The latest trend in business technology? Cutting down–or even eliminating–your email inbox in the name of efficiency. Some are signing a pledge to think before they hit ‘send,’ and one big IT company is giving up email altogether. Email blunders cluttering inboxes include abuse of “reply all,” unclear subject lines, and not knowing when to just pick up the phone. We’ve got tips on emailing smarter.


  • Rob Pegoraro Technology Blogger
  • Anna Post Co- author, Emily Post's Etiquette, 18th edition
  • Luis Suarez IBM’s Social Computing Evangelist.


  • 12:07:54

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. It's Tech Tuesday. Most of us have a love-hate relationship with email. The biggest issue, we just get too many of them. Some of us have to wade through hundreds of emails when we arrive at the office each day. We all know the culprits: people who abuse reply all or send endless replies to set up a single meeting. But are other people the whole problem? Or could it be that we all contribute to this excessive electronic communication?

  • 12:08:42

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIThere's a movement afoot to address our email addiction. An email charter is circulating around the Internet with a pledge to change our -- change your own email habits. A technology company has decided to eliminate its internal email altogether. And one man is rethinking the role of email entirely with efficiency as a goal. He says that there are better tools to communicate that can dramatically cut everyone's workload, what -- one of those tools, he telephone.

  • 12:09:13

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIJoining us to discuss this by phone from the Canary Islands in Spain -- well, they're actually off the coast of Africa, the coast of West Sahara, but they are Spanish territory -- is Luis Suarez. He is IBM's social computing evangelist. Luis Suarez, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:09:29

    MR. LUIS SUAREZThanks. Thanks for having me. Thanks for the opportunity. And thanks again.

  • 12:09:31

    NNAMDILuis, you work for a technology company, IBM, and you work in a remote office. Yet, I understand you've reduced your email by 98 percent. How many emails do you get a day?

  • 12:09:45

    SUAREZRight now, I run two per day.

  • 12:09:48

    NNAMDIDid you say...

  • 12:09:49

    SUAREZIt's not bad. It's not bad. It started -- when I started doing this initiative around four years ago, it was an average of 30 to 40 per day. And now, it's two per day.

  • 12:09:58

    NNAMDITwo, as in T-W-O?

  • 12:10:02


  • 12:10:03

    NNAMDITwo, the number two?

  • 12:10:05

    SUAREZYeah, two, as in number two. One plus one, two.

  • 12:10:09

    NNAMDIYou now use almost no email, I guess, if you only get two a day, and you communicate mostly through other means, mainly social media. What tools do you use?

  • 12:10:21

    SUAREZI do. One of the things that I have done is basically I have moved all of the basic interactions and conversations that I used to have through email. I have found better places for them. Originally, going more from the perspective of transitioning into much more open, collaborative and knowledge-sharing tools, so, usually, I have got three now versus just one single email as I had before. One of them is dedicated to my work, so that's the one that I use for collaborating internally with my colleagues, as well as with partners and customers.

  • 12:10:56

    SUAREZIt's actually an IBM enterprise social service solution called IBM Connections. And then for the rest of the world, so to speak -- so all the thought leaders or people from the same industry that I work in or just in general interest, or whatever else I use, though I'm relying quite heavily on both Twitter and Google Plus. Those are the three major tools that I use. And as well, I have a blog, and I have got a Flickr account. And I use various other different social networks. And so those are the three major pillars of how my collaboration happens nowadays.

  • 12:11:28

    NNAMDIAlso joining us in studio is Rob Pegoraro. He is a technology writer. Rob Pegoraro, thank you very much for joining us.

  • 12:11:35

    MR. ROB PEGORAROYou're welcome. It's good to be back.

  • 12:11:36

    NNAMDITwo, to me, sounds ridiculous. I mean, the number of emails in my inbox also begins with two, but it's like 2,925.

  • 12:11:47

    PEGORAROEven 30 to 40 a day, I wish I had that few to deal with.

  • 12:11:51

    NNAMDII -- that's absolutely amazing. Also joining us from a studio in Montpelier, Vt. is Anna Post, co-author of "Emily Post's Etiquette, 18th edition." She teaches business etiquette seminars and is a regular contributor to Reuters and Anna Post, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:12:10

    MS. ANNA POSTThank you. Thanks for having me.

  • 12:12:12

    NNAMDIHow do two emails in your inbox sound to you?

  • 12:12:15

    POSTIt sounds wonderful.

  • 12:12:18

    NNAMDIDoes it sound like something that you would like to achieve at some point?

  • 12:12:21

    POSTIt does. You know, for a little while, I had an email inbox that did not go below the fold, which I was very proud of, although I admit it's been about a year. I'm up closer to 800 right now in the inbox.

  • 12:12:30

    NNAMDIWell, let's go back to Mr. Two. Luis, IBM is a technology company that sells an email tool. What kind of pushback did you get from your colleagues?

