One of the most talked-about points in our Linkedin Group “Everything Email” is the fact that email is taking over our lives. Introducing the Email Charter – a Charter designed to reverse the email spiral that is spinning faster with each new day.

The Email Charter was created in response to a discussion similar to the one in our group, where it was agreed that email is getting out of hand for many people. It started life as a blog post by Chris Anderson and Jane Wulf. Since then, more than 45,000 people have read the post and it has generated hundreds of tweets, comments, and suggestions. That is how the final Charter has been shaped, consisting of the following ten rules to battle the problem:

Respect Recipients’ Time

This is the fundamental rule. As the message sender, the onus is on YOU to minimize the time your email will take to process. Even if it means taking more time at your end before sending it.

Short or Slow is not Rude

Let’s mutually agree to cut each other some slack. Given the email load we’re all facing, it’s OK if replies take a while coming and if they don’t give detailed responses to all your questions. No one wants to come over as brusque, so please don’t take it personally. We just want our lives back!

Celebrate Clarity

Start with a subject line that clearly labels the topic, and maybe includes a status category [Info], [Action], [Time Sens] [Low Priority]. Use crisp, muddle-free sentences. If the email has to be longer than five sentences, make sure the first provides the basic reason for writing. Avoid strange fonts and colors.

Quash Open-Ended Questions

It is asking a lot to send someone an email with four long paragraphs of turgid text followed by “Thoughts?”. Even well-intended-but-open questions like “How can I help?” may not be that helpful. Email generosity requires simplifying easy-to-answer questions. “Can I help best by a) calling b) visiting or c) staying right out of it?!”

Slash Surplus cc’s

cc’s are like mating bunnies. For every recipient you add, you are dramatically multiplying total response time. Not to be done lightly! When there are multiple recipients, please don’t default to ‘Reply All’. Maybe you only need to cc a couple of people on the original thread. Or none.

Tighten the Thread

Some emails depend on their meaning for context. Which means it’s usually right to include the thread being responded to. But a thread should rarely extend to more than 3 emails. Before sending, cut what’s not relevant. Or consider making a phone call instead.

Attack Attachments

Don’t use graphics files as logos or signatures that appear as attachments. Time is wasted trying to see if there’s something to open. Even worse is sending text as an attachment when it could have been included in the body of the email.

Give these Gifts: EOM NNTR

If your email message can be expressed in half a dozen words, just put it in the subject line, followed by EOM (= End of Message). This saves the recipient from having to open the message. Ending a note with “No need to respond” or NNTR, is a wonderful act of generosity. Many acronyms confuse as much as help, but these two are golden and deserve wide adoption.

Cut Contentless Responses

You don’t need to reply to every email, especially not those that are themselves clear responses. An email saying “Thanks for your note. I’m in.” does not need you to reply “Great.” That just cost someone another 30 seconds.

Disconnect!

If we all agreed to spend less time doing email, we’d all get less email! Consider calendaring half-days at work where you can’t go online. Or a commitment to email-free weekends. Or an ‘auto-response’ that references this charter. And don’t forget to smell the roses.

So far over 22,000 votes have been counted for or against the Email Charter, enter your vote here. We think the Charter lays out some very good points that can make the working day a lot smoother and your inbox a lot friendlier! And if you want to share the Charter with your fellow email users — think about linking to it from your email signature… Something like “Save our inboxes! http://emailcharter.org” or “Too brief? Here’s why! http://emailcharter.org

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