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Dante was wrong; there are ten circles of hell, the deepest of which is reserved for those who commit the most heinous of email sins. Email is here to stay but there are some sinners who are making it worse for the rest of us. Today I’m going to look at some of the most grievous ways people can abuse email and make life suck for the rest of us.

Don’t worry though, even if you are a sinner, you’re not doomed to an eternity of suffering. Embrace a weeklong penance to correct the error of your ways and repent your email sin and all will be forgiven.

Read on to find out whether you are an email saint 7 Netiquette Guidelines For Writing Emails & Forum Posts 7 Netiquette Guidelines For Writing Emails & Forum Posts Netiquette is short for network or internet etiquette. It encompasses the special set of social conventions found in online interactions. While netiquette is very similar to good behavior or etiquette in offline encounters, there are... Read More or sinner.

Sending Emails to Too Many People

Email is incredibly cheap to send. One person can spend five minutes writing an email and send it to thousands, or even hundreds of thousands, of recipients. It’s also, in broad terms, extremely costly to receive. If it takes two minutes to read, or even just 30 seconds to dismiss, the number of people-minutes a single email can waste is huge. This amounts to a massive waste of productive time. Even if you take steps to minimize the impact, like setting up a multi-tiered communication system Use This 3-Tier Communication System to Resist Distractions Use This 3-Tier Communication System to Resist Distractions The need to constantly stay connected is distracting. To manage your relationships and time, also manage the way you communicate with the world. Create a smart 3-tier plan. Read More , you still have to deal with it at some point.

too many people

Too many organizations have policies where anyone, everyone, and everyone’s dog is CC’d on all emails. Not everybody needs to receive every single email. If you’re one of the people making those policies, or just CCing everyone out of habit when you don’t have to, you are an email sinner.

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Don’t worry though, the penance is simple. For a week, only send emails to the people who absolutely need to receive them. If in doubt, don’t send the email. You’ll probably be surprised at how little effect it has on how everything runs.

As a bonus, the more email you send, the more you’re likely to receive so if you’re facing your own email overload, this can help too.

Overusing Reply All

Email’s at its best when it’s used exactly like a letter: one person sends another person a single message and waits for them to respond. Email also works when one person sends a single message to loads of people (so long as they all need to receive it). Even with great features like threaded messages 6 Reasons Why You Should Stop Using Desktop Email Clients in Favour of Web-Based Options 6 Reasons Why You Should Stop Using Desktop Email Clients in Favour of Web-Based Options I know that suggesting desktop clients have had their day around the MakeUseOf crowd is like preaching to the choir. Most of us use Gmail, our own mail servers or some form of cloud backup... Read More , email just isn’t designed to handle multiple messages properly.

xkcdemail

The problem becomes really apparent with group emails. I rank them slightly higher than the nuclear bomb as the worst technological development of the 20th Century. An email thread with 15 or 20 people replying can rapidly get out of hand if people aren’t careful Don't Trip Over Yourself: 5 Group Email Behaviors to Avoid Don't Trip Over Yourself: 5 Group Email Behaviors to Avoid Crafting a good email isn't easy, and it's an art that few people are able to perfect. Group emails isn't any easier. These tips should help to enhance your messages. Read More . And remember, every message that is sent is another notification for someone somewhere.

While the first message might have been relevant to everyone in the organization, the chances are that the responses aren’t. If your boss sends out a question to the entire staff, do your co-workers really need to see your answer? Over use of the reply all button is one of the greatest email sins you can commit.

Again, the penance is quite simple. For a week, you must only use the reply button. If more than one person needs to see the response, manually CC them. The reply all button is an evil temptation that must be resisted.

Emailing When You Don’t Need To

Sometimes email is the best way to reach someone. Sometimes it isn’t. Unfortunately, email is often seen as the default. Emailing when you don’t need to is another way to get yourself sent straight to email hell.

Sometimes there are better ways to get things done. If Tony sits across the room from you, unless you need to create a paper trail, why not walk over and speak to him? Similarly, if something’s going to require a lot of back-and-forth, a face-to-face or phone meeting will probably be a lot more efficient. A 30 minute phone call can take the place of week long email discussions. Just make sure you don’t let your meetings turn into a time vacuum Fed Up Of Inefficient Meetings? Send These 8 Rules To Your Boss Fed Up Of Inefficient Meetings? Send These 8 Rules To Your Boss If a meeting is well organised, there's no reason it can't enhance productivity, sense of purpose, and morale. Here are some rules to follow for effective meetings. Read More .

email

Your penance is to do everything you can to not send emails for a week. If Tony isn’t at his desk when you walk over, leave a handwritten note. If Bob wants to organize something, call him and hammer it out on the phone. See how changing your default from “send an email” to “only send an email if there’s no other option” affects how you work. Everyone’s inbox will thank you.

