Help create an Email Charter: Let's respect our time and learn how to use email better

Chris Anderson, curator of TED, states what we've all been feeling, email is broken. There are too many emails, too many forwards, too many cc's and not enough dialogue, not enough thinking before sending, and way too many unhealthy expectations associated with it. 

In a blog post today he explains:

Here is the key cause of this problem:

The total time taken to respond to an email is often MORE than the time it took to create it.    

Because even though it's quicker to read than to write, five other factors outweigh this:

- Emails often contain challenging, open-ended questions that can't rapidly be responded to

 - It's really easy to copy and paste extra text into emails. (Email creation time is almost the same. Reading time soars.)

- It's really easy to add links to other pages, or video (each capable of consuming copious gobbets of time)

- It's really easy to cc multiple people

- The act of processing an email consists of more than just reading.  There is a) scanning an in-box, b) deciding which ones to open, c) opening them, d) reading them e) deciding how to respond  f) responding  g) getting back into the flow of your other work.  

So the arrival of even a two-sentence email that is simply opened, read and deleted can take a minimum of 30-60 seconds out of your available cognitive time.  

This means that every hour someone spends writing and sending email, may well be extracting more than an hour of the world's available attention -- and generating a further hour or more of new email. That is not good.

He has reserved as the future home of the charter and has started the conversation by providing a list of Candidate Rules as a foundation. Read the blog post and join the conversation. If we all start by applying even one of his proposed rules we would immediately improve how we communicate with each other and perhaps gain a few moments away from email. 

I suggest we start right away by embracing rule #3.

3. Chose Clear Subject Lines. 

Here are some that don't work:

Subject: Re: re: re: re    


Subject: Hello from me!

Subject: next week....

Subject: MY AMAZING NEW SHOW starts next week at the Vctory Theater at 113-86 Broad Lane, every night 8 PM 6/7--7/12

Here are some that do:

Subject: TED Partnership Proposal

Subject: Rescheduling today's dinner with Sarah G.

Subject: Noon meeting cancelled (eom). 

EOM means 'end of message.'  It's a fine gift to your recipient. They don't have to spend the time actually opening the message. 

Let's respect our time, improve the quality of our work and learn how to use email better. 

Updated on Thursday, June 9, 2011:

Seth Godin has posted his email checklist. A list of questions to answer before hitting send. 

Antonio Ortiz

Antonio Ortiz has always been an autodidact with an eclectic array of interests. Fascinated with technology, advertising and culture he has forged a career that combines them all. In 1991 Antonio developed one of the very first websites to market the arts. It was text based, only available to computer scientists, and increased attendance to the Rutgers Arts Center where he had truly begun his professional career. Since then Antonio has been an early adopter and innovator merging technology and marketing with his passion for art, culture and entertainment. For a more in-depth look at those passions, visit

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