  • 12:12:42

    SUAREZWell, initially, you know, when I started this experiment four years ago, what I wanted to do is not certainly claim the death of email because I still think that email has got good services and good use basis, especially for like, you know, one-on-one confidential conversations or as team thinking, email is probably the best option. But what I certainly wanted to do was to challenge the status quo of how email has ruled the corporate world for the last decades.

  • 12:13:06

    SUAREZAnd I basically try to claim that that there are better tools out there that allow us to be more collaborative and more keen on sharing and innovating than just going through email. So one of the things that I did was, you know, proving that by telling people to stop using email with me.

  • 12:13:21

    SUAREZAnd, initially, obviously, there were a couple of reactions, and then people were -- you know, one of them was positive reaction from the perspective of people saying like, OK, we're going to watch and see how you do it. Obviously, if you're able to make it happen, that means that everyone else probably can do it as well in the company, right?

  • 12:13:37

    SUAREZAnd the other kind of the reaction was somewhat negative, perhaps not so much negative than from the perspective of, no, you're not going to do that, but more from the perspective of being at shock of saying, you know, how can you get rid of email in an email-driven company like IBM where we even have got an email client that we use -- that we also sell to customers, right? So my point of view from there is to show, like I said before, not to show that email is dead but to show how email needs to evolve.

  • 12:14:04

    SUAREZAnd it needs to become back to what it used to be 40 years ago, which was basically a messaging and notification system. I don't want email -- or, basically, my claim was to get everyone to see that email should not be a content repository, should not be a justification of work, should not be a delegation machine, or it should not be a corporate weapon that we all use against each other.

  • 12:14:25

    SUAREZSo the way for me to do that and show them that it's not certainly, well, you know, looking for the death of email or whatever the email client is to actually claim that email needs to find a new space, where it needs to evolve to come up with how (unintelligible) today's corporate reality where there are many more other tools to communicate and collaborate much more effectively than what email does.

  • 12:14:46

    SUAREZSo that reaction of the time has transformed itself into -- you know, it's not everything happening through email anymore. It's more about looking for that collaboration dashboard or console, which is eventually what that email client became (unintelligible) itself. And, to me, it's funny when I tell people, you know, what is the number one tool that I use at work? And I tell them, yeah, use (unintelligible) that's how I interact with all of the various different social networking tools that I use, right?

  • 12:15:10

    SUAREZAnd that -- what I have done is I have made the tool evolve to match my need versus me having to adjust to the needs of the tool itself.

  • 12:15:17

    NNAMDIWe're talking about emailing smarter on Tech Tuesday and inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. Have you tried to reduce your email inbox, and if so, how? And how much time do you spend each day checking email? Call us at 800-433-8850. Or send email to, send us a tweet at @kojoshow, or simply go to our website,, and join the conversation there.

  • 12:15:44

    NNAMDIIt sounds, to me, Rob, as if, by reducing email by migrating to social media, that Luis might simply be replacing one kind of electronic communication with several others and maybe spending just as much time, if not more, keeping up. What do you say?

  • 12:15:59

    PEGORAROIt's quite possible. On the other hand, if you're answering a question that other people want to know the answer -- you know, one thing I will try to do and often forget to do is, if a reader asks me some technical query, they're probably not the only person with that issue, so I'll try to make a point of sharing that whatever insight I have on Twitter, my public Facebook page, my blog, someplace that isn't public that Google will remember. So maybe the next time someone's searching for that answer, they'll just find the answer I shared in and not bug me, even though that never actually works.

  • 12:16:28

    NNAMDIAnna Post, what do you think about Luis' idea so far?

  • 12:16:32

    POSTI think it's a fantastic idea. You know, communication is so essential to how we have relationships, and that's what etiquette is really about, is how we relate to those around us. And I think he's right that email won't ever go away entirely, but being -- you know, I love how smart he's being about thinking about what's most effective, both for himself and for being able to communicate with others.

  • 12:16:54

    POSTThe transparency, when he said collaboration, I really liked that word, his ability to be transparent with these questions and hopefully save some time and help others out and build relationships with that larger community, not just those on the email.

  • 12:17:07

    NNAMDILuis, here's a bigger issue and this -- that is that you really can't do this alone. How do you get the people to whom you are sending emails on board? Or people who are sending you emails, how do you get them on board?

  • 12:17:18

    SUAREZRight. So that's -- you know, that's an interesting point. And I want to also comment on what Rob mentioned as well, that, you know, it's certainly -- it may give the impression that it actually produces a lot more work. Usually, what I respond back is that's because you haven't tried it yourself because if you tried yourself, like I have done over the last four years, you will realize how you actually do a lot less work.

  • 12:17:38

    SUAREZWhy? Because you'll start relying more on your network versus just yourself, so if you cultivate your networks, if you cultivate the people that you work with the closest and you start trusting them more, well, you actually -- if someone asks you a question, it's not just you answering that question. It's your entire network helping you out. And that can be very empowering and helping you become more productive.

