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E-Mail Sins, Horror Stories and Strategies


If you're looking for somebody to blame for your overloaded inbox, you might consider the behavior of the recipient - that's you. And that's according to Will Schwalbe, who wrote a guide to email behavior.

Mr. SCHWALBE: A lot of the people who complain that they get way too many emails send way too many emails. They send vague emails, emails that are unnecessary; they send preachy emails or angry emails that cause huge ruckuses that have reverberations in their lives. And so we realized if you are more thoughtful about your own emailing, it's a lot easier to get your incoming under control.

INSKEEP: Are you blaming me for the 3,500 things in my inbox?

Mr. SCHWALBE: Not for all 3,500, but I bet you're responsible for five or six hundred of those. By making some adjustments in the way you email, you can cut your email incoming down by, oh, say, 25 percent. Our best tip is if every time you send an email that doesn't demand a response, you add: no reply necessary. The person probably won't reply, then you won't have to think, do I need to reply to that email, and they won't have to think, do I need to reply to that email, and on and on and on and on.

INSKEEP: Can I just mention one thing that I've discovered. By accident when I go away from email for a couple of days, many of the problems that are brought to my attention by email if I ignore them for a day or two, they might solve themselves.

Mr. SCHWALBE: That's absolutely right. And one of the things that we recommend too is a better use of the Auto Reply message. People set this when they go on holiday. They'll send a message saying I'm out of the office for three weeks in Caracas. But you can just set it to say I'm really busy at the moment and might not be able to get back to you.

One of the other things we discovered, too, is that expectation can be a terrible thing. So, if you always respond to every email you get in two or three minutes, you'll find that people expect you to respond in two or three minutes. And if you just make the effort, maybe six minutes one day, ten minutes the next, you will slow down people's expectations and they won't freak out if you haven't gotten right back to them.

INSKEEP: So, be worse in your customer service in order to keep things in line?

Mr. SCHWALBE: Just slow down ever so slightly.

INSKEEP: Will Schwalbe, thanks very much.

Mr. SCHWALBE: Thank you so much.

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INSKEEP: Will Schwalbe is co-author with David Shipley of the book "Send: The Essential Guide to Email for Office and Home."

If you're feeling crushed by your inbox, you can discover more tips by going to NPR.org, where you can also tell us about your most embarrassing email episodes. Yes, you heard correctly; we just invited you to send us emails. Go on; tell us about the time you sent your boss a message intended for your spouse, or send us a message intended for your spouse - we'll post your best stories. And tomorrow we'll hear about a startup company that uses economics to help you decide which emails are worth reading.

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INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.