Three New Commandments for Email

07/30/2011 by Jason M. Atwood (he/him)
The third part to my endless series of blog posts about email productivity. Read at your own risk, as it might ruffle a few feathers.

I was going back and forth with a co-worker this week about his auto-signature and wrote the phrase "Email signatures are like curse words, use them sparingly, with caution and in the right situation." It rang a bit true, so I thought it warranted its own blog post about the new commandments for new email.

1. Signatures Are Curse Words

Old email clients used to either have a signature or not. You couldn't add it when you wanted so most people came up with elaborate signatures and left them in every email. Email and desktop search were bad and conversation views didn't exist so signatures, while annoying didn't muck up the system.

Now with conversation views and great search, auto signatures become more and more of a hassle. Nobody cares if the email came from an iPhone, Blackberry or iPad. Standard auto signatures don't really help. We all know to save the environment and not print the email and that your legal department created a huge disclaimer that won't hold up in a court of law. We obviously have your name and email because they are in the header and we probably don't need your fax, phone, address, URL or waving logo hundreds of times in our inbox or archives. Once or twice would be great. It is time to turn off signatures and use them when they are adding to the conversation or providing information that someone else needs.

2. Replies Are Thoughtful, Not Immediate

In the consulting world we talk a lot about the Project Triangle which dictates there are three attributes to any project, Cheap, Good and Fast but you can only pick two. When it comes to email it might be thought of as Good and Fast, pick one. With much better ways to manage email and other tools that are more instant such as instant messenger, emails can now be thoughtful, well constructed and with meaning. Just shooting back emails like some hot potato is a new no-no. I'd rather wait a half day for the correct response than get back an immediate response that clearly indicates the person didn't read the email or answer any of the questions in it. Flag or label the email until you have the time to actually deal with the contents.

3. Email is a Tool, Not an Excuse

The days of blaming email are over. To say that you are buried in email is saying that you are unorganized. To say that you "missed it" is to say you were not paying attention. Spam folders and lost attachments are the receivers responsibility to manage and maintain. Email is such a huge part of communication, it is time to pay attention to it, to study up on it and to actually get trained on best practices. Help your co-workers and peers with hints and tips on email, hotkeys that could be used or ways to search and make life easier.

Email has come a long way and the rules we govern it by should change as the landscape changes.

If you have other commandments you would like to see hit me up on twitter @JasonMAtwood