screenshot of The Email Charter

10 Rules to Reverse the Email Spiral

We think these rules are so good, we’ve reprinted them directly from The Email Charter.

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.


4 replies
  1. Aidan says:

    I believe people get too focused on what to say and what not to say. If you clearly address what needs to be addressed in a professional manner the individual receiving it will be receptive. This is not an excuse for long and poorly written emails but it allows the writer to focus on what needs to be said instead of how to delicately it needs to be said.

    I would not use this charter because one can imply as many rules and regulations as they want which may inhibit the writers ability to mean what they say.

  2. Craig Banks says:

    I think most of these are pretty standard and common throughout most business places, if not a little rigid in their use. Time management can be a huge issue in the workplace and any ways to cut out wasting time is always going to be something that is championed. I would be wary of tip number 5, if I receive an email with lots of people cc’ed in, I would reply all to everyone – regardless of whether I think they should be copied in or not. If that person has received the initial email it could be dangerous to then take them out before any problems or communication has been resolved. I would adopt a similar set of rules to this, as I said most of them are pretty common knowledge to people who have worked in a professional business environment before and it makes sense to simplify communication in the workplace easier.

  3. katie benjamin says:

    My understanding from experience and use are exactly these rules. I’ve never been one to use acronyms so maybe I’ll try to do a little tweaking in future emails but not to go overboard. I do think the rules are a decent set of rules to go by. On the other hand, I’m not sure if adopt is the right word to use. I already use most of these rules, so I can say yes, I would a ply these rules more often than not. I think you would have to be wary about sending acronyms for those individuals having difficulties with English in the first place. I’m not too keen on sending mass emails and CCing all sorts of people with the same email either; due to the fact emails coming back or going out after the first one could potentially get sent to the wrong person.

  4. paola vargas says:

    I think this summarizes the most common mistakes business make when communicating via email. It is important to apply this tips in order to achieve excellent communication from within. Also understanding this practices would save companies time and money. When sending an email the receiver interprets however they feel about it and will construct an image of you while doing so, this is imperative when negotiating or dealing with big customers.
    I would absolutely adopt this charter, emails should be professional, concise, short but comprehensive. Although I think the acronym rule might need a bit more concept and global receptiveness in order to be applied effectively.


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