week?  What about an extra day from each person on your team or throughout your organization?

Think about it.

Each week.

Each employee.

More than one full day on email.

They don’t like it any more than you do.

We all recognize the problem, but how, exactly, to address it?  Here’s one way:

Try setting aside “email free” time periods.  Everyone says things like this, it’s like the age-old joke of new mother’s napping when their babies sleep.  Just doesn’t happen.

But give it a try.  You will be amazed at how much more you get done.  No one is recommending that you turn off email for  day or anything drastic like that.  Just 90 minutes.

Take your first 90 minutes of the day and close your email, tuck away your smartphone and work.  If you’re in an office, put out a “do not disturb” notice or whatever you need to do to block off that time, and time yourself.  At the end of 90 minutes, take a break.  Get a healthy snack, go for a short walk.

Ideally, create a second 90-minute interruption-free block of time each day.  But I know you’re busy and the world will come to a crashing halt if you don’t check your email more often, so start with just one.

How often do you check your email?  Do you think the interruptions are significant?

Does more email mean you are MORE important?

“Were you copied on Steve’s email?”

“Did you see what she wrote?”

“I have over 100 emails just from this morning!”

These are the informal conversations that take place in the central locations — the true power hubs of any organization — where the corporate culture is defined and reinforced.

We’ve worked with many companies for the specific purpose of reducing email volume only to discover that their corporate culture, subliminally, uses email as an indicator of a person’s value.  The more email you have and generate, the more valuable you are viewed within the organization.

We worked with one leader and her team to reduce the overall email volume between her, her team, and external team contacts.  As her team learned exactly what her expectations were regarding email, she was copied on fewer messages.  Without so much email to wade through, she got more work done and responded quicker to her team’s needs.  She contacted her boss and other external contacts to establish similar expectations.  Most people responded positively, and thanked her for her consideration.

Come performance review time, her boss criticized her for not communicating enough with her team and with external contacts, despite the fact that she and her team reached, and often, exceeded, goals.  Somehow, the conversation regarding email expectations had been forgotten and she received a poor performance review.

Ultimately, her review was redone after she shared the positive feedback from her team and from external contacts regarding her communication process.

It takes one team at a time to change a corporate culture.  Given the tools and opportunity, people will choose to create an environment they can thrive in by giving one another permission to change their email habits.

As you go through your work week, consider how you view email.  Is a lot of email a badge of honor, of importance?  Do you view others as more or less important, based partially, on how many times their name pops up in your inbox?  What conversations about email “load” do you hear around the proverbial water cooler and what do these conversations mean to your corporate culture?  Do you really want less email?

"Replyallcalpyse" or "The Day NYU Broke"

It was bound to happen.

Every single one of us has accidentally sent an email somewhere, for whatever reason, and suffered through the unintended consequences.  But likely none of us quite so spectacularly as NYU sophomore Max Wiseltier.

Poor Max thought he was forwarding an email to his mom asking for help on a new paperless tax form request from the university’s bursar’s office.

What he, in fact, did, was click “reply all” and PRESTO, BAM-O, his message hit the inbox of every single one of his fellow students — all 39,979 of them!  Yikes!

As realization dawned, Max fired off a quick apology, but it was too late.  His errant message “triggered a rare, University-wide revelation,” wrote Kelly Weill in NYU Local.  “We simultaneously realized that any message, complaint, whim, link, video, or GIF could be sent to nearly 40,000 people in an instant.”

And the messages flew:

“Does anyone have a pencil I can borrow?” asked one.

“I want us all to be happy,” said another.

“Would you rather fight 100 duck-sized horses, or 1 horse-sized duck?” posed yet another.

That was just the beginning.  Many students took the opportunity to send out Nicolas Cage photos (in both regular and crazy).

Weill continues, “We had been given a great and terrible power.  For a moment we contemplated responsibility, then gleefully tossed it aside in favor of posting pictures of cats.”

The culprit, ultimately, was a poorly managed listserv.  Apologies were made, lists updated, all ended well.

As you go about your daily email today, take a little extra caution around that “reply all” button.  You never know what havoc you may wreak.

Share your funny / tragic “reply all” story!

Newsflash: Sarcasm hard to Communicate Electronically

There’s a study for everything. Psychologist Justin Kruger, PhD, and Nicolas Epley, PhD, of the University of Chicago have published their results (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 89, Nov. 5) that illustrate how sarcasm isn’t easily communicated electronically.   Is there any wonder in this result?  Without that eye-roll, verbal emphasis, pause, or wink, sarcastic remarks often fall short of their intended mark.

Krurger and Epley find that people overestimate both their ability to effectively communicate their intended tone in an email message and their ability to correctly interpret the tone of messages written by others (whether funny, sarcastic, or serious).

Why?  The disconnect has been attributed to egocentrism — when people have a difficult time detaching themselves from their own perspectives and understanding how others will interpret them.