  • 12:17:56

    SUAREZSo the way I have made it happen over the last four years is to have ensured that when I tell people that they don't need me to use email with me and that there are better tools to do, is that I also have enough time or I make enough time to educate them, right? So -- because, typically, people would tell -- I would tell them, for instance, you know, why don't we use this social networking tool to share files, for instance, or to actually exchange links or to answer questions?

  • 12:18:23

    SUAREZAnd then people would say -- quickly tell me, oh, you know, that's a new tool. I'm not really sure about that. You know, why don't you send it to me in email? It's the easy way. You know, (unintelligible) in my inbox and everything. At that point, most people break. And it's, oh, never mind. I'm going to send it to you through email. I go the extra mile. I go and I tell them and I persevere, now, hang on for a second, I'm going to give you five minutes. And I'm going to show you how you can do it in five minutes.

  • 12:18:43

    SUAREZNow, don't tell me that you don't have five minutes. So everyone, you know, is caught by surprise and says, wait, if you can show me in five minutes (unintelligible) five minutes. And I show them how it can be done in five minutes or even less because I'm just focusing on that particular task and that particular social networking component. And when they go and see it, they go like, oh, my God, I never thought that this was that easy.

  • 12:19:01

    SUAREZAnd, essentially, that's what I'm trying to show them that, you know, when you're doing that task, if you want to make the transition from one tool to another, if you're given the right education, right on the spot on those five minutes, it makes a whole difference.

  • 12:19:13

    NNAMDIHere is...

  • 12:19:13

    SUAREZWhat happens then, obviously, is that it's true that I have made a heavy investment of time educating the people around me. But, four years later, everyone knows that I don't use email, and they don't use it, which means that I'm getting all that time back to do even more productive and more complex things or activities or whatever I'm working on.

  • 12:19:28

    NNAMDIOn to the telephones. Here is Dawn in Silver Spring, Md. Dawn, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:19:35

    DAWNHi. Thank you for taking my call. I just wanted to say we -- I've had the same exact email problem. I'm part of an organization. There's about 180-some members of us, and we need to disseminate a lot of either documents, like minutes to meetings or committee announcements or things that a lot of our membership has to follow through on. And we're trying to figure out a way to do this online.

  • 12:19:59

    DAWNAnd we considered having a blog and/or a separate website that we kind of just need a way to disseminate a lot of information and meeting schedules and things like that to our membership. And so we're trying to see if you guys have an application or a website that we can participate in. We can't figure it out. (unintelligible)

  • 12:20:16

    NNAMDII'll start with you, Rob Pegoraro.

  • 12:20:18

    PEGORAROThere are a whole lot of tools. You know, definitely, you don't want to buy some expensive off-the-shelf solution. You can get a lot done with things like just shared Google calendars. I'm assuming you don't want to have all the stuff out in public, so an email does have that advantage that -- unless you're careless -- what you send to somebody winds up in their inbox and not somebody else's.

  • 12:20:40

    PEGORAROBut, yeah, you can definitely do shared private calendars on Google, and that works pretty well for scheduling solutions. There are all sorts of collaborative -- I hate to use buzzwords like groupware. But there are groupware solutions. You know, as a freelance writer, they're a little beyond me. But I know a lot of people like -- what is it, Basecamp, I think, by 37signals? That's -- I know people who know what they're doing seem quite fond of that.

  • 12:21:05

    NNAMDILuis, and if someone like Dawn is working with not only a lot of materials going out to her group, but some of it might be confidential documents, should that still call for the relative privacy of email?

  • 12:21:19

    SUAREZIt depends on what social networking tools you may have available to you. You know, in my case, since I do have a couple of them that are work-related, that do allow me to share that confidential information inside of the network privately, right? However, I do understand, and this is -- you know, this is where I mentioned earlier on, that the one use case that I still see value for email, where if you don't have any other solution out there or any other option out there, and you still want to share that confidential information, email is probably your best choice.

  • 12:21:48

    SUAREZBut one of the things that I keep trying -- telling people all the time is, you know, as much as I can understand that that's confidential information, I want you to think is, well, whether it is really, really confidential. So one of the things that I'm trying to do with this movement away from the inbox is also trying to help people understand how we need to transition from a need-to-know basis into need-to-share basis. So, basically, share by default publicly unless you're being told so.

  • 12:22:13

    SUAREZSo sometimes, you know, what we exchange is that we think it is really confidential. It may not be that confidential after all, right?

  • 12:22:19


  • 12:22:20

    SUAREZAnd so one of the things is also that it's essentially what happens when you -- when, you know, there are all these colleagues, and I'm sure that we all have colleagues who think that every email they send is urgent and important, right? So they all think -- they all flag them as urgent. And so, well, those are the emails that I check the last, right. Why? Because if it is urgent, you will pick up the phone and tell him that it's urgent, right?

