We're drowning in email. And the many hours we spend on it are generating ever more work for our friends and colleagues. We would all be better off sending fewer emails, only when needed.
It’s a social dilemma, a modern-day tragedy of the commons – but we can reverse this spiral through cooperation, by mutual agreement.
Thus the Email Charter. Be part of the solution:
1. Respect recipients' time
This is the fundamental rule. As the message sender, the onus is on YOU to minimise the time your email will take to process. Even if it means taking more time at your end before sending.
2. Short is not rude
Let’s be clear: it’s not impolite to write short emails. Quite the opposite: it’s polite to respect others’ time. Don't take brevity personally and know that others won't.
3. Celebrate clarity
Subject line: write a short subject line that clearly gives the topic.
Opening line: make it the basic reason for writing.
Use bold text and bullet points to convey key take-aways.
Be clear and upfront what action the recipient should take in response to your email.
4. Slash CCs
Only CC someone who really needs this message. Don't thoughtlessly 'Reply all': choose individual recipients.
5. Tighten the thread
If you need to include the email trail showing the context, cut what's not relevant. If it's long, summarise or make a phone call instead.
6. Reduce attachments
Don't use images like logos in your signature - they'll be attached and I'll try to open it in case it's something relevant. Images in your emails can also land you in spam folders.
7. Should we expect an instant response?
Don't feel you need to give an instant response, and don't expect to get one. We are not (and should not be) glued to our phones and should not expect others to be.
8. Disconnect sometimes
Plan half-days for email-free working. Keep your evenings, weekends and holidays email-free. For the bold: have an 'auto-response' that makes it clear you're not checking.
9. Cut Contentless Responses
No need to reply to every email. An email saying "Thanks for your note. I'm in." does not need you to reply "Great." That just cost someone another 30 seconds.
10. Reference this charter
Spread the word and help change email culture. Reference this charter in your email footer. I like this one but feel free to choose your own:
Email too brief? I'm adopting the Email Charter to help reduce email clutter.
Credit: This charter was adapted from EmailCharter.org (now defunct) and Kent’s IT services (thank you!).