Skip to main content

E-mail Charter

| September 6, 2011

by Jim Bruce

I first saw reference to an E-mail Charter in Davig Pogue’s NYTimes column “We Have to Fix Email“on June 30, 2011.  In the column Pogue calls attention to the email overload that we all are experiencing almost every day in real time.

That column points to a blog post by Chris Anderson, organizer for the high profile TED conferences, “Help Create an E-mail Charter!” that argues the case for addressing the email overload:  “E-mail overload is something we are inadvertently doing to each other.  You can’t solve this problem acting alone.  You will end up simply ignoring, delaying, or rushing responses to many incoming messages, and risk annoying people or missing something great.  That prospect is stressful.”  Anderson then puts forth a set of principles that he hopes the world will adopt. 

The 16 principles in Anderson’s blog have since become ten and are posted at <>.  I think that they represent very good advice and encourage you to consider them as you write and respond:

1.  Respect respondents’ time.  YOU, the sender, are responsible for minimizing the time required to process your email.

2.  Short or slow is not rude.  Give your addressees time to respond.

3.  Celebrate clarity.  Start with a clear subject line.  Use crisp sentences.

4.  Quash open-ended questions.  Sometimes open-ended questions are necessary.  But, even when you really do need to write “Thoughts?” do recognize that you may be injecting a multi-hour task in a way that will be seen as both immediate and important.  Do provide some advice on the actual importance of your request and when it’s needed.

5.  Slash unnecessary cc’s.  Only cc your email to those who really need to see it.  And, use Reply All sparingly.  That email you sent with ten cc’s expands to 100 responses if everyone responds cc-ing everyone on the list.  How much time will that add to your day to check to see if anything relevant is said in all those responses.

6.  Tighten the thread.  Before you press send on that response, edit the incoming mail that you’ve included in your response to only what’s relevant.

7.  Attack attachments.  Don’t use logos and signature files as graphics which appear as attachments.  It consumes time to search these out if they don’t expand and figure out whether there is content there.  And, don’t send plain text files that could be included directly in the body of the email as attachments.

8.  Two gifts you can give.  EOM — End of Message — when your message is so short it can be in the subject line, and NNTR — No Need To Reply — either in the subject line or at the end of the message when no response is needed.

9.  Don’t send content free responses.

10.  Disconnect!  Schedule time to do serious work and stay disconnected during that time.

Fairly simple principles.  If we all begin to follow them, we can all save real time.


Have a great week.  .  .  .  .     jim