Sending Overlong Emails

Just as sending a short email to too many people is a sin, sending really long emails to just one person can be too. If what you’re trying to say requires a 2000 word email, the chances are you’re using the wrong communication tool. The longer your email, the more time it takes for the other person to read and the more effort it requires to respond. Long emails can really suck!

There’s a growing movement of people pledging to keep all emails under five sentences. They feel that if the message can’t be conveyed that briefly, you’re doing it wrong. If you’re guilty of writing emails that edge into Tolstoy-esque territory, then your penance is to join the five sentences crowd for a week. No email you send, no matter how necessary it seems, can run longer than five — preferably short — sentences. It’s a good habit to get into and will make you more productive 7 Email Efficiency Tips To Get More Email Done, Faster 7 Email Efficiency Tips To Get More Email Done, Faster Life revolves around communication and literally nothing gets accomplished without it. Email is a communication tool meant to make your life easier. Instead of having to type up a letter or try to catch someone... Read More .

Replying to Every Message

This is the sin I was most guilty of, and it took me a while to get past it. When you get an email the natural impulse is to reply straight away. The problem is that this can draw you into unnecessary, reactionary exchanges and people will come to expect that you’ll be available to respond instantly to email at all hours. Responding to all emails instantly is only a small email sin, while the converse, expecting everyone to reply instantly is a bigger sin.

By responding swiftly to everything you’re feeding the beast that is the boss who demands email responses at 4am on a Saturday. Thou must not pander to such bosses. As penance for this sin, you must spend a week waiting at least an hour before replying to emails, and only responding during work hours. If something requires an urgent response, you need to use another method of communication.

Go Now in Peace

Love it or hate it, email is here to stay. However, there are ways to make the experience better for everyone else. If you’re a terrible email sinner, repent your ways and put some of these simple solutions into action. People will thank you for it. If, on the other hand, you’re an email saint, forward this article to any sinners you know and spread the good word.

There are countless other email sins out there. What ones do you think I’ve missed? And what penance would you suggest?

Image Credits: xkcd.org.

  1. Silverlokk
    May 16, 2015 at 12:16 pm

    How could you forget those forwarded messages with 10+ pages of email addresses that were part of the original message?

  2. Peter from Brisbin
    May 15, 2015 at 8:07 am

    My mobile is not in my pocket before or after work. SMS and emails will fail to get me sometimes for 8 hours. I have a land line, with a message bank attached that does not require me to add to the telcos pocket. The message bank will flash a light and beep in a respectful manner and when I see or hear it I will listen. I will not carry on a lengthy conversation via email or SMS. There is the phone, pick it up and talk to me. We can have a lengthy conversation, discuss points and look at references at the same time. Sending me huge files on email is inefficient, and it is NOT what the system was originally designed for. Large files should use FTP, or even access to your public cloud area. Pictures should be on IG or Picasa that allows the recipient the right to make a decision to use some of their valuable download on their phone now, or look at it later on the home, work, Library PC or your laptop.

  3. Onkar
    May 15, 2015 at 7:25 am

    I will say just keep it simple by checking following points :

    1. Proper alignment
    2. Proper content
    3. Proper sequence
    4. Accurate spellings
    5. Brief, Neat and Clean matter.

  4. Andy
    May 15, 2015 at 12:59 am

    E-mail, not email.

  5. Steven
    May 14, 2015 at 11:35 pm

    Yes, email is almost as bad as text messaging... I'm afraid that Chinmay probably responds to those immediately too! :( OTHER than scheduled work time or legitimate emergencies, YOUR request for MY time is just that - a request that I may or may NOT grant, at my leisure. IF I reply to either your email or text message, consider yourself blessed and favored with your relative importance in my life. If I don't reply, a follow-up message will likely get even less notice.

  6. Bob
    May 14, 2015 at 10:08 pm

    Such a good article. I'm going to e-mail the URL to everyone.
    :)

  7. Mak
    May 13, 2015 at 9:13 am

    I would also add the unnecessary long e-mail strings with short answers. There are all kind of IM software, but using the mail for "Yes" andswer is pure silly.

  8. RB
    May 13, 2015 at 5:37 am

    Email sin I hate the most: No subject line or vague subject lines like "request".

