A different way to send e-mail at work

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E-mail is a scourge for many people — 89 billion of the business variety are sent every day, no one can stop checking it, and people devour articles about time hacks as relates to e-mail.

Here’s what I sometimes wonder: why don’t people contextualize their e-mail?

Here’s what I mean by that: why not open any new e-mail with a line explain the time sensitivity nature and overall context of the e-mail that follows?

I tried this a bit yesterday at my job.

So, something like this:

Dear Mike,

Hope you’re doing well. Had a quick request — it’s definitely not pressing, but if you could respond within 72 hours, that would be great.

Now, there are a lot of potential flaws here:

  • This isn’t how people normally e-mail, so it would take a while to catch on.
  • Most e-mails, I’d reckon, are typically in response to a larger thread and have a bunch of people on them. As such, it would be hard to break down the timing associated with each person.
  • “Boy Who Cried Wolf” situation where everyone is saying everything is super urgent.
  • People pretty much just scan e-mails anyway — although they do tend to scan the top — so the context might get lost.

While I admit there are flaws, I think this could work. As I see it, the biggest problems with e-mails are that people seem to think they exist in two categories:

  • Do it immediately.
  • Ignore it and forget about it.

In fact, there are a far greater number of categories, and far more nuanced.

Stuff falling through the cracks via e-mail, as well as death by meeting, are two huge ways that things don’t actually get done. The point of work, ostensibly, is to get stuff done. So if we could fix e-mails and meetings — without everyone copping to, “Well, they’re a necessity and we still make money!” — wouldn’t that be a good thing?

My name’s Ted Bauer; I blog here regularly and I’m a member of the BlogPoets network. My deal: I try to think differently about work, the future of work, leadership, management, marketing, organizational development, customer experience, and more. I’m out here trying to chase real connection and collaboration, not just 200K page views. Anyone want to talk? (I also do freelance and ghostwriting work, if anyone’s into that.)

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Blogging, largely about work and how to improve it. How I make (some) money: http://thecontextofthings.com/hire-freelance-writer-ted-bauer/

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