TLDR; Too Long Didn’t Read

Precedes a paragraph used by an author to introduce a short summation of a longer piece.

You are either a fan of this blog, or I or someone else has sent you an email with the acronym “TLDR;”. This phrase means “Too Long Didn’t Read”. It is used by some authors, including myself to provide a short concise synopses of the email. If you haven’t got time to read the entire email the paragraph or few sentences following the TLDR; stamp should provide you with enough information.

In the past this phrase was used by editors and reviewers to suggest that articles were too long, or had over run the stipulated word count. More recently this phrase has been used on sites like Reddit, where forum members will provide a quick description of long posts.

Last orders at the bar...

“Time, Ladies and Gentlemen, Please!” – How to time box your email

Regardless of our role, keeping on top of email is really important. Spending too much time on it can mean that it controls and drives our day. It’s easy to feel unproductive and stressed by the volume of email we’re dealing with. Like-wise spending too little time can mean that we miss out on important messages. Both situations can be equally as bad.
I want to share one key tip on how to deal with your email, and one insight into human behaviour which I challenge you to avoid.
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Picture of a child bored of shopping, or in this case your emails

Jeeze, Please! – Change the Subject

Email Subject lines are more important than most people expect. They are the first thing others see and can determine whether or not your email is read. Have you ever sent an email out to a group all about one topic, only to have the same email provoke a conversation about a completely different issue?

In these situations there are two key issues that can result in a loss of productivity, and an overly full inbox.

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Talk to the hand

Talk to the hand, because my inbox isn’t listening

There is a lesser known feature in Outlook, I want to tell you about. Legend has it that this feature was introduced to address a problem faced by most of Microsoft’s own program managers – getting caught on an unwanted email conversation. This feature, once invoked will solve this issue in the most draconian way.

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Email Borg

Separate Work Email From Home

Max Schireson, the CEO of a multi-million dollar successful international company stepped down, just when it felt like the company was on the verge of becoming a core technology staple like Microsoft or Oracle. Why did he do it? – Because his work/life balance was wrong.

Work/Life balance is something that gets touted about a lot by both large and small employers. Whatever an employer says striking the balance is ultimately a personal choice. Being conscious of how work creeps into your personal life is important. Once you are aware of it you can do something about it. One or the main culprits of work creep is email.

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Your Email Client is cheating on you

It is important when you write an email to know what your recipient is going to read. But we don’t. All email clients, without exception give you one view of your email as your writing it, and a completely different view of an email when you receive it. This is definitely not WYSISYG.

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Email Writing Tip: Get the Address Right

This tip starts with describing an email management technique, which may explain why your email ends up in the trash without even being opened.

The “not addressed to me” Strategy

I was talking with Sebastian when he recalled a conversation with a multinational CEO; “I asked him how he deals with so much email.”
“He told me that if the email wasn’t directly addressed to him, with his name in the “to:” field, he would delete it.”

This is a common practise, in addition to the CEO a number of email training courses promote the exact same approach, depending on your situation this can be a really valuable and time saving approach. But it takes a brave person to implement it.

You Have to be Very Brave, or Very Senior

If you’re the boss deleting a poorly addressed email seems like a very valuable thing to do. But if you are not a senior employee deleting these emails could cause problems. It’s much harder to explain to your boss that you missed the critical flaw in the product because the emails describing the issues were not directly addressed to you.

Understanding the Impact of the Technique

We may not agree with all of the email management techniques we hear about, but it’s always good to understand how others view the emails we send. As someone writing an email you must be aware that people can and do apply the “not addressed to me” strategy.

Get the address right!: Use the “to:” field correctly

If you’re sending an email where you really need a response from a specific person then make sure that person is in the “to:” field. Even if you are sending an email to a mailing list where this person is a member, make sure to include the person explicitly along with the mailing list.

Watch Out for the Reply All Got-cha!

Getting the address right is common sense, but it is surprisingly hard to implement all the time. How many times have you just hit the “reply all” button; did you think about who the reply was really going to be targeted to? – and did you make sure that they were the only ones in the “to:” field?
It’s surprisingly easy to forget, but making sure the right people are in your “to:” line can make the difference between your email being read – or being deleted without ever being opened.

The Problem with Email

Email as the name suggested was designed to replicate the hard copy messaging functionality present in most large offices, “CC” stands for carbon copy, and BCC for blind carbon copy, reflecting a once common method of producing copies of documents.

The user interface that we now have in almost all email clients has derived from this snail mail like metaphor. However there is one huge, but subtle difference between email and snail mail – speed. It’s probably the one which has had the largest impact on its use.
We send emails today and expect to receive responses in minutes. Quick questions and answers would normally be written as short messages, but the email user interface is designed around writing long snail mail like missives. The result – we all tend to write long emails, when we could have written a much shorter and succinct message.

The Email user interface hasn’t kept pace with the way it is being used today. I think it is time we changed that. As the Chinese philosopher Laozi said “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a first step”; as a microprenuer I can’t “boil the ocean”, but I can start walking in the right direction. The email preview tool is the first of what I hope to be a series of plugins designed to update the user interface of office email.

I’d love your feedback on it, go-on check it out as a free download… with your help, we can all change the future of email.


Image credit: Holger.Ellgaard

Architecture: Design Dictating Behaviour

It’s an old memory from when I was a school pupil, but it has stayed with me. After hearing from Ian all about DOS email clients I was once again reminded of what happened when I was on a school trip to the country theatre all those years ago.

As my entire class filed into the theatre I noticed something odd. Each of us walked through the door way into the room and without being instructed each of the pupils and teachers alike did the same thing.

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Email Tip: Short and Sweet Email’s get the Response

This email tip should help you get the response you need, and ironically it’s done by writing less.

Short emails are more likely to get a response than long emails. When you think about, this is simply human nature, and common sense.

When you’re busy you don’t have a lot of time to devote to something else, so receiving a really long email is a pain. Like most of the world’s email users we all resort to doing a mental skim of the emails we receive.

The Mental Skim

We’ve all done it. You might even be doing it with this blog post? ……You’ve already skimmed the first few lines of the post and, if I’m lucky, the first few lines of each paragraph. Your trying to determine if this is interesting or useful and should you invest the rest of your time reading it – aren’t you?

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