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Email Overload

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IT professionals and managers risk drowning in email as it becomes the by-product of a communications system that may also be hampering efficient knowledge sharing. A survey of 200 UK managers and directors from the legal, marketing and financial service sectors found that a quarter send more than 30 emails a day, with a further 40 per cent sending between 11 and 30. The market researcher also found that more than half of directors receive more than 20 messages a day.

Despite a third saying that they receive much of their decision making information via email, a quarter worry about security. That figure rises to a third of IT and telecoms professionals.

Here's some advice on coping with the glut of e-mail:

Taming e-mail means training the senders to put the burden of quality back on themselves.  Useful advice on the subject  is provided by by Stever Robbins in his Tips for Mastering E-mail Overload - HBS Working Knowledge

You guessed it: You go first. First, you say, "In order for me to make you more productive, I'm going to adopt this new policy to lighten your load…" Demonstrate a policy for a month, and if people like it, ask them to start doing it too.

People scan their inbox by subject. Make your subject rich enough that your readers can decide whether it's relevant. The best way to do this is to summarize your message in your subject.

BAD SUBJECT: GOOD SUBJECT:
Subject: Deadline discussion Subject: Recommend we ship product April 25th

Too many messages forwarded to you start with an answer—"Yes! I agree. Apples are definitely the answer"—without offering context. We must read seven included messages, notice that we were copied, and try to figure out what apples are the answer to. Even worse, we don't really know if we should care. Oops! We just noticed there are ten messages about apples. One of the others says "Apples are definitely not the answer." And another says, "Didn't you get my message about apples?" But which message was sent first? And which was in response to which? ARGH!

It's very, very difficult to get to the core of the issue.

You're probably sending e-mail because you're deep in thought about something. Your reader is too, only they're deep in thought about something else. Even worse, in a multi-person conversation, messages and replies may arrive out of order. And no, it doesn't help to include the entire past conversation when you reply; it's rude to force someone else to wade through ten screens of messages because you're too lazy to give them context. So, start off your messages with enough context to orient your reader.

BAD E-MAIL: GOOD E-MAIL:
To: Billy Franklin
From: Robert Payne
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Please bring contributions to the charity drive

Yes, apples are definitely the answer.

To: Billy Franklin
From: Robert Payne
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Please bring contributions to the charity drive.

You asked if we want apple pie. Yes, apples are definitely the answer.

Just because you send a message to six poor coworkers doesn't mean all six know what to do when they get it. Ask yourself why you're sending to each recipient, and let them know at the start of the message what they should do with it. Big surprise, this also forces you to consider why you're including each person.

BAD CC: GOOD CC:
To: Abby Gail, Bill Fold, Cindy Rella
Subject: Web site design draft is done
 

The Web site draft is done. Check it out in the attached file. The design firm will need our responses by the end of the week.

To: Abby Gail, Bill Fold, Cindy Rella
Subject: Web site design draft is done

AG: DECISION NEEDED. Get marketing to approve the draft

BF: PLEASE VERIFY. Does the slogan capture our branding?

CR: FYI, if we need a redesign, your project will slip.

The Web site draft is done. Check it out in the attached file. The design firm will need our responses by the end of the week.

If you bcc someone "just to be safe," think again. Ask yourself what you want the "copied" person to know, and send a separate message if needed.Yes, it's more work for you, but if we all do it, it's less overload.

BAD BCC: GOOD BCC:
To: Fred
Bcc: Chris

Please attend the conference today at 2:00 p.m.

To: Fred

Please attend the conference today at 2:00 p.m.

To: Chris

Please reserve the conference room for me and Fred today at 2:00 p.m.

If you want things to get done, say so. Clearly. There's nothing more frustrating as a reader than getting copied on an e-mail and finding out three weeks later that someone expected you to pick up the project and run with it. Summarize action items at the end of a message so everyone can read them at one glance.

If someone sends a message addressing a dozen topics, some of which you can respond to now and some of which you can't, send a dozen responses—one for each topic. That way, each thread can proceed unencumbered by the others.

Do this when mixing controversy with mundania. That way, the mundane topics can be taken care of quietly, while the flame wars can happen separately.

BAD MIXING OF ITEMS: GOOD MIXING OF ITEMS:
We need to gather all the articles by February 1st.

Speaking of which, I was thinking … do you think we should fire Sandy?

Message #1: We need to gather all the articles by February 1st.

Message #2: Sandy's missed a lot of deadlines recently. Do you think termination is in order?

Sometimes the problem is the opposite—sending 500 tiny messages a day will overload someone, even if the intent is to reduce this by creating separate threads. If you are holding a dozen open conversations with one person, the slowness of typing is probably substantial overhead. Jot down all your main points on a piece of (gasp) paper, pick up the phone, and call the person to discuss those points. I guarantee you'll save a ton of time.

For goodness sake, if someone sends you a message, don't forward it along without editing it. Make it appropriate for the ultimate recipient and make sure it doesn't get the original sender in trouble.

BAD FORWARDING: GOOD FORWARDING:
To: Bill

Sue's idea, described below, is great.

---

From: Sue

Hey, Abner:

Let's take the new design and add sparkles around the border. Bill probably won't mind; his design sense is so garish he'll approve anything.

To: Bill

Sue's idea, described below, is great.

---

From: Sue

Hey, Abner:

Let's take the new design and add sparkles around the border…

BAD E-MAIL: GOOD E-MAIL:
Subject: Conference call Wednesday at 3:00 p.m.

 

Subject: Conference call Wednesday at 3:00 p.m. to review demo presentation.

 

Make sure the meat of your e-mail is visible in the preview pane of your recipient's mailer. That means the first two paragraphs should have the meat. Many people never read past the first screen, and very few read past the third.

Some people are so buried under e-mail that they can't reply quickly. If something is important, use the phone or make a follow-up phone call. Do it politely; a delay may not be personal. It might be that someone's overloaded. If you have time-sensitive information, don't assume people have read the e-mail you sent three hours ago rescheduling the meeting that takes place in five minutes. Pick up the phone and call.