  • 12:22:40

    SUAREZSo this thing about the confidential will be very much along the same lines, but, certainly, there's some information, details, some files that would be flagged as confidential because they deal with, I don't know, HR, legal or whatever, all the different elements or whatever else that sets -- and we also need to question that perhaps -- or we thought that once was confidential-sensitive, it may not be. And this goes into also -- it can also be more about, you know, opening up the door for being more transparent in what we do, right?

  • 12:23:07

    SUAREZSo more than anything else, as a way of narrating their work so that if I may write what I do, then I open up the opportunities for all the people to help me, especially if I'm struggling. Why? Because I'm telling them exactly what I'm doing. If I don't know whatever someone else is doing, how can I help him, right? So it's also a little bit of challenging people that they have -- what we may have been working with is confidential, they may not be after all, and that there shouldn't be anything else than just trying to have them straight out in the open.

  • 12:23:32

    SUAREZHowever, obviously, it doesn't mean that everything out there that used to be confidential will not be confidential. Obviously, for those elements that are really, truly confidential, I still think that if you don't have the tools to do it properly through social networking, email would still be the only use case, the only advantage in this case that -- for which email will probably be still a better candidate.

  • 12:23:51

    NNAMDIAnna Post, any advice at all for our caller, Dawn?

  • 12:23:55

    POSTYou know, I'm not as knowledgeable as these two gentlemen on the platforms that you should be using, so I would definitely work with them. But one of the most important things is whenever a group is transitioning to a new technology, you know, making sure that everybody understands what it is, you know, having that discussion about what does confidentiality really mean so that you sort of decide on the ground rules in advance as you and your group think about how you want to shift sharing this information.

  • 12:24:21

    POSTThe other thing that Luis mentioned that, I think, is really important is when you are moving into new technological areas. In fact, I remember talking about, you know, Skype a number of years ago and video conferencing and that when you are -- maybe this is normal for you, but you're bringing someone else into the fold, so to speak, taking that time in advance, not in the moment when the pressure is on, but in advance to say, listen, you know, let me take that five minutes to show you. I really like he mentioned that.

  • 12:24:48

    POSTIt's important to welcome them and to show them what that is and not just leave them hanging and feeling imposed upon, like, now, I have to go learn something else, because there are so many technologies to learn these days.

  • 12:24:59


  • 12:24:59

    POSTSo taking that time is very important.

  • 12:25:01

    NNAMDIAnd, Luis, final question for you. You have one simple piece of advice for people who don't know where to start: Stop answering their email. How can you do that and remain employed?

  • 12:25:13

    SUAREZWell, I actually have good -- two tips, and one of them may sound like, duh, pretty much common sense, but, you know, when I tell people about it, and I say to them, you know, will you really do that? They start having, like, second thoughts about it, and they say, well, I'm not really sure. The number one thing that I can tell people to start reducing the number of the volume that they're getting in their email boxes is to stop responding to email, as simple as that and that there's this general, universal law that the more email that you respond to, the more email you will get back.

  • 12:25:41

    SUAREZSo cut the chain right there. Break the chain right there. So stop responding to people through email. And then you're going to tell me, yeah, but I need to respond back somehow. But they won't find out and figure out that somehow, you know, sometimes, a single email query may just require an instant message from you.

  • 12:25:57

    SUAREZOr it maybe just to pick up the phone quickly and provide that answer, or maybe going into the social network of the individual, if they have connected the company profile or if they have got, I don't know, a Twitter ID or Facebook ID or LinkedIn profile, you know, whatever this person's social presence may be, leave a message there. You know, create and break the chains to say, you know, it's much better we communicate this way than if we communicate through email.

  • 12:26:19

    SUAREZAs soon as they start seeing that, you're basically starting to introduce a new paradigm of collaboration where you tell people, you know, it's actually much more efficient to find me there. So instead of responding through email, this is how I'm going to respond from here onward. So what you do is you make yourself available to other people to help them, right? So the number one tip is stop responding to email. Find other ways out.

  • 12:26:39

    SUAREZAnd that takes into number two: How do you find ways out? This is an exercise that I actually ask people all the time to do if they would want to follow the same thing that I'm doing. So what I do ask them is, you know, pick up a piece of paper and draw three columns. And on the first column, you type in or you write down -- and better if you do it on a piece of a paper and with a pen and everything else because it becomes more visual -- and write down all of the various different interactions that you do through your email, right?

  • 12:27:06

    SUAREZSo sometimes, you know, you may be the person who answers questions some of the time. You may be the person who actually sends announcements or news changes or whatever, what's happening. You may be the person who sends project status reports, you know, whatever the action, interactions that you do. And observe your inbox. Watch it for the next week or two to see the kinds of interactions that you do. Then group them in that first column. And then in the second column, find the component in a social networking tool that will actually allow you to do that transition.

