Loving email

My last post, a work related rant, was so cathartic that I thought I'd give another one a go. This time on that beloved invention - email.

Now please don't get me wrong. Used in the correct way, email is an incredibly effective and efficient tool. I have little patience for those people that say "I worked at home yesterday - it was great. I couldn't access my email so I got loads of work done!" To these people, I normally point out that replying to questions and responding to requests is actually a substantial part of their job. They may not like it, but the point of having a job is doing what needs to be done - not just doing what you want to do. That's why I get paid for doing my job, but don't get paid for going to the pub or searching the interwebs for kitten pictures (ahem, moving on ...).

But email is only good  if used properly. Used improperly it makes me ... well you can see the image. Then again, if it was always used properly, perhaps I would enjoy my job too much. And then they'd stop paying me, and I wouldn't be able to afford the rent. So, in the spirit of keeping my pay cheques coming in, perhaps I should thank all of those that make sure my inbox has a reasonable degree of unpleasantness. If you want to make sure your colleagues keep getting paid, here are some top tips to make sure their inbox is an unpleasant as possible ...

Subject lines

Remember that we all like a surprise. So, whatever you do, never give too much away in the subject line - it will take away the sheer delight of having to open the email to find out what on earth you're on about. And a clear subject line will take away the joy of having to search through hundreds of emails to find your message ever again. Here are three ways you can make sure you keep surprising me with your emails:

  • Use a meaningless subject line. Database ID codes are ideal for this - please do put only the database code in as the subject because "PRO78654" will mean nothing to me since I don't use that database. And even if I do know what PRO78654 is, please don't give me any idea what's the issue with the project.
  • If you cannot think of a meaningless subject line, please use something really generic. Ninety percent of my job involves funding, so it helps to keep the surprise element when you use  a subject line such as "funding opportunity". Even better, how about a subject like "thought you'd be interested in this".
  • If you're really struggling to think of a meaningless or generic subject, the best thing to do is to reply to a previous email I've sent you about an unrelated topic. Make sure you don't change the subject line. This has the surprise double bonus of me incorrectly thinking I know what the email is about, and also making it really hard to find in the future.

Courtesy copy

  • If I ask you to get in touch with another person about something, please do make sure to CC me into all emails. I really won't trust you just to get on with it and just tell me the outcome - you really must provide documentation on every step of the conversation in real time.
  • When you've been having an email exchange with other people, please do wait until there are around 15 emails in the exchange and the suddenly CC me into your next response. I love Cluedo, and there's nothing better than having to work out what the issue is (please do make sure that the email chain refers to lots of documents that have been removed and phone calls in which I did not take part). Oh, and make sure not to tell me want you to do about it (please don't tell me - let me guess - that's where the fun is). When I reply to you asking why you've CCed me to the email, please do reply in a really vague way, such as "thought you'd be interested", or "wanted you to be in the loop". Under no circumstances say why you thought I would be interested or be kept in the loop - that would ruin the challenge of me guessing why.
  • And please do make sure to copy my manager, and her manager, into all emails that you send that ask me to do something - especially the really small tasks. Because they only thing these managers have to do is micro-manage my task list. After all that's what they get paid the big bucks to do. Even though they don't say, I know they really appreciate being kept informed of all of the minutiae of my job.

Well, this post is already longer than I expected. And I haven't even had a change to look at the sins of 'reply to all' and writing an email that actually means something. I'll save those for the next post.


[Photo by Delby (unedited) under license]