Time for an Email Charter

Chris Anderson (of TED) is declaring war on in-boxes with this recent blog post. He is asking use to help start an Email Charter. I am nodding in agreement.

As I have expressed before, I am quite frustrated with how we use email. I know, I am not alone. I have declared email bankruptcy and explained in another post how email has become my primary source of guilt. I currently have an auto-responder set up that has the sole purpose of setting expectations low. Here’s what it says:


Hi there,

This autoresponder is an attempt in setting expectations right. Fact is: I get too much email and can’t keep up. My inbox has become my primary source of guilt.

I promise I will try my best to get back to you as soon as I can. If your email is super-crazy important, meaning the internet might implode if I don’t write back, then please resend your email in a day or so, if you don’t hear back.

Waving from Brooklyn!

Tina – ready to change the way we use email


The overall response to the auto-responder has been positive. Of course, I get an annoyed comment here and there, but it has helped me feel less guilty. Also, people have proven to be more understanding, less annoyed with my late or lack of reply. It’s obviously not an ideal solution, but better than nothing.

What do you think of Chris’ idea? And his proposed rules?

10 Comments leave a comment below

  1. I understand the desire to cleanse ones soul and inbox at the same time, but it’s not without a sense of irony that the story of children in Troy, Michigan appeared earlier this week.

    There was a time when personal correspondence mattered—when even storied figures like Adams and Jefferson spent the better part of their lives answering letters to commoners and gentry alike.

    Perhaps if we were more deliberate with our choice of e-mail partners, and less driven by the ability to be contacted at any moment, answering a simple e-mail would be a less daunting task.

  2. I don’t quite understand. So you are trying to battle an overflowing inbox, by telling people to send you their email twice?!

  3. As much as I’m addicted to the Internet and to the omnipotence and glory of 21st century computer use, I really detest e-mail. Not because of what it is or does but rather what it implies. It seems to be that the instant messenger of the modern age also demands an instant reply or response. Patience is a virtue, unless it’s sent as an e-mail attachment.

    Well, I’m not falling for that one. Get in line, good people, I’ll respond when I’m good and ready ;)

  4. I’ve been considering this recently, and this post is tipping me closer. The fact is: if you don’t “get” the point of an email charter, you don’t receive enough mail to need it. I work for two blogs, run a couple monthly events, and work as an artist — things get complicated fast. And…I’ve already cut out my phone, because that was just a complete failure. My voicemail now tells people that I am horrible at responding to VM, and to send me a text or email — they’re faster and easier for me.

    Please update with how your endeavor goes!

  5. @Kai, I first and foremost make it clear that they might not hear back immediately, if at all. Then, I am giving them a chance to indicate that the email is important by resending, reaching out again. It hardly ever happens. So, yes, in a way I am asking them to email me twice, but it is a rare occasion that it happens. Might sound odd, but it works.

  6. So i did not get an auto repsonse – does this mean my mail was marked as spam ?

    hm …

  7. I look forward to the day when people recognise that a communication is not a communication until it has been received and understood. In the days before email we didn’t think we’d communicated at the moment the letter went into the postbox but today too many folk think the communication is complete when they hit the send button. This reflects a shift in attitude such that these days people often lay the burden on the recipient – and, hence, your sense of guilt. It’s wrong and if the email charter helps then I’m up for it. But I’m not so sure about your auto responder. I’d love to see an experiment done across a variety of organisations with people at all levels in which they follow your suggestion. My guess is that in most cases the people who are able to do this with the lowest amount of anxiety will be the more senior people in the organisation.

  8. Absolutely agree! I’ve had encounters (live encounters that is) with people who did not like my quick/instant/short/snappy email response to their email. I too have grown tired of having this kind of communication subtly demand an extensive and immediate response, just because someone could send me an email I must respond likewise. Bunk!

  9. It remembers me of a paper about service systems I once studied.

    Mandelbaum, A.; Zeltyn, S. Service Engineering in Action: The Palm/Erlang-A Queue, with Applications to Call Centers. In: Advances in Services Innovation. Spath, D.; Fahnrich, K. R (Ed.), 2007, Springer-Verlag: Berlin

    It’s about how a queue where people wait for a service and sometimes give up works better, in 90% of the cases, than a queue were people never giveup.

    What you do with your automatic response is give people the “chance” to silently give up.

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