How to read and receive e-mail
Setting a good example only goes so far. You also have to train others explicitly. Explain to them that you're putting some systems in place to help you manage your e-mail overload. Ask for their help, and know that they're secretly envying your strength of character.

We hate telemarketers during dinner, so why do we tolerate e-mail when we're trying to get something useful done? Turn off your e-mail "autocheck" and only check e-mail two or three times a day, by hand. Let people know that if they need to reach you instantly, e-mail isn't the way. When it's e-mail processing time, however, shut the office door, turn off the phone, and blast through the messages.

The solution to e-mail overload is pencil and paper? Who knew? Grab a legal pad and label it "Response list." Run through your incoming e-mails. For each, note on the paper what you have to do or whom you have to call. Resist the temptation to respond immediately. If there's important reference information in the e-mail, drag it to your Reference folder. Otherwise, delete it. Zip down your entire list of e-mails to generate your response list. Then, zip down your response list and actually do the follow-up.

One CEO I've worked with charges staff members five dollars from their budget for each e-mail she receives. Amazingly, her overload has gone down, the relevance of e-mails has gone up, and the senders are happy, too, because the added thought often results in them solving more problems on their own.

If you are constantly copied on things, begin replying to e-mails that aren't relevant with the single word: "Relevant?" Of course, you explain that this is a favor to them. Now, they can learn what is and isn't relevant to you. Beforehand, tell them the goal is to calibrate relevance, not to criticize or put them down and encourage them to send you relevancy challenges as well. Pretty soon, you'll be so well trained you'll be positively productive!

When someone sends you a ten page missive, reply with three words. "Yup, great idea." You'll quickly train people not to expect huge answers from you, and you can then proceed to answer at your leisure in whatever format works best for you. If your e-mail volume starts getting very high, you'll have no choice.

Type your response directly, but schedule it to be sent out in a few days. This works great for conversations that are nice but not terribly urgent. By inserting a delay in each go-around, you both get to breathe easier.

(In Outlook, choose Options when composing a message and select Do not deliver before. In Eudora, hold down the Shift key as you click Send.)

Yes, ignore e-mail. If something's important, you'll hear about it again. Trust me. And people will gradually be trained to pick up the phone or drop by if they have something to say. After all, if it's not important enough for them to tear their gaze away from the hypnotic world of Microsoft Windows, it's certainly not important enough for you to take the time to read.

Your only solution is to take action
Yeah, yeah, you have a million reasons why these ideas can never work in your workplace. Hogwash. I use every one of them and can bring at least a semblance of order to my inbox. So choose a technique and start applying it. While you practice, I'll be on vacation, accumulating a 2,000 message backlog for when I get home. If you want to know how well I cope, just send along an e-mail and ask….

Many users are not aware that email has its own set of rules and that violating those rules increase the probability of filtering your email not only by local corporate antispam filter but by filters in other corporations (and more and more corporation are using various spam filter to protect their user form the flood of spam). For your reference here are a typical e-mail etiquette rules (reproduced form Email Etiquette, University of Kansas):

There are a lot of Internet sites devoted to "Netiquette". See Recommended Links.

Please avoid sending message without the subject line (it looks like that's how this reply subject line "Re: " was generated) or with short generic subject lines.

That violates e-mail etiquette rule "Good descriptive subject lines allow easy scanning for message content in mailboxes".

Please don't use your user ID in the subject line. This is a typical spammer trick for making email unique to avoid filtering; such mails are blocked by most spam filters...

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[Apr 19, 2015] Can High Intelligence Be a Burden Rather Than a Boon?

Apr 18, 2015 | science.slashdot.org

timothy on Saturday April 18, 2015 @11:22AM

HughPickens.com writes David Robson has an interesting article at BBC on the relationship between high intelligence and happiness. "We tend to think of geniuses as being plagued by existential angst, frustration, and loneliness," writes Robson. Think of Virginia Woolf, Alan Turing, or Lisa Simpson – lone stars, isolated even as they burn their brightest." As Ernest Hemingway wrote: "Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know."

The first steps to studying the question were taken in 1926 when psychologist Lewis Terman decided to identify and study a group of gifted children. Terman selected 1,500 pupils with an IQ of 140 or more – 80 of whom had IQs above 170. Together, they became known as the "Termites", and the highs and lows of their lives are still being studied to this day. "As you might expect, many of the Termites did achieve wealth and fame – most notably Jess Oppenheimer, the writer of the classic 1950s sitcom I Love Lucy. Indeed, by the time his series aired on CBS, the Termites' average salary was twice that of the average white-collar job. But not all the group met Terman's expectations – there were many who pursued more "humble" professions such as police officers, seafarers, and typists.

For this reason, Terman concluded that "intellect and achievement are far from perfectly correlated". Nor did their smarts endow personal happiness. Over the course of their lives, levels of divorce, alcoholism and suicide were about the same as the national average."

According to Robson, one possibility is that knowledge of your talents becomes something of a ball and chain. During the 1990s, the surviving Termites were asked to look back at the events in their 80-year lifespan. Rather than basking in their successes, many reported that they had been plagued by the sense that they had somehow failed to live up to their youthful expectations (PDF).

Bo'Bob'O (95398) on Saturday April 18, 2015 @11:41AM (#49500291)

The third factor (Score:5, Insightful)

I surely wouldn't qualify as one of the 'termites' in the study, but there still things in my life I take to quickly. There is a third metric that I am in my coming to respect even more: motivation and inspiration.

There is a big difference between having the ability to do something, having the need to do something, and having a want and drive to do something. That last one seems to get people much further then being at the very top in intelligence. It also provides a framework of interaction and social connection between peers, if it is truly a passion.

So maybe it takes being the best and brightest to be first chair violinist in a prestigious symphony, but being brilliant alone won't get you there. Meanwhile hundreds of others have a long and successful career they make out of their perseverance.

radtea (464814) on Saturday April 18, 2015 @11:57AM (#49500359)

Re:The third factor (Score:5, Interesting)

You've likely encountered this quote, but it bears repeating:

Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan 'Press On' has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race. -- Calvin Coolidge, 30th president of US (1872 - 1933)

E-Rock (84950) on Saturday April 18, 2015 @01:39PM (#49500767) Homepage

Re:Persistence is not omnipotent. (Score:5, Insightful)

Persistence doesn't mean trying the same thing over and over until it works. Persistence is trying to achieve your goals over and over again until you're successful.

