E-mail me what you want

On a good day, I get 25 or 30 e-mails that require my immediate response. On a bad day, I get 65 or 70. I seem to be having more bad days lately. How about you? The infuriating thing about 99.99 per cent of my e-mail is that none of it has been prioritised in any meaningful way. Instead, the numerous messages all look depressingly similar (except, of course, the spam from the digijerks who mask their identities behind alphanumeric slop instead of real E-names and addresses). And yes, I do what limited filtering my software permits.

The real problem is that I haven't a clue what most people expect from their E-missives. Do they just want to tell me something? Do they want me to respond? Do they want me to do something? And what about the when? This very minute? Does it have to be today? Tomorrow? Or maybe when I finally get around to it?

There is an obvious solution to this problem: we could insist that people appropriately label their E-mail. We could design headers that require E-mailers to specify precisely what kind of message they are sending. Is it informational? Does it require a response? A behaviour? Does it need to be forwarded to other parties? Archived? Swiftly deleted after reading?

That isn't to suggest that the typical e-mail header should be longer than the typical e-mail itself. But challenging people to really think about how the messages they send should be received by their intended recipients is hardly a bad thing.

Indeed, in an era when knowledge workers ultimately can expect to process well over 100 e-mails per day, that challenge rapidly assumes a greater sense of urgency.

Part of me wishes that my initial response to a query from someone I don't know would automatically generate a form response asking the sender to prioritise the message sent. Would that be offensive? Or would that be professional?

Your answer reveals a lot about your personal and professional values. My answer should be obvious.

American Express is one company where certain departments (notably IS) have the obligation to describe the e-mail they send. Reportedly, that discipline yields positive returns. But one has to ask why so very few organisations take the time and effort to think about how to better leverage their existing e-mail infrastructures in a way that respects the time constraints of the individuals who use them.

In an earlier column, I observed that hardly any companies intelligently track their e-mail flow or do traffic analysis to help see how e-mail patterns intersect with value creation.

Now, I have to wonder when more organisations will offer their people tools that will help them manage their e-mail interactions in a more effective and more efficient manner. I think IS needs to lead such initiatives if it has any hope of becoming seen as more than the digital plumber of the network enterprise.

Then again, I'm awfully fond of another solution to the e-mail conundrum: insist that all e-mail sent have a deletion date attached. Insist that half the messages must disappear within 24 hours.

Well, it's just a thought - but I like it. Just don't send me e-mail about it.

Join the newsletter!


Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Michael Schrage

PC World
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Stocking Stuffer

SmartLens - Clip on Phone Camera Lens Set of 3

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Aysha Strobbe

Microsoft Office 365/HP Spectre x360

Microsoft Office continues to make a student’s life that little bit easier by offering reliable, easy to use, time-saving functionality, while continuing to develop new features that further enhance what is already a formidable collection of applications

Michael Hargreaves

Microsoft Office 365/Dell XPS 15 2-in-1

I’d recommend a Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 and the new Windows 10 to anyone who needs to get serious work done (before you kick back on your couch with your favourite Netflix show.)

Maryellen Rose George

Brother PT-P750W

It’s useful for office tasks as well as pragmatic labelling of equipment and storage – just don’t get too excited and label everything in sight!

Cathy Giles

Brother MFC-L8900CDW

The Brother MFC-L8900CDW is an absolute stand out. I struggle to fault it.

Luke Hill


I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?