  • 12:27:32

    SUAREZSo as an example, instead of sending attachments through your email, put them on a social file sharing space, right? I know that, you know, most people are familiar with Dropbox, right, as an example. That's the one that I can mention there. So, you know, you can go ahead and use Dropbox to move all of the files that are from your inbox directly into Dropbox itself. And then that's what you would draw in the second column, right? So you would put one single feature from the social networking that you want to use, and then start making that correlation.

  • 12:27:58

    SUAREZAnd then on the third column, put the benefit. What is it that you're gaining from, right? So for me, an example of saving those files and stop using email to share those files, that to me has meant saving two, three hours per week of not having to clean up my inbox of attachments. (unintelligible)

  • 12:28:14

    NNAMDII appreciate that, but we're just about out of time in this segment. Luis Suarez is IBM's social computing evangelist. Luis, thank you so much for joining us.

  • 12:28:23

    SUAREZThank you for having me.

  • 12:28:24

    NNAMDIAnd, hopefully, my boss was listening to this segment of the conversation. We'll be taking a short break. When we come back, we will be continuing with our winter membership campaign, and then we will continue with the conversation about emailing smarter. If you'd like to call to join that conversation, you can call now at 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:37:34

    NNAMDIBack to our Tech Tuesday conversation on emailing smarter. You can call us at 800-433-8850. That's 800-433-8850. Or simply send us a tweet, @kojoshow. Have you tried to reduce your email inbox? How? What are your biggest pet peeves about email? 800-433-8850. Joining us in studio is Rob Pegoraro. He is a technology writer. Joining us from a studio in Montpelier, Vt., is Anna Post, co-author of the -- of "Emily Post's Etiquette, 18th Edition." She teaches business etiquette seminars and is a regular contributor to Reuters and

  • 12:38:12

    NNAMDIAnna Post, not all of us are prepared to go down the drastic route that our guest Luis Suarez suggests for eliminating most of our email. You teach business etiquette classes. One issue with emails is that we feel compelled to read them and to respond to them right away. What advice do you give to minimize the distraction of email?

  • 12:38:33

    POSTSure. Timeliness is a big issue with email. In fact, I've seen a number of studies that show how much pressure people feel to respond immediately, oftentimes when they are not even in the office, you know, in the evening, at home on their own time. And that immediacy can be great in business, but it can also, as we all know, be detrimental not only to our ability to work, but also to the relationships that we have with other people. And email, by the way, is the number one thing that I get asked about to teach to clients in business etiquette seminars.

  • 12:39:06

    POSTAnd when you start breaking it down, the concerns that people have about timeliness are, you know, my inbox is too full. I have to be replying all the time. And that brings us to reply all, which is maybe the most obnoxious thing to people out there, is the misuse of reply all. And that's the number one place I recommend that people start, is by minimizing the use of reply all, by minimizing the number of people on an email, to start with, who are CC'ed? That's really the place to start, and then trying to cut that down.

  • 12:39:37

    POSTThe worse thing that, I think, we've all seen happen is a big message goes out to a lot of people, and people start replying all -- great, thanks, see you then -- and our inbox gets junked up. And then comes the next round of, guys, let's not all use reply all, OK? And then they send it, of course, via...

  • 12:39:55

    NNAMDITo everybody, yes.

  • 12:39:55

    POST...reply all. And it just becomes hair-pullingly (sic) frustrating.

  • 12:39:58

    PEGORAROAt that point, I get to put on some popcorn.

  • 12:40:01

    NNAMDIGet up and leave at that point. What are your biggest pet peeves about email? Is it in fact reply all or subject headers that don't tell you anything or just the daily flood of email that keeps you from getting any real work done? And how do you try to reduce the email in your inbox? Call us at 800-433-8850. Rob, there's an email charter circulating online now that people are asked to sign.

  • 12:40:25

    NNAMDIThere are some basic rules, and the main one is to consider whether you need to send an email at all. Sounds simple, but do enough people think before they hit send?

  • 12:40:35

    PEGORARONo. But, you know, you can also think as, do I need to do anything with it? Can I simply delete it or file it away in whatever folder you care to stash messages you don't, you know, feel like acting up on? You know, it's too easy to get stuck in a cycle of being such a good correspondent, and you don't actually get anything else done. You just write email all day long.

  • 12:40:54

    NNAMDIWell, you're in the technology world, and you use a lot of tools besides email. But, of course, you also use email. How do you make your use of email more efficient?

  • 12:41:03

    PEGORAROThe biggest thing I rely on is the flagging feature. Sometimes your -- it's -- in Gmail, you star a message in a lot of mail programs. You flag it for follow up 'cause that way you can filter email to only see the stuff you flagged, and it works up to a point. Then, eventually, when you get to the point you have to -- two or three screens worth of flagged emails you need to reply to. Like, right now, this is especially bad every January 'cause we have -- go to the Consumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas.

