Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Declaration of the CP No. 2: Work related emails

I have many policies. Not everyone enjoys my policies, but they are important nonetheless. Sometimes I have a policy without even realizing it. Then when I figure out that I have the policy, I become glad of it and declare it officially.

I discovered such a policy this summer involving emails at work. I get hundreds of emails a week. Sometimes about a hundred a day, give or take a few. I read and respond to the ones that seem really important, and especially the ones that come from friends and friendly co-"workers." And, most of the time, emails that come from my boss and from my clients. The rest I open and then try to file somewhere I can find later if needed.

What I discovered this summer, however, is that any email that is longer than two paragraphs, I simply ignore. No matter who it's from. I open it, glance at it briefly and then just close it without taking any further action. My brain just can't absorb that much information, so I don't even try. Apparently, I have unwittingly instated a two-paragraph-maximum policy.

I found out about my policy the hard way.

One day at lunch, some of my co-"workers" started bitching about some project they were working on. For the sake of this story, we'll call it "Project X."

J: "So where are you with Project X? Isn't it annoying?"

A: "Oh. My. God. Can we just talk about Project X for a minute? Are they fucking kidding me with this? When the hell am I supposed to do this? I'll have to pull an all-nighter to get this in by Friday."

J: "I know. I hate it. I wish they would stop asking for this stuff."

G: "So how did you guys approach it - did you do the list first and then get all the data to fill in, or did you make the calls to see who was interested before you did that other spreadsheet?"

Tom: "Project X? What is that?"

J+A+G: "What do you mean? It's due Friday. Haven't you started it?"

Tom: "Started what? I don't even know what you guys are talking about."

A+G: "Didn't M forward you that email from the home office?"

Tom: "Hmm, probably... maybe I didn't see it."

J: "Well I know she forwarded it to you, because I got it and you were on the email."

Tom: "Oh, ok....."

So you see, these emails are a real problem. When I went to look at my overflowing inbox, I realized that I simply stopped reading any email that exceeded two paragraphs in length. No matter who it was from. Even if it was from my boss.

My boss forwards a lot of emails from the bigwigs in our home office. I don't really care about the bigwigs in our home office because I don't know most of them, they don't know me, and I don't aspire to work anywhere near them. So I just ignore them. Even when they try to talk to me through my boss.
And especially when they try to talk to me through my boss via long, rambling emails.

I went and had a little chat with my boss. Since I'm brutally honest by nature, I simply informed her that my policy prevented me from finding out about Project X in a timely fashion, and that I would need an extension to complete it on time.

My boss likes me, but let's just say she was not impressed by this news, or by my policy.

"Tom, I appreciate how busy you are and that you do a great job taking care of your accounts. But I really need you to start reading your emails. Do you think you can do that?"

I still haven't given her a firm answer. Instead, I got J+A+G to promise to let me know when anything important comes up over email.

Despite this minor setback, I think my policy turned out to be a good one. I'm much more efficient at work now that everyone knows I won't read all their crap.


Anonymous said...

I have taken to deleting work-related emails from certain people without even reading them. Discipline office? No thanks. Attendance lady? Don't care. Student government sponsor? As if! Athletic director? HA!

jin said...

I'm laughing so hard over that one!!!

It's official now, I DO worship you & your practices!!!

Dale said...

I wish I could do that. I support your declaration and policy but am compelled to read every single word of every single email I get. Then, there's usually no time left for work.

Creepy said...

Funny, I tried saying what your boss said to you to an employee of one of our clients who never read his e-mails. I guess your boss is more diplomatic than me as I am no longer allowed to have contact of any sort with our clients. If I have a question one of my co-workers has to ask it for me.

Anonymous said...

i like that rule and invoke it from time to time myself especially on emails from my mother.

Old Lady said...

The price you pay for popularity!

lulu said...

Your boss talks to you exactly the way I talk to my students. "Juan, I need you to stop putting Adam in a headlock, can you do that for me?"

I love that creepy has a restraining order to not talk to his clients, too funny.

Beth said...

I applaud your policy, and I'm playing on your team. As the corporate communicator here in Mayberry, I use the corporate newsletter to tell these hayseeds how to write short, succinct e-mails. I've even begun teaching a class on it. Send the bastards to me, CP, and I'll whip their meandering, longwinded a**es into shape.

Grant Miller said...

YOu are a very wise man. But, FYI - I don't read blog posts beyond the second graph.

Tumuli said...

^ Ha! Neither do a lot of people, unfortunately.

Since implementing a thorough filter, I now read most of my personal e-mails, no matter the length. But work e-mails ALWAYS are discarded, unread. My co-workers waste enough of my time as it is...

Anomie-Atlanta said...

Although I closely read all work related emails, my friends know if they send me an email at work that is more than three words long, it will not be read. They are encouragedd to put pertinent info in the subject line, for example:
To: Anomieatwork
Subject: Dinner 8pm; Drink Brewhouse; or (my favorite) Help Me

Coaster Punchman said...

Megan, that's great. I haven't yet summoned up the courage to delete all the way; my MO is to leave them unread in my inbox, or sometimes to file them somewhere else in case I ever decide to read them.

Jin, you can leave gifts at the CP altar in the form of edibles. Really.

See Dale, you can take a lesson in efficiency from CPW. But if your goal is to do less work, just keep reading those emails.

Creepy, you're awesome. Not allowed to speak to clients. Thrown out of doctors' offices. You must be one scary guy when you're pissed! Right up my alley. You should meet my mom.

Katy, you're not the first person I've heard things like that from re: motherly emails.

Old Lady, maybe that's a new way to think about it. I get all these emails because I'm so well loved. I might believe it if 75% of them weren't mass forwards.

Lu, indeed, I respond to being treated like a school kid. Especially when I'm being thrown over someone's knee. (Ok, that sounded so much better in my head.)

Beth, I would like to see some of your tips. Perhaps you can do a post on them?

Grant, funny you should mention that - I was thinking it as I wrote that post. "CP, maybe you can trim this down so people will actually want to read it?"

Tumuli, that sounds like quite a drastic policy. Just delete all work emails, unread. Sounds like the "Confederacy of Dunces."

Anomie, although my policy is almost the opposite from yours, you give me a great idea. I can tell my co-"workers" that what they want to communicate had better be in the subject heading or they're out of luck. Brilliant.

jin said...

Re the post: 'trimming it down so people will want to read it'.
Actually, there are many blogs where I see a long post (in my feeds) & think
I'll wait until I'm REALLY bored or
I'll just delete it or
I'll skim the first & last paragraphs
NOT when its at CPW!!!
I aspire to be as interesting & amusing with every post like you are!!! Plus, I ALWAYS read your comments! I still think it's cool that 'Poor George' adds his .02 every now & again!!!

Coaster Punchman said...

Wow, what an awesome compliment!!! Thanks!