Email Manifesto

Jan 6, 2012 by

There are lots of email annoyances that make us groan:

  • When “Reply All” is used instead of “Reply”
  • When someone has a bad grammar or spelling error
  • When someone replies to the wrong person (the “wrong Bob” problem)
  • Weird formatting errors (like sudden font changes)
But these aren’t the reason we hate email, and most of these types of errors are just simple human error.  A consequence of too much multitasking and scattered thinking.The reason we hate opening our inboxes is that many emails, like the “kitchen sink” email (see below), are too difficult to tackle. Emails like this paralyze us and stall our to-do lists.  These “kitchen sink” emails (and other annoying email types) arise from senders who still treat email as the equivalent of a written letter of correspondence to Grandma.  But email (which is now 40 years old) is no longer a substitute for formal written conversation.  It’s now a substitute for conversation.

If we could just agree on a few things within organizations, email could be easier for everyone.

I was intrigued by Chris Anderson’s Email Charter (from June 2011) but I didn’t think it was quite right for my organization (a Community College) and a little too technical when dealing with students.  So I wrote the following “Email Manifesto” that I think would improve dealing with the most time-sucking email problems at my college and presented it to the faculty yesterday.  It consists of eight basic axioms:

1.  An email should have one clear subject.

2.  Emails should be simple to respond to and to dismiss when completed.

3.  When an email “conversation” takes a U-turn into new territory, a new subject line is in order.

4.  Need to arrange for an in-person meeting? Suggest several possible meeting times in the first email communication.

  • If the person has a secretary, include them in the meeting request.
  • If there are several people involved, use a Doodle.

5.  If you want the recipient to take additional action outside their normal routine, make it as easy as possible for them to do so.

  • Don’t place the text of the message within an attached document if it can be pasted into the body of the email.
  • Include an easy-to-share blurb and link to website for more information for events, in particular.
  • Don’t link to files on drives that are only available on-site.

6.  If the message contains a lot of information, make required actions clear (bold them or use another color of text).

  • Use phrasing like “What I need from you is …
  • Consider placing the actions at the beginning of the email, followed by the rationale.

7.  There’s nothing wrong with a short email message or response – don’t take offense when you get one. The important thing is that the recipient took the time to read and respond. Lots of emails get answered from a very tiny keyboard or touch-keyboard.

8.  Because it’s difficult to read voice inflection, facial expressions, or body language from an email, consider using emoticons or expressions to convey these emotions.

  • Perhaps this is a jestful comment: Are you kidding me? 😉
  • Perhaps it makes you sad: Are you kidding me? 🙁
  • Perhaps it makes you angry: Are you kidding me? <fuming>
  • Perhaps you are sympathizing: Are you kidding me? <hug>

There are handouts (short and long) and a slide presentation.


Please feel free to share the Email Manifesto, modify it, and give the presentation – just include the author slide with my contact information.  Just a note about the presentation, when you get to the slides about Axiom #8, have your audience read each statement out loud.  This will quickly make the point about why we should use emoticons in email.

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Forgot that Attachment? Gmail will help.

Sep 18, 2008 by

Google Labs is now testing a service that searches the text of your email for references to attachments, and then warns you if you’re about to send an email without an attachment. Here’s my one-minute video to show you how to set it up.

UPDATE: This is now a standard feature of Gmail.

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Finding a Compatible Meeting Time

Aug 19, 2008 by

It’s that time of year when we all try to schedule meetings for clubs or committees for the fall semester – only there’s that problem of finding the ultimate compatible meeting time. For this upcoming semester, I’ve been using a little program called Doodle ( to find that ideal meeting time. You can see two examples below.

This program is super-simple to use (both for the setup and the participants). After you set up a poll, it will send you a link to the poll. Simply copy and paste the link into your own email (or website) and send it out to the folks you want to participate. Participants can go back to the poll and change their information, and all this can be done without a username and password. However, if you’re going to administer a bunch of these polls, I’d recommend a username and password for you so that you can easily keep track of them all.

You can even go back in and edit the poll to add another date or time (as I did in the second example). When you add a time to the poll, it puts a ? in for any participant who has not yet responded to the new part. You can send a second request for participation, and everyone just “edits” their information.

All in all, I’ve got to say this is one of the easiest web-based programs I have ever used – and I’ve now got meeting times for both events with a minimum of hassle!

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Managing a mountain of email

May 10, 2008 by

Most likely, if you’re involved in higher education, you get a lot of email. During the week, I get between 50 and 100 emails a day, which seems like a lot, but I recently read that some people receive (and deal with) over 1000 a day!

My goal has always been to try to “zero” my inbox frequently, but lately I have not been so successful – lots of reading material comes in, and between newsletters in my inbox and my Google Reader, I’m buried in information.