  • 12:41:28


  • 12:41:29

    PEGORAROBefore that, there's a ton of email traffic, which is coming right along the holidays when I'm already a little, you know, short on spare time. CES happens. That wipes me out. And so then you wake up, and you're two or three weeks behind the eight ball. And you're struggling to sort of catch up on things.

  • 12:41:47

    NNAMDIWell, Anna, do you agree with our previous guest, Luis Suarez, that we default to email too often when there might be other options?

  • 12:41:56

    POSTYes, I do. And, you know, I like to talk about it as having a healthy communication diet in our work life. You could take it in your personal life, too, but, you know, when it comes to eating, you want a healthy diet, eat from the rainbow, the food groups, you know, whatever it is that you're thinking about. When it comes to communication, if you're only using email, period, then that tells me it's become a crutch. How could it possibly be the most appropriate way to communicate with people every single time?

  • 12:42:22

    POSTThat can't be the case. So if you find you're only ever using email, switch it up. If IM is appropriate for your industry, for your company, go there. It's not for everything. But if it is, go there. Pick up the phone. And you also want to think about maybe actually visiting somebody -- not all the time, or it gets distracting. I'm not talking water-cooler chat. But the other one is even, wow, you know, having a meeting, seeing someone. Now, there's a lot of talk about too many meetings.

  • 12:42:48

    POSTBut if you do a mix of all of this -- and the key is that you need to be thoughtful and mindful about your choice. Which medium is best for this message? For example, an email that gets very long, big full paragraphs that fall below the fold of the computer and you have to scroll down, probably a better phone call or a meeting. However, a meeting to share something that was a simple update that an email or an IM could have taken care of, it's about being smart and efficient, which equates to being respectful of other people's time.

  • 12:43:16

    POSTAnd that's where the etiquette is really coming into this. So mix it up. Have a healthy communication diet.

  • 12:43:23

    NNAMDIYou mean other people don't want to hear my most profound thoughts that pop up at any time during the day?

  • 12:43:27

    PEGORAROI don't know why they wouldn't.

  • 12:43:29

    NNAMDIAnna, subject headers are another area where efficiency is lost. What are the worst offenders?

  • 12:43:35

    POSTThe two that drive me nuts, and that I hear from client after client group -- drives them nuts -- is the blank one is absolutely terrible. Who knows what you're going to get in this email when you open this up? There's no warning of what's to come, not to mention searchability. It's not very helpful later on when you are looking for something. And hi and hey are really a bit juvenile. Save it for your friends, but not for business. Short, sweet, to the point, spelled correctly, that's all you have to do.

  • 12:44:02

    NNAMDIWell, usually, if I see hi in a subject line, it's usually a scam or an ad for some kind of product, usually Viagra. Here is Paul in Arlington, Va. Paul, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:44:15

    PAULHi. I've got two questions for Rob Pegoraro. The first, I have to ask up because it's Feb. 14. Have you ever gotten a Valentine calling you Pegoraro my heart? And the second question is...

  • 12:44:26


  • 12:44:27

    PAULOh, OK.

  • 12:44:28

    NNAMDIWell, you'll probably get one after this show.

  • 12:44:30

    PEGORAROYeah, 'cause there's always a first time.

  • 12:44:33

    PAULThe second question is, I pay about $20 a year to Microsoft for my Hotmail account, and, sadly, I have 20- or 30,000 emails stored there which I really have to, you know, start tearing down. But do you have any idea how much it costs Microsoft to store those 20- or 30,000 average-length emails each year?

  • 12:44:51

    PEGORAROWell, considering Google gives you essentially unlimited storage for free, probably not that much. Disk storage is really, really cheap. It gets cheaper every single year. Now, you do get other things besides that. You get rid of ads. You -- I forgot what else you get with a Hotmail Plus or Pro, whatever they sell it, but it's not just the extra storage. But, yeah, that's a whole lot of messages to plow through, but I am just as bad.

  • 12:45:18

    PAULOK. Thank you.

  • 12:45:19

    NNAMDIPaul, thank you very much for your call. You, too, can call us at 800-433-8850. Have you been trying to reduce your email inbox, and, if so, how? If you'd like tips, you can call us at 800-433-8850. How much time do you spend each day checking email? You can also send us an email to Or you might want to send us a tweet, @kojoshow. Or simply go to our website,

  • 12:45:45

    NNAMDIAnna, when you're teaching business etiquette, one point this charter makes is to remind people that short responses are not necessarily rude. When you're teaching etiquette, business etiquette or otherwise, would you agree?

  • 12:46:01

    POSTGenerally, yes, although, you know, it's interesting. I read that charter as well, and I even made a note in the margin to say yes. But, still, use simple courtesies -- thanks, you're welcome -- if it's appropriate. We don't need to overload with the reply backs on this one. But the please and the thank you, it is, you know, very short number of characters to throw in there, and that's the human side of this that keeps it gentle.