So you might bang your head on the wall a few times, realize that won't work and then try different things until you break it down.

NixieBunny (859050) on Saturday April 18, 2015 @12:08PM (#49500403) Homepage

Re:The third factor (Score:4, Interesting)

Happiness has a lot to do with attitude. I find that being generally happy is easy if you use your abilities to put yourself into situations that make you happy. I used to work for a place that got to be more and more like Dilbert.

Instead of drowning in it, I broke loose and made a new life, using my brains to create interesting, fun things. I found part-time work in the sciences, and have extra time to make wacky inventions and volunteer with kids, teaching them how to do similar things.

I am careful to take on projects only if they are likely to make me happier. The latest was building the red telephone for this [rollingstone.com]...

Bengie (1121981) on Saturday April 18, 2015 @05:37PM (#49501635)

Re:The third factor (Score:2)

If you have no peers, you can get lonely and no amount of attitude can completely help a human who is lonely.

lkcl (517947) <lkcl@lkcl.net> on Saturday April 18, 2015 @11:42AM (#49500295) Homepage

Read "Outliers" (Score:5, Informative)

this is nothing new: i believe the same study was the basis of the famous book "Outliers", which is a fascinating study of what makes people successful. if i recall correctly, it's completely the opposite of what people expect: your genes *do* matter. your attitude *does* matter. your circumstances *do* matter. working hard *does* matter. and luck matters as well. but it's all of these things - luck, genetics, circumstances *and* hard work - that make for the ultimate success story. bill gates is one of the stories described. he had luck and opportunity - by being born at just the right time when personal computing was beginning - and circumstances - by going to one of the very very few schools in the USA that actually had a computer available (for me, that opportunity was when i was 8: i went to one of the very very few secondary schools in the UK that had a computer: a Pet 3032).

so, yeah - it's not a very popular view, particularly in the USA, as it goes against the whole "anyone can make it big" concept. but, put simply, the statistics show that it's a combination of a whole *range* of factors, all of which contribute, that make up success. just "being intelligent" simply is not enough.

drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Saturday April 18, 2015 @02:27PM (#49500967) Homepage Journal

Re:Read "Outliers" (Score:4, Insightful)

bill gates is one of the stories described. he had luck and opportunity - by being born at just the right time when personal computing was beginning - and circumstances - by going to one of the very very few schools in the USA that actually had a computer available

Yes, and by having rich parents. That is the single most reliable predictor of economic success. As such, it is anything but surprising that Gates was successful.

PeterM from Berkeley (15510) <petermardahl@NoSPam.yahoo.com> on Saturday April 18, 2015 @11:44AM (#49500299) Journal

Scientific American begs to differ (Score:3)

Some ten or fifteen years ago, Scientific American published an article about the positive correlation of "general intelligence" with virtually every measure of success in life.

Like earning enough money to be comfortable, having the emotional intelligence to have a successful marriage, etc.

They showed that "general intelligence" which is correlated with but not directly measured by things like SAT scores, was basically a ticket to (or highly correlated with) a good life, and even good health.

And the article was mighty persuasive.

--PeterM

the_skywise (189793) on Saturday April 18, 2015 @12:03PM (#49500387)

The problem isn't intelligence - per se (Score:5, Insightful)

(See? I used per se, so I'm... oh never mind...)

Intelligence and being highly observant are great skills both in society and from an evolutionary/survivalist standpoint.

But in a society I've found it brings up two downsides:

Guilt, because your intelligence allows you to avoid pain or achieve a higher level of comfort in society. You weren't "superman" you just made rational choices based upon your understanding of how the system works and now your friends and family are suffering because they didn't and you want to help them which requires more energy and effort or you can't which means your intelligence has limits and all you can do is watch them suffer.

Stress and anxiety. Once you figure out that you can problem solve and improve your quality of life it's natural, like any athlete, to grow and push your boundaries. But intellectual pursuits aren't as cut and dried as physical ones - It's easy to know that you can only bench press 200lbs and that's what you need to work on - Less so when you're trying to solve problems like familial and social discord but nobody will listen or trying to improve your company's fortunes by making proper investment choices. More to the point, I'm an engineer and there's nothing more frustrating trying to solve a problem you've encountered with your design that YOU pushed for, can't figure out why it's not working, might not work AT ALL and the boss is breathing down your neck (oh and the company is on the line). There's plenty of days I've driven by a building crew and daydreamed about just running the earth mover or driving a dump truck.

In an Agrarian society - in a pre-industrialized world these issues just didn't come about for intellectualism - Partially because it wasn't as much of a survival skill. (And that's probably why steampunk is so romanticized today)

reboot246 (623534) on Saturday April 18, 2015 @07:29PM (#49502135) Homepage

This may be why (Score:5, Interesting)

The danger when you have the intelligence to do anything you want to do in life is doing nothing. You hesitate to focus narrowly on one field of study because that means you'll have less time for all the others.

I won't say what my IQ is, but it's up there. My grades, especially in science courses, were practically perfect. People were expecting me to go into all kinds of careers, including medicine, chemistry, physics, computer science, etc.. But, I'm interested in everything! Always have been. I chose a career that didn't need much thought so I could keep up with what was happening in science and technology. It's worked. How many 62 year olds do you know who build their own computers? Or just bought two new microscopes? Or diagnose their own problems before going to the doctor?

I know a lot of successful people. Most of them have very little time for fishing, hunting, camping, going to ball games, watching television, listening to music, playing with the children & grandchildren, or working in the garden. I have all the time in the world to enjoy life. Isn't that what it's all about?

Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 18, 2015 @01:12PM (#49500661)

Re:*Grabs a bowl of popcorn* (Score:5, Interesting)

I do not know if I qualify as a genius, but I would like to think I am above average in intelligence. I topped my undergraduate class in engineering, scored near perfect score in my GRE (2380/2400, back when it actually included an analytical section with puzzles), and was a graduate student in quantum computing at a top school.