    • Harry
      May 13, 2015 at 9:19 am

      Yeah that one's annoying! But I find things like "Request" okay because it at least tells me the person wants something off me. I can then easily delete it without reading. ;)

  9. Chinmay S
    May 13, 2015 at 5:13 am

    I just don't like delays in email replies. If you send someone an email, you should expect a reply in less than 24 hours. There are many websites which only replies on work days. So what are they doing on other days - waiting for Andromeda galaxy to collide with Milky Way in the next 400 billion years?

    • santi
      May 13, 2015 at 7:27 am

      They might be doing something really awkward like: Not working. Spending time with the family. Doing personal stuff, like reading a book, going to a movie, exercising a hobby, being with actual people or real (not FB) friend.
      Ya know, not being instantly replying to each and every person, and simply living.

      p.s. Unless its a case of life and death, I do not even open work emails during weekends. Anyway, there is nothing operational that can be done when nobody is at the office.

    • Harry
      May 13, 2015 at 9:17 am

      Yeah never email me. I'll reply at my leisure, and it almost certainly won't be within 24 hours. As Santi says, people do a lot outside of work and check emails.

    • Chinmay S
      May 13, 2015 at 9:52 am

      @santi: Will someone keep on reading book for the whole day? Will someone watch movies all day, every day? When someone is with family, he/she should forget everything and do nothing for 24 hours?

      @Harry: If someone sends me an email, I try my best to reply as soon as I come to know that I got an email. I don't the like the fact that the other person should wait for my reply. The same I expect from others also. I don't like to sit in the sun on weekends and enjoy there like a Komodo Dragon.
      And by the way, after I posted my original comment, you got an email from MakeUseOf Comment System and you immediately came here and posted a reply. You did it within 2-3 hours and you say you don't reply within 24 hours. This is known as an indirect email reply, isn't it?

    • dragonmouth
      May 13, 2015 at 1:37 pm

      @Chinmay S:
      Not everyone is as addicted to the Internet as you seem to be. Some of us do have lives outside of the Internet.

      My employer owns my time while I am at work. Once I step outside, my employer does not exist. Neither do any emails from him.

      At home, I get on the Internet at MY convenience. Sometimes I do not sign on for a couple of days. I usually reply to any messages when I read them. There never was, is or will be an email that I have to read and respond to RFN. If I win the lottery and the message is legitimate, I have up to a year to respond. If I get an email that somebody in my family died, it is already too late to do anything about it, they are already dead. The only time I act immediately on an email is when it offers a way to a larger penis. Those emails I delete immediately.

      • Pravin S
        July 16, 2015 at 2:09 pm

        Yes, I completely agree. That's how seasoned executives work. They don't have to reply to every email on Holidays. Holidays and Weekends are only mine. I do whatever I want. I do have a life outside Internet. Even If I have nothing to do, I would waste my time leisurely. Doing something productive or profiting during free time isn't called leisure. If it's only personal and so important or urgent or both, they can call me - Simple. I have seen people who are new to work life always jump to reply every email they receive on weekends and during night times. They will learn to balance after few years. And so called 24-48-hour rule applicable only on Weekdays.

    • Harry
      May 13, 2015 at 2:28 pm

      In the first few days after an article comes out I'll keep an eye on the comments section and engage with readers! :) It's not an email that brings me here but the comment numbers in the CMS.

      As far as I'm concerned, if someone emails me they can wait for me to reply. If they've a more urgent need to contact me they can use something else. I've written before about the tiered system I use (http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/use-3-tier-communication-system-resist-distractions/). It's actually a lot more extreme than I make out in the article but I wasn't allowed be too dogmatic.

  10. likefunbutnot
    May 12, 2015 at 11:42 pm

    Exactly what tool does the author propose we use for correspondence if not email? I send long emails to friends as part of the general process of catching up. I send long emails to co-workers to remove any ambiguity and provide a record of what I might be doing.

    My biggest email sin? Reply-before quote. There's nothing worse. If you're not willing to provide context of your reply, or especially if the quote is not relevant to the quote, then either don't quote at all or be very clear in your composition. And then apologize to me for using a client so terrible (Outlook and Gmail both fall in this category) that it mishandles something so basic.

    • Harry
      May 13, 2015 at 9:18 am

      For group stuff I love Slack. For one on one email's fine, though I still prefer messenger services like Facebook Chat.

  11. Arpit Kharbanda
    May 12, 2015 at 5:07 pm

    Some other Sins:

    1. Inappropriate subject line
    2. Content that is too long or just rambles on
    3. Attaching huge files
    4. Unnecessary reply
    5. No signature file
    6. Poor use of language
    7. Unnecessary emoticons in emails

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