cover NLB Call No.: 004.692 CAV -[COM] (Computer & IT section)
ISBN: 0-471-45738-8
Check NLB Catalogue for item availabilty (copy and paste the ISBN “0471457388” under Keyword search).

If you are already swamped by emails, the last thing you have time to do is to read a book, right? Not quite.

This book might be worth your time. The author based it on her own primary research on electronic mails and communication at the workplace. It provides sensible, practical and useful advice (I personally tested out some myself). There are suggestions on when to use email and when some other communciation mediums (like the phone) might be better; managing the inbox; tips on crafting meaningful emails; best practices when responding to emails.

Some of the advice becomes quite apparent once it’s pointed out to you (some may even seem so simple, it’s scary why you’ve not done it earlier!). The difference lies in the way the information is presented, I think. The examples and case studies are convincing enough that we can relate to them (e.g. I went, “Oh, I did that — which I shouldn’t have done!”). The book makes a point to discuss the root of the problem before presenting the solution. E.g. why there seems to be so much internal emails, and why email makes us work differently.

If you really are pressed for time, pick up the book anyway and go directly to chapters 4 and 5 to get some quick tips. Then decide if it applies to you. In my case, I tried out some. While I can’t be sure how much improvements I’ve made (in terms of managing my inbox, and improving the situation for my colleagues), at least I’m more conscious of certain actions that might have skipped my notice. E.g. I tend to ask more of “do I really need to send this?” questions to myself, so that I don’t send emails unnecessarily.

I found the chapters on managing the inbox and the outbox most useful, where it presents not only strategies for the email receiver but also the sender. There’s also a section on Instant Messenging (IM), and tips for individual IM users and for organisations.

This book is not anti-email or anti-technology. It’s about pointing out certain pitfalls, and making us aware if we are committing them inadvertently. Also being able to identify certain issues that are already happening (e.g. internal office spam and likely causes) helps in implementing solutions.

I think ultimately, it’s also about our understanding of the communication channels and preferences of colleagues within the organisation that will help. This book will add to our understanding where emails are concerned.

Chpt 1 – Email’s quirks and wonders (why it makes us work differently)
– Ten temptations of email (to send, to respond, to broadcast, be rude, to hide, to react…)

Chpt 2 – The legal face of email (“Navigate the pitfalls and stay out of the courthouse” )
– Some common misconceptions about email (e.g. “It’s private”, “It’s gone when I delete it” )
– Case study (US example) of how emails have been used in courts as evidence
– Preventive measures (e.g. assume that it may be read by unintended persons)
– Suggested solutions (e.g. Company email policy); tips on developing email guidelines and policies

Chpt 3 – Using email judiciously (“It’s okay to pick up the phone” )
– Benefits of email
– How email can be abused

Chpt 4 – The Inbox (“How to manage your inbox like a pro and reduce email volume in your organisation” )
– [Practical tips in his chapter. Focuses on what the email receiver can do.]
– Elaborates on “workplace spam” (7 types, like “friendly spam”, “corporate spam” )
– Pointed out “Email Ping-pong” [oh yeah, I’m guilty!], i.e. communication that seems to go on forever with nothing resolved. Solution is to anticipate the responses you want and reduce the cycle. E.g. instead of sending emails asking “what time can we meet?” followed by “Tomorrow” and “I’m not good for tomorrow, how about xxx?”… you write, “Could we meet on xxx, xxx, xxx? I’m also available on xxx, xxx, xxx”. Basically trying to ensure communication is closed within 3 emails or so.
– Pointing out standard features of email applications and how they can help manage our email productivity
– How to reduce email volume in the organisation (“awareness”, “corporate response”, “individual attention that sets new standards”, “review”

Chpt 5 – The Outbox (“A guide to good citizendry on the e-mail frontier” )
– [This chapter focuses on the sender’s point of view]
– Questions to ask before sending (“What is the purpose?”, “Who should I send it to?”, “Is email the right channel?” )
– Responding to emails (“Do I need to respond?”. Note: 65% require a response, according to the author’s research, which means 35% do not require one)
– Tips for effective email communication (e.g. meaningful subject line, first sentence, how to structure the message, when to reply with history or with attachments)
– p. 181. On Instant Messenging (tips for users and organisations)

Chpt 6 – The smoking gun (“Take control and make email work for you” )
– Summary of the key points in the book

Includes references for further readings.

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