But this isn’t about you.  Right?  You get it.  Others could use the help, but you – you’re funny, clever, and your co-workers and friends “get” your snark.

Unfortunately, not at often as you think.

In the initial part of the study, participants sent messages via voice recording and email.  The speakers and writers each anticipated a 78% success rate in effectively communicating their designated messages.  The participants recording their messages were close — 75% of their messages were received as expected.  But only 56% of the email messages were correctly received. That’s little better than half!!

Wait!  It gets better — the receivers of said messages anticipated a 90% accuracy rate.

Wow.  That’s a lot of unmerited confidence on both sides.

Inspired by previous research by psychologist Elizabeth Newton, PhD., Kruger developed additional experiments to delve deeper into the social phenomenon of egocentrism and hypothesized that the sender assumed that the receiver had the same understanding of intentions, motivations, and information.

In 1990, Newton tested the ability to tap out the rhythm of a well-known song and predict listeners’ ability to guess the song.  Tappers predicted a 50% success rate.  Success rate was actually 2.5%.

Reason being, according to Kruger, is that tappers “hear” the full, complete, song in their minds as they tap, but listeners hear only the random tapping.

“It’s impossible not to hear the song as you’re tapping away,” says Kruger. “So you have a hard time separating yourself from your own perspective and realizing how impoverished the listeners’ data really are.”

Comparatively, email writers “hear” their intended tone while forgetting that recipients don’t have access to all that extra information.

Kruger and Epley repeated their first experiments, but this time the email writers were required to read their messages aloud before sending.  Half of the writers read their messages with the intended tone, the other half assumed an opposing tone —  sarcastic tone for a serious message, or a serious tone for a sarcastic one.  Epley explains that the point was to force participants to step outside of their own perspective and to negate some of the egocentric impact.

It worked.  Participants who read their messages as intended still over-estimated the recipients’ ability to accurately interpret the message, but those that read their message in an opposing tone no longer did.

How can this help you?

Anyone who has ever been asked if they really meant something they said in an email that they thought was clearly funny or sarcastic, can attest to the unintended consequences of misunderstood tone.

When composing an email that contains emotional content, read it out loud.  Read it in various tones of voice.  Remind yourself that there is roughly a 50% chance of being misunderstood.  Ask yourself if this is a message better delivered over the phone or in person.

Do you have a great story about unintended consequences of an email that you or someone you know sent?  We’d love to hear it.

Save Our InBoxes!

Email overload.  It’s getting out of hand.  We spend an alarming amount of time each and every day simply responding to email messages.

Why?  And, more importantly, What can we EACH do to reduce this problem?

For years, we have been coaching people, teams, and organizations on the importance of managing email.  We have helped countless groups establish protocols that have helped to increase productivity and to unchain people from their ever-growing inboxes.

But it’s not enough.  Current research has shown that the average amount of time that each person spends during their workday on email is growing.

We need to get the word out, and here’s an excellent resource that can help you today.

It’s called the Email Charter.

The core principle in action is that every single one of us has to take responsibility for reducing the amount of time spent on email by our colleagues.  Here’s problem, as viewed through this lens:

For each email that you write, you are creating “work” for others.  Our instincts tell us it takes longer to write than to read, so reading an email should take less time than it did to write it, right?  Wrong. It takes longer to respond to an email than it does to write.  Here’s why:

When you “check your mail”, your process is more apt to be like:  scan your inbox; decide what to open; open it; read it; think about whether you need to respond or not; compose the response; edit your response; send your response.

Every time you engage in this process, you are removing yourself from your flow of work, you are diverting your attention and it takes time to regain that rhythm.

Now, think about this — every time you compose an email message, you are creating the same interruption of work for someone else.  Here are some very common email “habits” that add to the overloading of our inboxes and unnecessary consumption of our collective time:

  • Open-ended questions that are time-consuming to answer.  For example, “What are your thoughts on this?”, “How do you think we should proceed?”  Quick to ask, not-so-quick to answer.
  • “CC” – so easy to click and add multiple recipients, but each additional recipient exponentially increases the amount of time your email is consuming.
  • “FW” – forwarding and/or cutting and pasting text from other resources creates an increasing burden of time as your recipient scrolls, reads, and sorts through to find the salient points.
  • Links and videos – easy to add, but each link and video can take minutes to view.

We love the internet.  We love our email.  It takes an iron will not to linger and peruse all the wonderful, distracting nuances of the world wide web, and to share our discoveries with others, and they with us.  “Just copy a link, paste, and send … and boom, the world’s cognitive capacity takes another hit!”

All of these things contribute to the massive consumption of our work week.  We need to get it under control and we need to do so now.  I don’t recall any of my job descriptions (ever) including “checking email” as a line item, and yet, when I’m not careful, it can consume my day.