Email Charter

I am delighted about Chris Anderson’s launch of the Email Charter. We’re drowning in email. And the many hours we spend on it are generating ever more work for our friends and colleagues. We can reverse this spiral only by mutual agreement. Hence the charter:

10 Rules to Reverse the Email Spiral

1. Respect Recipients’ Time
This is the fundamental rule. As the message sender, the onus is on YOU to minimize the time your email will take to process. Even if it means taking more time at your end before sending.

2. Short or Slow is not Rude
Let’s mutually agree to cut each other some slack. Given the email load we’re all facing, it’s OK if replies take a while coming and if they don’t give detailed responses to all your questions. No one wants to come over as brusque, so please don’t take it personally. We just want our lives back!

3. Celebrate Clarity
Start with a subject line that clearly labels the topic, and maybe includes a status category [Info], [Action], [Time Sens] [Low Priority]. Use crisp, muddle-free sentences. If the email has to be longer than five sentences, make sure the first provides the basic reason for writing. Avoid strange fonts and colors.

4. Quash Open-Ended Questions
It is asking a lot to send someone an email with four long paragraphs of turgid text followed by “Thoughts?”. Even well-intended-but-open questions like “How can I help?” may not be that helpful. Email generosity requires simplifying, easy-to-answer questions. “Can I help best by a) calling b) visiting or c) staying right out of it?!”

5. Slash Surplus cc’s
cc’s are like mating bunnies. For every recipient you add, you are dramatically multiplying total response time. Not to be done lightly! When there are multiple recipients, please don’t default to ‘Reply All’. Maybe you only need to cc a couple of people on the original thread. Or none.
6. Tighten the Thread
Some emails depend for their meaning on context. Which means it’s usually right to include the thread being responded to. But it’s rare that a thread should extend to more than 3 emails. Before sending, cut what’s not relevant. Or consider making a phone call instead.

7. Attack Attachments
Don’t use graphics files as logos or signatures that appear as attachments. Time is wasted trying to see if there’s something to open. Even worse is sending text as an attachment when it could have been included in the body of the email.

8. Give these Gifts: EOM NNTR
If your email message can be expressed in half a dozen words, just put it in the subject line, followed by EOM (= End of Message). This saves the recipient having to actually open the message. Ending a note with “No need to respond” or NNTR, is a wonderful act of generosity. Many acronyms confuse as much as help, but these two are golden and deserve wide adoption.

9. Cut Contentless Responses
You don’t need to reply to every email, especially not those that are themselves clear responses. An email saying “Thanks for your note. I’m in.” does not need you to reply “Great.” That just cost someone another 30 seconds.

10. Disconnect!
If we all agreed to spend less time doing email, we’d all get less email! Consider calendaring half-days at work where you can’t go online. Or a commitment to email-free weekends. Or an ‘auto-response’ that references this charter. And don’t forget to smell the roses.


10 Comments leave a comment below

  1. How do we (re)educate the specific people and businesses who almost dictate always-on availability to respect our time? Is it simply standing firm and employing the email charter practices with the hope that they will establish a pattern for our clients to recognize?

    For example, if we stand firm on no email after say 9pm, do we simply ignore those emails and hope our clients will get the message?

  2. No pun intended, of course!

  3. How do I send this email to clients without offending them? :-P

  4. I try to do this:

    @Jonathan, you put it in your email footer.

  5. Love it @Wes. I’m going with four… :)

  6. I disagree with the part in point 2 that says “it’s OK if replies…don’t give detailed responses to all your questions”.

    If someone asks a question, usually there’s a reason why and they need a response.

    If you don’t answer all of their questions you’re wasting your time and theirs. Therefore, you deserve to get yet another email back asking the same question…just don’t expect it to be courteous!

    If someone asks you a question face-to-face, would you just ignore them? No…and you shouldn’t do in an email either.

  7. Although it’s intelligently written, this just gets my back up a little bit – it’s hard to put my finger on why exactly.

    This reeks of an office policy document. These rules might be relevant where Anderson works, but surely every organisation, every industry, every individual is different? Why constrain and homogenise communication? This is no less silly than a Telephone Charter or a Face to Face Conversation Charter.

    Ultimately, this just seems like the sort of thing somebody would waste your time by emailing to you!


  8. Most of these are great, but I agree with Debbie – not answering questions just leads to ANOTHER round of emails trying to get those answers.

    My other quibble is #4. Maybe this is just the people I work with, but too often I send an either/or question (“do you want me to [AAA] or [BBB]?”) and get a “yes” in reply. That’s not an answer; I needed you to pick one! So in some cases I’ve learned to do the opposite of what’s suggested here and get vague with “what do you want me to do?”

  9. This is similar to the netiquette principles applied to the email.

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