Email, which has become an integral part of our lives, can save an enormous amount of time and trouble. But it may waste time and increase stress when it's used unprofessionally and immaturely. Please keep these details in mind every time you send and/or read an email. First and foremost, try to check email regularly—certainly several times daily. Of course, many cell phone users use the device to access email promptly. But if you're getting email on a desktop or laptop computer, you've got to check it fairly often. Otherwise, relying on it may be counterproductive. Typically, you can set up an email program to display a brief message on the screen every time an email arrives. Still, instant reminders are not worthwhile unless you heed them and read new messages. You may need to assess your schedule and alert colleagues about the best time(s) to contact you. For example, some of my business contacts emphasize that they routinely check email before 9 a.m., again at noon and once more at 5 p.m. (This routine was born in the days before cell phones—when outside sales people regularly phoned the office in the morning, at noon and again in the late afternoon.) Whatever you do, don't urge people to email you and then check email infrequently. Doing so is ignorant and downright frustrating for the sender. I know people who I have to phone and urge to read email—otherwise the messages and attachments sit unread for a day or more. And for business-related emails, that can be deadly. Always slow down, shut out distractions and read email as carefully and thoroughly as practically possible. Sure, email is supposed to be fast and efficient. But it's clear to me that many people read too quickly and very carelessly. Therefore, they send you a meaningless response. A simple but common example of misreading an email would be, "Joe, I'm hauling the trade show materials to the exhibit hall. Am I supposed to unload all this stuff at the front entrance or side entrance?" Joe's email response is an emphatic "Yes!" (This is only one of the simplest, shortest examples I can fit within the confines of this column. There are countless more.) Remember that reading an email thoroughly means reading all of it. Many times, business circumstances dictate that emails be several paragraphs—perhaps even several pages long. That's life. Unfortunately, one of the biggest headaches I share with many colleagues is people who cannot or will not read an entire email. To me, failing to read an entire email is rude, ignorant and/or shortsighted. Probably all three. Nonetheless, it seems to be fairly common. Reportedly, Mark Twain once told an editor: "I'd have written it shorter if I'd had more time." Composing emails may take longer than some people wish because they have to create a clear, concise message. This takes a more-conscious, more time-consuming effort—as opposed to dashing off sentences as quickly as you think of them. Although concise is always better than verbose, being concise feels like hard work to many email users who have to compose carefully. Unfortunately the only chance we have of eliciting a meaningful response from some recipients is to send them only the briefest blurbs or snippets of information. This translates into sending a multitude of extremely short messages in order to boost the chances of being read and read completely. So their messages suffer accordingly. We're all human. We all overlook messages from time to time. But some email users are such chronic offenders that I—as well as some friends and colleagues—stop emailing them. These folks seem to read and reply so carelessly that ultimately, we revert to old-fashioned methods such as telephone calls and traditional mail. Try to read messages more carefully and completely. If you don't understand what the sender really wants from you, reply with polite but direct questions. Everyone will benefit from this approach.
Use email maturely, professionally
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