I subsequently dropped out because I realized two things:

  1. Most of my classmates were really good at the subject (e.g., people who won International Math and Physics Olympiads). They started their PhDs at a really young age, and were almost bored by the coursework. Homework that I would spend a Saturday doing were completed while still in class by these bored teenagers.
  2. Most of them really loved the subject (i.e., people who loved doing physics at the expense of all else, such as dating, money, or having a social life). Or the subject was so easy that they had the time to pursue other things.

I realized I neither loved physics unconditionally nor was I good enough at it to warrant the pursuit of a PhD, not to mention the subsequent post doc and so on. All this happened at the same time that I fell in love with my now-wife, started a company, and subsequently got into management consulting to make money instead.

I do not mean to phrase this as a tautology (i.e., doing a PhD is mutually exclusive from making money or having a social life), but in my experience, the biggest sacrifice was watching classmates who were relatively mediocre (in my opinion) get "business" degrees and do exceedingly well in life in terms of money and relationships.

Most of my cohort completed their PhDs and now have very successful academic careers. I still love math, theoretical physics, and computer science. I keep myself apprised of most of the publications in the field, and occasionally, write a paper or two myself, and I certainly miss the challenge of advanced math and physics. I still envy my peers, and I am sure some of them envy me.

But now being in an unhappy relationship, being a parent, having the burdens of a pointless life (the hardest thing I do is a spreadsheet that just helps some fool company make millions of dollars), I question my past choices. So much possibility lay ahead of me, and I gave it all up for what? For a few bucks, beers, and a few lays?

I'm probably considered successful by the measure of the quintessential American dream -- by ~30, I was a rising star at a top management consulting firm, had over 7 figures to my name, owned a large home in one of the best neighborhoods in Boston, and had a beautiful wife and son. I drove expensive cars, wore bespoke suits and expensive watches, spent time mountaineering in the Alps and the Himalayas, and traveled the world. But still, I always felt that I had missed something. That I will never come ahead of time. That no matter how successful I become in life, I will probably never have a theorem named after me or spend my days basking in the beauty of math.

No amount of sex or expensive liquor or material goods can equate the joys of just proving a theorem. I will forever have this knowledge, that I could have been more, and chose less. My life now reminds me of a Pink Floyd lyrics -- "Did you exchange a walk-on part in a war for a lead role in a cage?".

justthinkit (954982) <floyd@just-think-it.com> on Saturday April 18, 2015 @07:51PM (#49502227) Homepage Journal

Here is what you are missing (Score:3)

Here is what you are missing -- helping others.

Most of the activities of my life have been trivially easy for decades. Helping others remains challenging.

If you really are "so smart", you are able to see what a disaster this world is today. Well, get busy changing it. You will be up against the most powerful, greedy, selfish & moneyed people on the face of the Earth. Challenge enough for me. What about you?

Spugglefink (1041680) on Saturday April 18, 2015 @05:35PM (#49501619)

Re:The biggest problem: the "long view" (Score:5, Interesting)

I can relate to that. People who live more in the moment are happier, because the long view always involves decline, death, and dying. I'm petting and really enjoying my dog, and somewhere I'm thinking how I might have another eight years before I have a 120 pound problem who is pissing and shitting huge logs everywhere, who is going to be a royal bitch to dig a hole for one day. I'm having sex with my wife, and somewhere I'm thinking how much it's going to suck looking at her when she's 80. The big picture long view always seems to have a down side, and it's depressing.

I can relate to the expectations thing too. Everybody looks up to you, and a lot of them are jealous of you, and it makes it that much harder to choose an ordinary life. I'm a truck driver, and I like my profession fine, but I constantly feel a need to apologize for not owning the trucking company or being a professor or something; for not aiming higher in general. I've found a lot of people don't like me, because they don't think they're good enough for me for some reason, and yet I feel the same toward them. I'd love to just be normal, and not have to think so much about everything. Too much knowledge can be crippling, instead of helpful. It's hard to invest in a business idea, knowing every conceivable way it might fail, and what all the odds are.

My mother was even more intelligent than I am, and she died young, of alcoholism. She was a miserable woman.

Intelligence is overrated. One side effect for me is that I can never enjoy the opiate of a nice handy sky daddy to make me feel less infinitesimal in the scheme of things. We evolved to see sky daddies in everything, and I have the same need in my brain as any other human, but there's nothing to plug into it. I haven't found the religion yet that wasn't just totally inconsistent and goofy.

captjc (453680) on Saturday April 18, 2015 @10:06PM (#49502711)

Re:The biggest problem: the "long view" (Score:3)

That has nothing to do with intelligence and everything to do with outlook and perspective. Lets just say, I'm a pretty smart guy and the best piece of advice that I was ever given was to focus on the now. It is easy to foresee problems and possible scenarios and it is good to take measures to prevent the obvious. However, the sooner you realize that shit happens that you will never be able to plan for or there are simply various inevitable outcomes that will be sad and painful that you simply will not want to deal with, the sooner you will realize that there is just no point in worrying about them.

It has almost become a catchphrase for me, "Cross that bridge when you get to it." Focus on what can be dealt with now. Try to keep yourself in the best possible situation that you can and don't worry about what is around the corner until it is within sight to actually deal with it. Friends will come and go, loved ones will leave you, cars and tools will fail you when you need them the most, at some point your job will end, and eventually you will die. These are simple truths of life but if you spend even a second worrying about any of them before there is anything you can do about them, it is purely wasted energy that could be put to use tackling the problems that you do have.

I'm not saying it is easy to change the way you look at the world. It can take some work if not serious effort and it is easy to let yourself fall into ruts of depression and self-loathing. I know, I was there. That is nothing but perverse mental masturbation that does nothing but waste your energy and destroy what little happiness you can achieve. If you can learn to refocus yourself to only what you can affect, the happier and more productive you will become.

