as conceived in the Spring of the year 2016 and elaborated in 2018 by me and my team.
Email is a flawed way of communicating with colleagues that prevents me from achieving my full potential and which generally makes me unhappy. This has to stop.
- Since the volume of email only grows over time, sooner or later, no-one will be able to process all mail in their inbox.
- Processing all mail in my inbox is not a goal in itself.
- My email inbox is not my to-do list.
- I don’t have an obligation to respond to all email, not even a moral one.
- I will not let my working life be controlled by email.
- Hence, I will read mail generally once a day, at my leisure.
- I will not open my inbox unless I actually have time to reply. Opening my inbox will not be a mindless reflex.
- I will treat mail addressed to others, but incorporating me in carbon copy (cc) as informational, not actionable. In other words, never assume it is read by me.
- I will regularly question if the newsletters and email lists I am subscribed to are actually serving me, if not, I will unsubscribe.
There must be others that feel the same way regarding email. Hence, I should reciprocitate.
- I will use email sparingly.
- I will provide messages with meaningful subject fields.
- I will trim irrelevant content from messages in email exchanges.
- I will mark messages that, in my view, serve an informational purpose for the recipient with the tag [info] allowing their email client to automatically process the message as deemed appropriate by the recipient. I understand this rule conflicts with rule 1.
- I will briefly discuss with project colleagues with whom I work very closely what communication system works best for the both of us.
- I will be brief in informal mail to colleagues I work with on a regular basis, and I will not mind typos, salutations, signatures (in my mail nor in others’ mail).
- I will consider if email is the most effective way to communicate in this situation. I will consider the possibility to rather talk to my colleague, now or during an upcoming meeting. For this purpose I keep this little book with ‘to discuss’ lists for each of my close colleagues.
Making it practical
- Use tags in the subject field to allow quick parsing of mailbox (by bots)
- suggested tags:
- [urgent] – put aside what you’re doing, this needs attention (soon)
- [ann] – announcement for a meeting, lecture, or thing that came up (unexpectedly)
- [fyi] – as the tag says, no response required
- [treat] – cookie time
- [y/n/c] – a question/message that requires recipient to answer with a simple yes, no, confirm
- [q] – a question that needs more words to answer but is not urgent and also not a ‘request’
- [arch] – for your archive, some important stuff
- [proj code], such as [dpc] for the Data Protection Certification project for project related messages (code to be determined in team)
- [req] – a request that requires some serious thinking/response by recipient
- [meet] – request for setting up a meeting
- [agenda] – sharing the agenda and relevant docs for an upcoming meeting, no answer required
- [phd] – for matters involving phd supervision to separate this type of communication from other topics we may discuss.
- suggested respond tags. Use these them in the subject header
- [done] – the request as pointed out in the subject line has been handled
- [reject] – sorry, I can not oblige (only between close colleages who have accepted this crude style of communication)
- [ok] – seems obvious, right?