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It’s Chris Anderson’s idea. As curator of the TED thought leadership conferences, he gets a torrent of e-mail. Chris pines for the good old days when people didn’t “barge into someone’s house or office and expect, then and there, 20 minutes of thoughtful, focused attention.”
As he warned in the Washington Post, your inbox is “a to-do list that anyone in the world can add to. If you’re not careful, it can gobble up most of your week.” Or someone else’s.
Here’s an example. Say I get an e-mail about a grant which could benefit my non-profit. I begin reading the lengthy attachment and soon my attention wanes. What do I do next? Forward it on to someone else, with the note: “Do you think we should bring this up at our meeting next week?”
In one quick phrase, I become an evil Time Dictator. I have dumped my thinking time onto an unsuspecting Other whom I hope will read the whole thing and get back to me.
Chris calls that a “tragedy of the commons.” In this case, the “commons” is humankind’s total amount of attention. He goes on: “Instant communication makes it a little too easy to grab a piece of that attention. The result of all those little acts of grabbing is a giant drain on our time, energy and sanity.”
Well, it’s time for me and everybody else to stop being so lazy and inconsiderate.
Luckily, Chris can help us. Thousands of people sent him ideas for putting a stopper on the time drain. He boiled them down into the Email Charter. Just five of its ten tenets are a good start:
- Respect the Recipient’s Time. If you start the e-mail process, you control the time it will cost others. Think before you press send. If you can do the mental work yourself, don’t slough it on others.
- Short or Slow does not equal Rude. Understand that when you send a message it may take a while for someone to get back to you. If the reply is brief, be grateful not miffed.
- Avoid Open-ended Questions. Stop sending e-mail with questions like “Thoughts?” Give the recipient finite choices such as: “Would you like me to a) call b) stop by or c) butt out?”
- Use EOM and NRN. If possible, slim down your message into a phrase and put it in the subject line followed by the letters EOM. “End of Message” indicates the recipient does not have to bother opening the e-mail. If you need to write a longer message and it doesn’t require an answer, end the e-mail with the letters NRN. That means “No Response Necessary,” which is one letter shorter than Chris’s “No Need to Respond.”
- Disconnect. Limit the time you spend each day on e-mail or read it only at a proscribed time of day. One day a weekend, don’t check e-mail. Set up an auto-response with a link to the Email Charter.
After I read the Charter, I was so impressed I clicked on “Join Our Mailing List” even though I didn’t really want more mail. I almost cheered when up popped these words:
NO!! Don’t do this!
The last thing you need is another email newsletter!
In fact, we pledge never to email you.
Never. Ever. (Now please go unsubscribe from the other newsletters you never read.)
Author’s note: The preceding is an excerpt from my upcoming book.