End Inbox Blues Common-Sense Ways to Control Email Overload

July 5, 2000 (ZDNet AnchorDesk)

Tips for Overcoming Email Overload by Kaitlin Duck Sherwood

[Mar 27, 2007] Tips for Mastering E-mail Overload - HBS Working Knowledge

10/25/2004

A great productivity enhancer? Ha! E-mail can be a tremendous waste of time unless you know how to tame the savage beast, says Stever Robbins.

by Stever Robbins

Being at or near the the top of your organization, everyone wants a piece of you. So they send you e-mail. It makes you feel important. Don't you love it? Really? Then, please take some of mine! Over 100 real e-mails come in each day. At three minutes apiece, it will take five hours just to read and respond. Let's not even think about the messages that take six minutes of work to deal with. Shudder. I'm buried in e-mail and chances are, you're not far behind. For whatever reason, everyone feels compelled to keep you "in the loop."

Fortunately, being buried alive under electronic missives forced me to develop coping strategies. Let me share some of the nonobvious ones with you. Together, maybe we can start a revolution.

The problem is that readers now bear the burden
Before e-mail, senders shouldered the burden of mail. Writing, stamping, and mailing a letter was a lot of work. Plus, each new addressee meant more postage, so we thought hard about whom to send things to. (Is it worth spending thirty-two cents for Loren to read this letter? Nah….)

E-mail bludgeoned that system in no time. With free sending to an infinite number of people now a reality, every little thought and impulse becomes instant communication. Our most pathetic meanderings become deep thoughts that we happily blast to six dozen colleagues who surely can't wait. On the receiving end, we collect these gems of wisdom from the dozens around us. The result: Inbox overload.

("But my incoming e-mail is important," you cry. Don't fool yourself. Time how long you spend at your inbox. Multiply by your per-minute wage(*) to find out just how much money you spend on e-mail. If you can justify that expense, far out—you're one of the lucky ones. But for many, incoming e-mail is a money suck. Bonus challenge: do this calculation companywide.)

(*) Divide your yearly salary by 120,000 to get your per-minute wage.

Taming e-mail means training the senders to put the burden of quality back on themselves.

How you can send better e-mail
What's the best way to train everyone around you to better e-mail habits? You guessed it: You go first. First, you say, "In order for me to make you more productive, I'm going to adopt this new policy to lighten your load…" Demonstrate a policy for a month, and if people like it, ask them to start doing it too.

People scan their inbox by subject. Make your subject rich enough that your readers can decide whether it's relevant. The best way to do this is to summarize your message in your subject.

BAD SUBJECT: GOOD SUBJECT:
Subject: Deadline discussion Subject: Recommend we ship product April 25th

Too many messages forwarded to you start with an answer—"Yes! I agree. Apples are definitely the answer"—without offering context. We must read seven included messages, notice that we were copied, and try to figure out what apples are the answer to. Even worse, we don't really know if we should care. Oops! We just noticed there are ten messages about apples. One of the others says "Apples are definitely not the answer." And another says, "Didn't you get my message about apples?" But which message was sent first? And which was in response to which? ARGH!

It's very, very difficult to get to the core of the issue.

You're probably sending e-mail because you're deep in thought about something. Your reader is too, only they're deep in thought about something else. Even worse, in a multi-person conversation, messages and replies may arrive out of order. And no, it doesn't help to include the entire past conversation when you reply; it's rude to force someone else to wade through ten screens of messages because you're too lazy to give them context. So, start off your messages with enough context to orient your reader.

BAD E-MAIL: GOOD E-MAIL:
To: Billy Franklin
From: Robert Payne
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Please bring contributions to the charity drive

Yes, apples are definitely the answer.

To: Billy Franklin
From: Robert Payne
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Please bring contributions to the charity drive.

You asked if we want apple pie. Yes, apples are definitely the answer.

Just because you send a message to six poor coworkers doesn't mean all six know what to do when they get it. Ask yourself why you're sending to each recipient, and let them know at the start of the message what they should do with it. Big surprise, this also forces you to consider why you're including each person.

BAD CC: GOOD CC:
To: Abby Gail, Bill Fold, Cindy Rella
Subject: Web site design draft is done

The Web site draft is done. Check it out in the attached file. The design firm will need our responses by the end of the week.

To: Abby Gail, Bill Fold, Cindy Rella
Subject: Web site design draft is done

AG: DECISION NEEDED. Get marketing to approve the draft

BF: PLEASE VERIFY. Does the slogan capture our branding?

CR: FYI, if we need a redesign, your project will slip.

The Web site draft is done. Check it out in the attached file. The design firm will need our responses by the end of the week.

If you bcc someone "just to be safe," think again. Ask yourself what you want the "copied" person to know, and send a separate message if needed.Yes, it's more work for you, but if we all do it, it's less overload.

BAD BCC: GOOD BCC:
To: Fred
Bcc: Chris

Please attend the conference today at 2:00 p.m.

To: Fred

Please attend the conference today at 2:00 p.m.

To: Chris

Please reserve the conference room for me and Fred today at 2:00 p.m.

If you want things to get done, say so. Clearly. There's nothing more frustrating as a reader than getting copied on an e-mail and finding out three weeks later that someone expected you to pick up the project and run with it. Summarize action items at the end of a message so everyone can read them at one glance.

If someone sends a message addressing a dozen topics, some of which you can respond to now and some of which you can't, send a dozen responses—one for each topic. That way, each thread can proceed unencumbered by the others.

Do this when mixing controversy with mundania. That way, the mundane topics can be taken care of quietly, while the flame wars can happen separately.

BAD MIXING OF ITEMS: GOOD MIXING OF ITEMS:
We need to gather all the articles by February 1st.

Speaking of which, I was thinking … do you think we should fire Sandy?

Message #1: We need to gather all the articles by February 1st.

Message #2: Sandy's missed a lot of deadlines recently. Do you think termination is in order?

Sometimes the problem is the opposite—sending 500 tiny messages a day will overload someone, even if the intent is to reduce this by creating separate threads. If you are holding a dozen open conversations with one person, the slowness of typing is probably substantial overhead. Jot down all your main points on a piece of (gasp) paper, pick up the phone, and call the person to discuss those points. I guarantee you'll save a ton of time.

For goodness sake, if someone sends you a message, don't forward it along without editing it. Make it appropriate for the ultimate recipient and make sure it doesn't get the original sender in trouble.