I just came across this Google Tech Talk, called “Inbox Zero” (by Merlin Mann) that I thought was a very appropriate thing to share with my readers – especially since almost everyone is either done, or almost done, with the semester. The Google Talks run 60 minutes, but you can get by watching the first 30 minutes of this one – and in the end, watching this video will save you well over 30 minutes of time, so I would consider it good value for your attention & time budget.

One of the most valuable ideas that Mann discusses is the idea of an “email DMZ folder” (I think this came in the Q&A period after the talk). If you’ve been letting your email inbox build up forever, create a folder (or label) called DMZ. Take everything currently in your inbox (and I do mean EVERYTHING) and move it to the DMZ. There. Now you have zero messages in your inbox and can begin to use a sane system for processing your email.

Another important distinction that Mann makes in his talk is that we have to stop thinking of email as requiring a response, and start thinking of it as simply requiring processing. Using gmail certainly makes this easy, as you are already forced to abandon silly folders (he points out … how often do you actually manage to locate emails in those folders correctly? how often do you even look in those folders?). I sorted through the 200 or so emails still sitting in my inbox (while I watched the Inbox Zero talk) and whittled down my labels to the following:

MCC: email that comes to my college address – it’s automatically labeled MCC

Respond: email that does need a response, but not necessarily immediately

Reading: email that is informational … like newsletters, I also set up several filters to have newsletters automatically sent to this label and archived

Blogs-to-be: email that I send myself or I get from readers that should eventually be blogged about – if you have sent me something, but haven’t yet seen it on the blog, this is where it is located until being dealt with

Copier: email sent from the copier at school … I have to remember to delet these after I save them or they take up a lot of storage space

Respond (Starred): these are emails that I need to respond to, and I need to do it relatively quickly. I removed the stars from all my emails this morning, and then only applied them to the truly high-priority items.

The general idea:

1) Junk? Or you don’t it after reading it? Delete it.

2) If it’s simple to do respond to (and requires a response), deal with it.

3) Otherwise, archive it (to the appropriate folder or with the appropriate label).

I’ve been good about these first two, but not the third. So, now that I’m back at zero … I’m going to try to be better about maintaining my Zero Inbox.

P.S. Stay tuned for our updates from the first (annual?) MCC Math & Technology Workshop, happening on the Muskegon Community College campus from Monday-Friday next week.

I will be inviting participation from the Internet audience on Wednesday afternoon for our session on Synchronous Online Communication, so if you can’t come, but want to join in the technology fun, watch for a link to participate in that.

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Why I use Gmail

Nov 17, 2007 by

Maybe you’ve heard of Gmail, maybe you haven’t. Of course I have an edu email address at my college, but I only use it for “official college business” … communication with administrators and students.

For all other communications, including Listserves, newsletters, and personal communication, I use my Gmail account (which is also free). Why?

Reason #1: The most convincing reason can be seen in the image below. When someone asks a question or posts a topic on a Listserve, I see every response to the original message “stacked” in conversation-style. Rather than getting every email disjointedly separated from the others, new responses to the same topic always come collected with ALL other responses in this thread (including my own sent messages). This is done automatically for every conversation you have via email. I probably can’t convince you just how powerful this feature is, but now that I have it on my Gmail account, my school account drives me nuts.

Reason #2: GMail gives you over 5 GB of storage space. Just to give you an idea of how much space that is, I have a 1 GB thumb drive which holds all of my book files with room to spare.

Reason #3: 20MB attachments. Need to send a camtasia video to someone? Or send it to yourself to pick up at another location? You can’t do large file attachments like this in most email programs.

Reason #4: You can search Gmail with the same speed that you can search the Internet with Google. This eliminates the need for a complicated filing system for your emails. When I want to find an email from John, I just type “John” into my Gmail search and I instantly have ALL communication to and from John that exists anywhere in my Gmail including any emails that have John in the subject line or the text of the email. If I want to find an item from some emailed newsletter that was about audacity, I type “audacity” in the Gmail search and Gmail instantly finds all emails with audacity in the subject line, to line, from line, or text of the email.

Reason #5: Gmail actually effectively filters spam. Enough said.

Reason #6: You can have Gmail pick up all your other email and send responses from the other email address. I haven’t done this with my college email (yet) because we get so much spam at the college.

Reason #7: Did I mention Gmail is free?

UPDATE: After complaining to a friend about our school email this afternoon, I decided to take the plunge and have all my edu email sent to my gmail account because… you can set up the account so that when it receives email sent from an outside address, it replies from that address too. So even though I am using gmail, it will look like the replies and composed emails are sent from my edu address. Now I can only check one email and … bonus… it’s impossible to check our school email easily from a smart phone, but easy to check gmail.

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