  • 12:46:25

    POSTOne of the things that tends to happen -- I heard a study about this a couple of years ago -- that when we are unsure in an email communication about someone's meaning, we tend to default to a negative interpretation of it. And so adding in some of those little softener words can really spare you a lot of grief. And, frankly, again, it's about that relationship side. It doesn't cause you very much to type those extra couple of characters, but it kind of helps all the gears move smoothly in the relationship it's supporting, but beyond that, no. I have no problem with short and sweet emails.

  • 12:46:59

    NNAMDIRob, another place we -- where we don't clarify enough is the open-ended question, and we've all done it, as in: What are your thoughts?

  • 12:47:07

    PEGORARORight. Yeah. And, as a journalist, you risk wasting people's time and not getting the information you want because you don't ask a specific enough question. Or -- my weakness is doing the laundry list neatly bulleted of these six or seven questions, when if I ask three, the person might actually get back to me before my deadline.

  • 12:47:26

    NNAMDIYeah. On to Darnell in Washington, D.C. Darnel, I'm glad you raise this issue. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:47:34

    DARNELLHow are you doing, everyone? I just wanted to state that there are some of us out here, including myself, who prefer email versus that one-on-one phone call or that one-on-one meeting or that one-on-one conversation. Also, I work in a law firm, and you have to answer your emails from the attorneys to vendors and, most importantly, the clients. Plus, it also provides a written record of the information that was exchanged. So I just wanted to state that.

  • 12:48:07

    NNAMDIWell, before you go, Darnell, one of the things I've been thinking about that -- Anna Post, is that, a lot of times, you feel that email allows you to control the conversation better. You don't want to call somebody up and end up, for 15 or 20 minutes, on the telephone when an email, you feel, can explain your thoughts a lot more succinctly.

  • 12:48:27

    DARNELLYes. Yes.

  • 12:48:28

    NNAMDIAnna Post?

  • 12:48:29

    POSTI agree with that, and I fully sympathize with the caller, especially in your profession. It's a comment that I've received from other people. My thought is not to do away with email, but, again, it's about that smart management of it. It sounds like you know exactly the people you need to be emailing with, and I say go for it. That's why I don't think email is going to go away. But it sounds like you know your smart, targeted use for it.

  • 12:48:52


  • 12:48:52

    POSTAnd I imagine, being a lawyer, you know how to write very well and succinctly. So what I'm talking about more when I'm saying having meetings and seeing other people is that, with some of the other relationships that are going on, if you've never met face-to-face with a client, I think you're missing out on an opportunity to build that relationship further because you have so many more kind of tools at your disposal. But, yes, for day-to-day business...

  • 12:49:17


  • 12:49:18 sounds like you're on the right track.

  • 12:49:19

    DARNELLOh, OK. Thank you.

  • 12:49:19

    NNAMDIOK. Darnell, thank you for your call. We move on to Heather in Washington, D.C. Heather, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:49:26

    HEATHEROK. I just want to know how to get to unsubscribe from all of the companies I once purchased something from online that continually send me notices...

  • 12:49:38


  • 12:49:39 notices, yeah.

  • 12:49:41


  • 12:49:42

    HEATHERAnd I don't -- when I scroll to the bottom, it doesn't say to unsubscribe.

  • 12:49:46

    NNAMDIRob Pegoraro?

  • 12:49:48

    PEGORAROLegit ones, there will be something. It might say manage your subscription or change your preferences. You know, what I wound up doing, I just have a separate Gmail inbox for that stuff where it's not quite the throwaway account, but that's the one I give when I'm making a purchase, you know, signing up for a newsletter, something like that. So it doesn't pile up in my regular home or work inboxes.

  • 12:50:09

    NNAMDIAnd you try hard enough...

  • 12:50:10


  • 12:50:10

    NNAMDI...Heather, you should be able to find a place somewhere to unsubscribe.

  • 12:50:14

    HEATHEROK. Thank you so much.

  • 12:50:16

    NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. You, too, can call us at 800-433-8850. We're talking about emailing smarter with Rob Pegoraro. He's a technology writer. And Anna Post is the co-author of "Emily Post's Etiquette, 18th Edition." She joins us from studios in Montpelier, Vt. Here's the other side of the coin that Darnell, our caller, raised earlier, Rob, and that is, what are some of the things we're missing by always using email to communicate? An email from Allison says, "Get up and walk down the hall to talk to a colleague. Better for the back and neck to move every 20 minutes."

  • 12:50:49

    PEGORAROI work from home. I wouldn't know about that. You're talking to the wrong guy.

  • 12:50:54

    NNAMDIAnna Post?

  • 12:50:56

    POSTYou know, we have a small office, about 10 people, and we do a pretty big mix. It's very interesting. In the last week, we've started doing something. We're having a quiet hour in the afternoons because we're a very collaborative office. And so we actually have the opposite problem at the moment, although I sympathize with the person emailing in. We take an hour where it's sort of library hours. You can -- you know, if you get a phone call from a client, sure, you can take it, but, you know, focus time to work.

