Here’s what I sometimes wonder: why don’t people contextualize their e-mail?
Here’s what I mean by that: why not open any new e-mail with a line explain the time sensitivity nature and overall context of the e-mail that follows?
I tried this a bit yesterday at my job.
So, something like this:
Hope you’re doing well. Had a quick request — it’s definitely not pressing, but if you could respond within 72 hours, that would be great.
Now, there are a lot of potential flaws here:
- This isn’t how people normally e-mail, so it would take a while to catch on.
- Most e-mails, I’d reckon, are typically in response to a larger thread and have a bunch of people on them. As such, it would be hard to break down the timing associated with each person.
- “Boy Who Cried Wolf” situation where everyone is saying everything is super urgent.
- People pretty much just scan e-mails anyway — although they do tend to scan the top — so the context might get lost.
While I admit there are flaws, I think this could work. As I see it, the biggest problems with e-mails are that people seem to think they exist in two categories:
- Do it immediately.
- Ignore it and forget about it.
In fact, there are a far greater number of categories, and far more nuanced.
Stuff falling through the cracks via e-mail, as well as death by meeting, are two huge ways that things don’t actually get done. The point of work, ostensibly, is to get stuff done. So if we could fix e-mails and meetings — without everyone copping to, “Well, they’re a necessity and we still make money!” — wouldn’t that be a good thing?