BAD FORWARDING: GOOD FORWARDING:
To: Bill

Sue's idea, described below, is great.

---

From: Sue

Hey, Abner:

Let's take the new design and add sparkles around the border. Bill probably won't mind; his design sense is so garish he'll approve anything.

To: Bill

Sue's idea, described below, is great.

---

From: Sue

Hey, Abner:

Let's take the new design and add sparkles around the border…

BAD E-MAIL: GOOD E-MAIL:
Subject: Conference call Wednesday at 3:00 p.m.

Subject: Conference call Wednesday at 3:00 p.m. to review demo presentation.

Make sure the meat of your e-mail is visible in the preview pane of your recipient's mailer. That means the first two paragraphs should have the meat. Many people never read past the first screen, and very few read past the third.

Some people are so buried under e-mail that they can't reply quickly. If something is important, use the phone or make a follow-up phone call. Do it politely; a delay may not be personal. It might be that someone's overloaded. If you have time-sensitive information, don't assume people have read the e-mail you sent three hours ago rescheduling the meeting that takes place in five minutes. Pick up the phone and call.

How to read and receive e-mail
Setting a good example only goes so far. You also have to train others explicitly. Explain to them that you're putting some systems in place to help you manage your e-mail overload. Ask for their help, and know that they're secretly envying your strength of character.

We hate telemarketers during dinner, so why do we tolerate e-mail when we're trying to get something useful done? Turn off your e-mail "autocheck" and only check e-mail two or three times a day, by hand. Let people know that if they need to reach you instantly, e-mail isn't the way. When it's e-mail processing time, however, shut the office door, turn off the phone, and blast through the messages.

The solution to e-mail overload is pencil and paper? Who knew? Grab a legal pad and label it "Response list." Run through your incoming e-mails. For each, note on the paper what you have to do or whom you have to call. Resist the temptation to respond immediately. If there's important reference information in the e-mail, drag it to your Reference folder. Otherwise, delete it. Zip down your entire list of e-mails to generate your response list. Then, zip down your response list and actually do the follow-up.

One CEO I've worked with charges staff members five dollars from their budget for each e-mail she receives. Amazingly, her overload has gone down, the relevance of e-mails has gone up, and the senders are happy, too, because the added thought often results in them solving more problems on their own.

If you are constantly copied on things, begin replying to e-mails that aren't relevant with the single word: "Relevant?" Of course, you explain that this is a favor to them. Now, they can learn what is and isn't relevant to you. Beforehand, tell them the goal is to calibrate relevance, not to criticize or put them down and encourage them to send you relevancy challenges as well. Pretty soon, you'll be so well trained you'll be positively productive!

When someone sends you a ten page missive, reply with three words. "Yup, great idea." You'll quickly train people not to expect huge answers from you, and you can then proceed to answer at your leisure in whatever format works best for you. If your e-mail volume starts getting very high, you'll have no choice.

Type your response directly, but schedule it to be sent out in a few days. This works great for conversations that are nice but not terribly urgent. By inserting a delay in each go-around, you both get to breathe easier.

(In Outlook, choose Options when composing a message and select Do not deliver before. In Eudora, hold down the Shift key as you click Send.)

Yes, ignore e-mail. If something's important, you'll hear about it again. Trust me. And people will gradually be trained to pick up the phone or drop by if they have something to say. After all, if it's not important enough for them to tear their gaze away from the hypnotic world of Microsoft Windows, it's certainly not important enough for you to take the time to read.

Your only solution is to take action
Yeah, yeah, you have a million reasons why these ideas can never work in your workplace. Hogwash. I use every one of them and can bring at least a semblance of order to my inbox. So choose a technique and start applying it. While you practice, I'll be on vacation, accumulating a 2,000 message backlog for when I get home. If you want to know how well I cope, just send along an e-mail and ask….

ZDNet Story End Inbox Blues Common-Sense Ways to Control Email Overload

If that scares the *#$*# out of you (hey, it does me!) -- you'll want to adopt these four tips the experts use to keep their inboxes under control.

Automate tasks. If you always include contact information when you sign your emails, create a signature. If you always forward mail from certain senders to someone else, automate the procedure. If you haven't created work group aliases, set them up. ZDTV's Back to Basics feature provides step-by-step tips for a variety of email clients. Click for more.

Preview messages. How many messages do you really need to open? Sometimes I can glance at the subject line to know I can hit delete. Other times I need a little more info. The preview pane integrated in Outlook 2000 allows me to quickly scan an email without opening it, and scroll by pressing my spacebar. Click for more.

Discipline yourself. Efficiency experts recommend dealing with a piece of paper only once. That's good advice for managing email, too. Once a message arrives, read it and act on it. Delete it. Respond to it. File it. Click for more.

Don't duplicate. Announce your preferred means of communication. How many times has someone emailed and faxed you identical information -- and then phoned to see if you received it? That kind of duplication is a time sink -- for everyone involved. Click for more.

Stay safe. Email viruses can create one of the biggest time sinks you'll come across. And we've had way too many of them in recent months. Be vigilant, even skeptical when you receive mail from someone you don't know. Make sure your anti-virus software is up to date. The experts at ZDNet Help have a laundry list of virus dos and don'ts. Click for more.

Name: Mark H. Walker
Email: mark@markhwalker.com
Location: Virginia, U.S.A.
Occupation: Journalist

There's a simple way to control the overload: Don't check it. I'm an electronic entertainment journalist and heavily involved in the techno-industry. Accordingly, email is an intregal part of my life. But, I can't get *to* my life if I'm always checking email. I try to only check once a day --at a low energy time like 4:00 PM. I tell all my clients/contacts that I welcome phone calls. They take much less time in the long run, and I get to hear a human voice.
Name: Yusuf I. Okhai
Location: Dundee, Scotland
Occupation: Managing Director

There is a simple way to manage email. Autoforward to a hotmail account - deal with it every day on the move. When you come home, mailbox is manageable. Personally, I forward the mail to my roaming mail, and collect it with my Nokia 9110. Life is so much better now!
Name: Doris Igna
Email: d-igna@home.com
Location: London, Ontario,Canada
Occupation: Ret,d.Accountant

Folders are my solution, just as I would sort snail mail,before reading, I sort email, Even Jesse has his own folder, this way I deal with the most important first, and can go back to the others when I have time. Anything dubious I hit the delete button.