  • 12:51:19

    POSTAnd, again, it is about figuring out where your crutch might be and trying to do something to augment it a little bit. The other thing that I've started doing, along with a few people in my office -- and I thought I was going to hate this, but I went for it -- is only checking my inbox once an hour, or, rather, I've set the controls to only fetch email once an hour. And I was terrified of what I'd miss from clients, especially. It's been fantastic. And I'm actually thinking of upping to two hours and going from there.

  • 12:51:48

    NNAMDIYou know, one of the things that Luis had -- points that Luis had made in a conversation we had with him is that one of the best methods of procrastination is checking email. If you don't feel like doing something, you find yourself doing that sometimes. Yes. I don't want to do this, so I'll just check my email. But picking up a phone, as Darnell and others don't like to do, can be the faster and more efficient solution.

  • 12:52:13

    NNAMDIBut, on the other hand, you walk to your colleague's office. You pick up the phone. There's not necessarily a record of what you've done. And a lot of times, people want a record of what they've done, correct?

  • 12:52:25

    PEGORAROYeah. I mean, Darnell made an important point. I was thinking -- I do a Q-and-A column for USA Today's site. And at the bottom of it, you can click on one link to chat with me on Twitter and another to email me. I don't think anyone ever clicks on that sort of link. It's always an email with some complicated problem they'd like help with.

  • 12:52:39

    NNAMDIYeah. Indeed, people want a record so they can, as they say, CYA, cover your accessible body parts, so to speak.

  • 12:52:49

    NNAMDIWhat do you say about that, Anna?

  • 12:52:51

    POSTYou know, I -- that I do sympathize with. It's a question that I get as well. And I think you're going to know the situations in email. You know, if you stop to think about that one first, you know, do I need the record trail of this, and, if you feel the answer is yes, then there you go. That's your answer. But the place where I see people start to misuse that isn't on sending the email to have the record. It's adding all the people on to the CCs, and that's the place where I start to see too many people on it just to, you know, cover your assets, as you say.

  • 12:53:22

    POSTAnd that, to me, is the place where we have to be the most conscious because that one's up to us. Someone else can't do it for us. That's where you need to start trusting in others. And it speaks to empowerment as well. A lot of times, I think, when people CC too much, it's because they are worried that if they don't copy and let others into the loop, it may come back to bite them. And that speaks to a little bit of a trust issue, and so it's something, I think, we all need to start working on.

  • 12:53:49

    NNAMDIOn to Kate in Annandale, Va. Kate, your turn.

  • 12:53:54

    KATEOh. Hey, Kojo, it's nice to talk to you. I want to point out a little bit of etiquette for education, for teaching. I'm now a former teacher and currently a substitute teacher at Fairfax County. And I have heard the complaint over and over again from -- about parents. They want responses right away from the email. Well, teachers are too busy teaching students and teaching their student. You have to give them 24 to 48 hours. And this is something -- you know, you're not -- it's not constantly on in the classroom.

  • 12:54:23

    NNAMDIHow do you communicate...

  • 12:54:24


  • 12:54:25

    NNAMDIHow do you communicate to parents, Kate?

  • 12:54:28

    KATEWell, you would check it on your free period or your -- you know, before school or after school. But we've had problems where parents are -- I've had a friend of mine get, like, seven emails in an hour from a parent. Why aren't you responding? Why aren't you responding? I'm not responding 'cause I'm teaching school.

  • 12:54:45

    NNAMDIYou know, Anna, that raises another issue about people making sure that they know that someone has gotten their email, and there are better and worse ways of doing that. What Kate is describing sounds a little bit like harassment.

  • 12:54:57

    POSTYou know, it does sound a little bit too much. I think you asked an important question there, which is how have you communicated that to parents, not just when are you going to respond to parents, but how do parents know what the norm is? Manners are essentially social norms. They're what we all know and understand and can trust in. And it sounds to me like there's a manner that's needed here, which is an expectation of 24 to 48 hours, as you said.

  • 12:55:19

    POSTThe thing is, is that if only you know that, it doesn't do much good. The other group, the parents, need to know and understand that as well. And I think you've got a very respectful, you know, reasonable reason for asking for that. But if they are not aware of it, then, yes, friction can come up from that.

  • 12:55:35

    NNAMDIAfraid that's all the time we have. Kate, thank you very much for your call. Anna Post, thank you very much for joining us.

  • 12:55:40

    POSTThank you.

  • 12:55:41

    NNAMDIAnna Post is the co-author of "Emily Post's Etiquette, 18th Edition." She teaches business etiquette seminars. She's a regular contributor to Reuters and Rob Pegoraro, always a pleasure.

  • 12:55:52

    PEGORAROThank you.

  • 12:55:53

    NNAMDIRob is a technology writer. And thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

Related Links

Topics + Tags

Most Recent Shows