Tuesday, March 23, 2010


A colleague sent this mail the other day -
Sub- AP: Let's improve out Outlook :-)
I land up spending a large part of the day just answering/addressing mails. I am sure that others in our team also face this problem. Given this situation here are a few suggestions that may help us improve the way we communicate via mail.
1. Let’s not email , if we can just talk and manage/resolve the task/issue at hand
2. When emailing use one of these three prefix’s, in the subject :
URG – urgent action needed (action is expected from the receiver on the same day). The urgent action should be clearly mentioned on the last line of the mail.
AP – action point (action is expected from the receiver in the near future). The action pt should be clearly mentioned on the last line of the mail.
FYI – this is only to keep the receiver informed about matter relevant to him/her.
This will help us filter, review and act on our mails more effectively. ( I have applied this for the subject of this email itself).
3. Also, lets attempt to keep the mails as short and specific as possible. We will improve our efficiency, if we can keep the mails sharp and action oriented.
AP: if you find this useful, forward this to your team members and let’s start using this system asap.
I request all (my) team members to start applying this system from today itself.

The man (and yes, it was a man) spends the better part of the day reading and replying to mails? I must admit I was slightly envious - it takes me less than ten minutes to get through my Inbox every morning. Am I so redundant that nobody feels the need to send me enough mails to take up the better part of the day, or am I plain unloved?
Have I ever spent an entire day on e-mails? I think not - some days it takes ten minutes to get through my mails, on other days it takes half an hour, but never outside that range. Yes, there are those mails that require action - review this, respond to that, provide information to a third, but that is "work", that is not "e-mails".
Maybe my colleague spends so much time on e-mails because he doesn't make the distinction that I do? But surely not. If that were the case, he would not propose segregating e-mails into FYI, URG and AP categories. Maybe the man really does get a lot more mails than I do.
But, even so, how does one go about segregating mails, and putting the category in the subject line? The same mail could be URG for one person, AP for three, and FYI for five. I normally address the mail "To:" the people in the URG and AP categories, and "CC:" the FYIs, and presume others do so too while sending a mail to me. So when I am "CC-ed" on a mail, I skim read the contents, and read more carefully when something is addressed "To" me.
When tried pointing out the basic flaw in the scheme to him, it took me three tries before I could get him to understand how it was impossible to mention the category in the Subject line. He even went to the extent of suggesting we send three copies of the same mail, and just couldn't get why it would not work.
When he finally got my point, he came up with the idea of ending every e-mail by mentioning the three categories, and the names on each of them. What a perfectly original idea!!! I end long-winded mails sent to multiple recipients by putting down action points against each name, the last line of which typically is -
X, Y and Z - FYI
But apparently, that is not good enough, because unless the FYI comes first, you do not know which category you fall under.
Maybe there is some logic to it, which my simple mind is not able to grasp. Or maybe I am just jealous that I get only ten minutes worth of e-mail every day, while others get so many more than I do.
How much time do you spend on e-mails? Would having URG, AP or FYI in the Subject line help you be more efficient in handling e-mail communications?


Faith Pray said...

People are wired so differently, aren't they? What others see as annoying labor you see as communicating - and communicating clearly and simply! I'm glad we have you.

Mason Canyon said...

I shouldn't say this but on first read, I'd almost say the man was sort of bragging that he had so many e-mails they had to be sorted into categories. :)

Between my personal and work e-mails, I spend probably an hour a day just on answering e-mails all together (at a one time). I don't think this system would help me that much since I don't have that large of a volume of e-mails.

Jan Morrison said...

Wow! what a tempest in a teacup he has begun. Perhaps that could be another label TiT - yep, I like that one!
I look at who my emails are from and the subject. It takes me about ten minutes to look and respond - guess I'm not as important as he is!

Rayna M. Iyer said...

@ Faith - absolutely. And to be honest, I would rather communicate by mail than verbally and risk either forgetting or being forgotten.

@ Mason - I too think so. Somehow, being snowed down with e-mails seems to be a sign of your importance. I mean, FYI mails too need to be read, don't they, and whether they are labelled FYI or not, can't you make out what it is like from the context?

@ Jan - I love that one - TiT!!! Maybe I should send him a reply to that mail with TiT as the subject. That should get his attention!

Watery Tart said...

Oh dear! Sounds like somebody thinks he is more important than everybody else--yes, the FYIs usually go in the CC. I'm glad to have a small team of people who seem to all be intelligent enough to KNOW if something is meant for them or just informational. (Urgent ones we can put a red mark by)

Rayna M. Iyer said...

@ Tami - and don't get me started on the red mark! There are people who's default setting seems to have the red mark AND a request for sending read receipts. And they are the people who copy the world and their third cousin on mails that have nothing to do with them!

L. Diane Wolfe said...

He has high aspirations if he thinks everyone will code their emails for him!
I won't tell you how often I check my emails each day (as it might scare you!) but overall I receive anywhere from 100-300 a day and it can take over an hour when all is said and done.

Rayna M. Iyer said...

@ Diane - over an hour for between 100 to 300 mails tells me that if you know how to prioritise your e-mail reading and replying, it is actually not the monster it is made out to be. And you can't scare me with the number of times you check your mail - I am trying to be disciplined about it, and "only" check once an hour when I am busy :-)

Ann Elle Altman said...

I sadly don't get many emails... and it's probably because I rarely respond to them. Not one for small talk. Great funny post.

Also, have an award for you on my blog...you will see it later today.


Rayna M. Iyer said...

@ Ann - I used to get dozens of forwards at one point of time, but people have stopped sending me stuff now. So my mailbox only has things I need!
And, thank you for the Award. You are a Sugar Doll yourself!


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