See also ZDNet Story Don't Let Your Inbox Kill You Cure for the Outlook Bloat

E-mail avalanche even buries CEOs By Del Jones,

(USA TODAY) In the three seconds it takes to read this sentence, more than a half-million e-mails will land in in-boxes. By 2005, nearly that many will land each second.

The e-mail avalanche knows no rank. "I don't think the secretary of Commerce, when he hired me, wanted me spending all my time surfing through it," says National Weather Service director Jack Kelly.

But increasingly, that's what's happening. 7-Eleven CEO Jim Keyes burns three to four hours of his day on 200 e-mails and is such a heavy user that if a top field executive or licensee were to phone him, he might not recognize the voice.

Bruce Rohde, CEO of ConAgra Foods, found out how quickly a single click can touch off an e-mail tsunami when he sent a global e-mail to all employees, as far away as Turkey and Holland, with a note aimed at alleviating anxiety over anthrax. Back came 1,000 responses, mostly notes of thanks, which kept him busy at home for the next three or four evenings.

But if CEOs like these, with the resources of a modern corporation behind them, are drowning, is there any hope for those of us in the deep end of the e-mail pool?

Under the theory that CEOs are among the most time-pressed, USA TODAY interviewed more than three dozen top executives to find out how they are coping with the steep rise in e-mail — and how they fight back.

From what they said, some answering via e-mail, it's clear that CEOs are still weighing the pros and cons of the rapidly increasing volume of electronic mail. While they welcome its efficiency, most chief executives told USA TODAY, they curse its inefficiency.

"Sure, it was time consuming," Rohde says about the response to his worldwide e-mail, but he adds that he welcomed hearing from employees who would typically be too intimidated to contact him. "People put CEOs on pedestals that shouldn't exist."

But Rohde says he is also "bombarded" by unwelcome e-mail, such as the one suggesting ConAgra grow genetically altered cactus as camel food. "I get scams. I get lots of citations from the Bible. I get extortions."

Still, e-mail lubricates communication across time zones and borders and with thousands at once. Charles Holliday, chief executive at DuPont, says overseas e-mail has helped him avoid international phone tag with customers and suppliers.

Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks basketball team, gives his e-mail address to fans, who tell him if there's bubble gum on the seats.

Translation software lets licensees in Japan send 7-Eleven's Keyes e-mail that he can readily understand. It has become so mission critical that some CEOs wonder whether their companies would grind to a halt without it.

Rising tide of e-mail

But the volume and time requirement threaten to engulf many chief executives. When asked for comment for this article, Sun Microsystems CEO Scott McNealy dashed off the following e-mail.

Listen to him panting:

"I get hundreds a day, I review them all, answer many, forward many for response, hate the junk, I type really fast, ignore perfect grammer and typin, getting more over time, but can read e-mail from any browser, have T1's into my homes and read all that is left from the day before I go to sleep after the boys go down and get up before they do to read what came in while sleeping."

At the end, McNealy hastily included a dig at nemesis Microsoft: "I HATE attachments, MSFT docs are the WORST! I send them back. Send me ascii. Hope this helps. Scott."

Everyone wants the chief executive's attention — and that is usually easier to get via e-mail than by mail or phone.

But sending an e-mail to the chief executive is no guarantee of success. "I don't read them, because you just get stacks and stacks of them," says Burger King CEO John Dasburg.

Raj Jaswa, CEO of software maker Selectica, deletes 80% of his e-mail without reading it. He suggests a strategy for getting through the CEO's e-mail clutter or anyone's clutter:

Addicted to e-mail

While some CEOs fight back with their delete key, most have decided to err on the side of e-mail addiction. "I am neurotic," e-mailed Bob Zollars, CEO of Web-based health care company Neoforma, who says he can't leave his office if he has unread e-mail.

Many CEOs say they often check their e-mail late at night or early in the morning, making those prime times to correspond in real time.

The huge volume of mail, though, has many chief executives finally turning e-mail over to administrative assistants for screening, just as they long ago turned over snail mail and phone calls.

But that doesn't work for everyone. Bob Longo, CEO of Carnegie Learning, and John Chang, CEO of SeeUthere Technologies, are among those who believe e-mail is too sensitive for eyes other than their own.

"If you want honest opinions, read your own e-mail," Chang says.

Even Dell Computer CEO Michael Dell, who spends several hours a day with the average 175 e-mails he receives and the 60 he sends, has no one culling for obvious garbage.

More tethered to e-mail

Rather than delegate e-mail, many CEOs are growing increasingly tied to it, not only in the office but anywhere and everywhere, through the use of wireless technology.

Their tool of choice is the BlackBerry, a wireless device that displays e-mail remotely at the same time it lands at their desks. Its nickname is the "CrackBerry" because of its addictive qualities.

"You know those pregnant pauses you have on elevators? That's a great time to pull out a BlackBerry and get some work done," says Raul Fernandez, CEO of Dimension Data North America and part owner of the Washington sports teams Capitals, Wizards and Mystics.

Dell carries a BlackBerry to check e-mail away from his desk and delegate as needed. 7-Eleven's Keyes uses his BlackBerry at traffic lights, employing fine-tuned "thumb" proficiency to respond on a tiny keyboard.

Indeed, the exploding use of wireless e-mail devices is behind the coming swell of more e-mail. According to BWCS Consulting, 75% of corporate e-mail subscribers will be transmitting via wireless devices by 2006.

Instant messages as e-mail

A few CEOs, looking for ways to stay in touch despite the e-mail onslaught, are so cutting edge that they're moving into the world of 12-year-olds. Tom Pincince, the 38-year-old CEO of Brix Networks, uses AOL Instant Messenger to "chat" in real time with his "buddy list" of about 50 high-ranking employees, investors and key customers.

