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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

What I hate about email

Last week I was out of my office for two days. When I came back, my email “in basket” had grown to 246 new emails. Yes, you read correctly.

I find it so unproductive to go through that many emails. Too many of them are what I classify as junk or unnecessary.

You know what I mean:
  • You were copied on a previous email, and someone decided to “reply all” instead of “reply.” I try NEVER to reply all.
  • Someone replies to your email with an “OK” or “Thanks.” Really, was it necessary to send an email on that?
  • You somehow got added to a mailing list because you gave your email to a store at which you shopped (either in person or online). I think you should be able to give your email AND be able to opt out of any email newsletter lists. I no longer give my email when I shop.
  • You were BCC’d on an email in your company. Well, that is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard of. In my mind, BCC really stands for CYA (Cover your *ss). Why don’t they just call it that?

BCC probably frustrates me more than anything. There is nothing I can do about it, because I am not supposed to know it even existed. Instead of BCCing someone, I recommend that after you send your original email, then just forward a copy of the email to that person and indicate it is an “FYI.” That way, they can at least respond.

When I come into my office each day, I do not make answering emails a priority. Here is my strategy for NOT making email an obstacle to getting actual work done. You may find this helpful:

  • When I turn on my computer, the first thing I do is glance through those emails that arrived since I left work the previous day. Since many of the junk emails come at night, I delete most of them right away.
  • I do NOT answer all my emails right away. I decide which ones are truly urgent and answer those first. (I define a message as TRULY URGENT when the sender cannot proceed with their daily tasks without an answer from me.) Sometimes, if the sender is located in my office, I will just walk over to their desk and answer them. Personal interaction is a very important part of company culture.
  • I ignore the rest of my emails until I am taking a break, having lunch, or it is my time of day to go through emails.
  • My priority each day is working on my TO DO list. Every day I start with the top three projects I need to complete that day. When I finish one of them, I take a break to send or answer emails. That break is only 10 minutes max.
  • When I am going through my emails, I sort by sender, so I avoid having to read the back and forth emails caused by those “reply” and “reply alls.” I can read one and delete all the previous versions. I read the emails by the priority of the person who sent them to me.
  • Email newsletter lists: These are my lowest priority. Somehow I got subscribed to at least a dozen email newsletters. Over time, I have found that most of my trade e-letters are rehashing the same stories. So, I glance at the headlines of the ones which have the easiest format to read and (honestly) I delete the rest.
  • When the option is given (like at the bottom of many e-newsletters), I “opt out” immediately. It takes about 5 seconds and I am never bothered by their emails again.

Well, my break is over now, so I need to go back to my TO DO list!



  1. You need an email app, like SaneBox!

  2. In defense of BCC... it's not always CYA, though it might be more so in an office. Among small businesses, the press, and such, it's a way to send information to multiple people while protecting them from phishing - or people stealing their contact information. For example, if I've got a press release that I'm sending out to multiple other reporters and bloggers I know, I'd send it to myself and have everyone's email in the "BCC" section. That way, if my colleagues forward the information (Yay!) my other colleagues aren't in danger of having someone I don't know grab their email and start sending them spam or unwanted releases.

    Using BCC in a CYA maneuver as you describe, to me sounds underhanded. If I need to have a client or editor or supervisor oversee some written dialogue, I put that in the CC so that the sender _knows_ that I'm not saying anything I feel is improper.

    Also, if you need to reply to a BCC, there's no reason not to. Reply would just direct it to the sender, not the recipient.

    That said, I sympathize with the email plight. Almost all my business is conducted via email, and most of my clients are too far to visit with in-person. Email is the preferred contact method because it leaves a record of the discussion (for contract and authenticity purposes), and it can be relegated to specific points of "free time" in the day. Good luck!


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