Buddy lists are becoming to e-mail what cell phones are to land lines: Only the most important get the number, or in this case, the AOL screen name. "It's five to 10 times as productive as e-mail," Pincince says.

Consultants predict that the only things that will slow the growth of e-mail are instant messaging and Web-based virtual private networks, or VPNs, where company communications are recorded in one place. The goal of VPNs is to eliminate the need to search six months' worth of e-mail to find information and to ensure that no employees get left out of the loop.

Priorities needed

If e-mail is to survive as an efficient tool, Microsoft and others will have to be increasingly industrious in finding new ways to screen and prioritize e-mail, Authoria's Tod Loofbourrow says.

But even if volume triples by 2005, so be it, Chang says. "I think e-mail is replacing other forms of communication. I don't receive paper mail from anyone except at Christmastime. E-mail is going up, but the overall time communicating is not going up."

There's no such thing as overcommunication, Keyes says — a theory that will soon be severely tested.

Unless, of course, CEOs take a tip from George Johnson, CEO of software maker Cosmi, who has taken perhaps the boldest step of all to hold back the e-mail deluge: He doesn't have a computer at work or at home.

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Nelson Email Organizer - NEO - The Microsoft Outlook Email ...

SNARFing your way through e-mail CNET News.com

By Ina Fried
http://news.com.com/SNARFing+your+way+through+e-mail/2100-1032_3-5979217.html

Story last modified Fri Dec 02 05:46:16 PST 2005

With the world's in-boxes overflowing with unread messages, researchers at Microsoft are offering up a tool they hope will help people sort through the morass.

The software maker this week released a free utility that aims to sort e-mail in a new way: It can organize messages not just by how recent they are, but also by whether the recipient knows the sender well.

The program, known as SNARF, bases its approach on the fact that people tend to interact more with messages from those they care about.

News.context


What's new:
Microsoft researchers are offering up a tool, called SNARF, that uses social analysis of e-mail use to enable people to organize the messages in their in-boxes.

Bottom line:
The technology aims to help people sort through the morass of incoming e-mail more effectively. Though they are now part of a research project, SNARF features could make their way into products soon.

More stories on this topic

"You don't respond to everybody, and not everybody responds to you," said Marc Smith, one of the Microsoft researchers who developed SNARF, or Social Network And Relationship Finder.

Though SNARF is a research project for now, Microsoft said that similar features could soon make their way into its e-mail products.

Smith boils it down this way. His computer, for all its power, serves up his e-mail without distinguishing junk mail from messages sent by close friends. His dog, on the other hand, learns who his friends are and stops barking at them.

"If my dog can tell who strangers are, apart from friends...my e-mail reader should be able to do the same," he said.

The task is increasingly important as people become overloaded with e-mail. Though many like to be alerted to new messages, the barrage of notifications is now so frequent for many workers that it is nearly impossible to get any creative work done without being interrupted.

"The machines got us into this problem," Smith said. "They are going to have to get us out of it."

Smith calls today's method of sorting e-mail the "ADD sort order," in which the newest messages are constantly presented first, regardless of who sent them. There has to be a better way, he said.

Figuring out who your friends are may not seem like a task well-suited to computers, but Smith said it's simply a matter of making sure that the computer is adding up the right things.

"The beautiful thing about computers is that they are really, at their core, accounting machines. They love to count things. Social relationships are countable," Smith said.

In SNARF's case, the software looks at how often people correspond with particular content in the body of a message and how often they reply to one another's correspondence, among other things.

The concept is not new. The idea of "social sorting" has been explored by Microsoft and others for years. Researchers at Hewlett-Packard, for example, looked at the patterns of who e-mailed who within HP Labs. Doing so, the researchers found, turned out to be a more effective means of determining working groups than looking at an organizational chart.

How it works

SNARF begins indexing e-mail messages on initial launch. Once it's finished indexing, it shows a window with three panes.

Top pane: People who have sent recent e-mail addressed or cc'd to the mailbox owner. Messages are unread.

Middle pane:  People who have sent recent, unread e-mail addressed to anyone.

Bottom pane: All people mentioned in any e-mail the mailbox owner has received in the past week.

A configuration panel enables users to change the types of messages displayed and to sort them in different ways.

A user can choose to double-click on a contact's name and see a list of all recent e-mail from that person. The tool also works with mailing lists: People can sort messages by threads and in chronological order.

Source:  Microsoft Research

Microsoft has also used social sorting to help users wade through Internet forums, in a research effort known as NetScan.

Smith points out that our PCs already know tons about us, in many cases storing years' worth of messages and replies. "This is more than the diarists of the 17th and 18th centuries," he said.

SNARF can also sort messages based on whether they were sent directly to you, whether you were copied on the message or whether you were part of a distribution list.

While such an approach can help sort through the sea of messages, it's not flawless. Smith noted that not everyone who is important to him returns his e-mails.

"My mother, I'm sorry to say, just never replies to my e-mail," he said, quickly noting that it's no reflection on the quality of his relationship with her.

Smith said there is a strong chance the social sorting techniques will find their way into Microsoft products. There have been feelers from the teams responsible for Outlook, Exchange, Hotmail and Outlook Express, he said.

"We're having lots of meetings with people," Smith said.

For now, the research team has put its software out there as a download for people to experiment with. Officially, Microsoft says SNARF will definitely work with Outlook 2003 and Windows XP Service Pack 2, though Smith said it may work with other software. SNARF also requires the .Net framework, though it will install it if a computer does not already have the operating system add-on.

Related story
Driven to distraction 

Desperate for some time to think, people are coming up with low-tech strategies to get away from their technology.

Smith is also working on expanding the research project in several ways. For example, the current version cannot be customized so that a user can say that a certain friend is important, even though they only exchange e-mail once a year.

Allowing users to "tag" e-mails in various ways is among the features that the company is looking at. "We are exploring a range of ideas around that," he said. "It's a very important direction," he added, noting that the next version of Outlook also includes new tagging capabilities.

Moving onto cell phones would be another good move for SNARF, he said. "If you are not at your computer to do triage, having 150 e-mails can be daunting," he said. "It would be nice to have the seven e-mails from colleagues in a separate folder."



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