Simple yet Impactful Idea?
A simple change in habit may improve your communication and may prevent a catastrophe. When composing emails, make entering the address of the recipients your very last step before sending. Enact this small policy change for every email you send for the rest of your life. Work emails, personal emails, all emails. This is not hyperbole.
Writing an email first and entering who it goes to afterward forces a brief pause and reflection on the message. This process creates a personal check-and-balance system that produces emails with better writing, attachments remembered, subject headings filled in, appropriate recipients entered and a cooling-off period that prohibits career-ending manifestos or a lifetime of awkwardness at family reunions. This small change, simple yet critical, really works.
“Have I actually written what I wanted to say? Did I attach the required files? Who should receive this and who should not? Is sending this diatribe questioning my supervisor’s decision-making and fashion sense a good idea? Does my cousin still share that email account with his ex-wife?”
With this slight modification of routine, these important questions will arise organically before the message is sent, not after. However, if you are in a rush and react to your quickly-typed missive by immediately hitting the send button without such aforethought, you will instantly be notified that the email cannot be sent without an address, forcing reflection and review. That’s your new system working like a charm.
Why you must use this policy
It’s simple and realistic — You only have to remember one thing; make entering the address your last step. This proposed change is not an additional task piled onto life’s alleged requirements, like flossing three times a day, yoga, consuming probiotics, stretching, learning French, daily meditation, reading a James Joyce novel and other pieces of advice that cumulatively become untenable. Simply reorder what you must do anyway and move the task of entering the address from first to last.
Don’t create special rules for this policy, such as trying it out for a few days or only applying it to certain emails like those for executives, sensitive clients or your college buddy who is a conspiracy theorist. Apply this rule to every email you ever write from now on. There are two reasons for this militancy: first, a simple rule is easier to remember and implement; second, applying the rule to one hundred percent of emails ingrains the habit.
Return on investment — Huge. Exponential. Astronomic. Astronomical. Exponomical. Keep in mind, this policy, although very basic, does require a small investment—initially, you must fight the urge to fill in the “To:” field sitting at the top of the window. However, with minimal discipline this urge somehow transforms into abhorrence, like a morally questionable aversion-therapy experiment from the 1950s. I’m no expert on Aristotle and I haven’t read The Power of Habit yet, but personal experience indicates about three days’ worth of conscientious effort for every single email results in a productive habit with an astounding payoff.
This efficient process ultimately leads to walking out of the office or closing the laptop for the day with a peace of mind that allows you to enjoy a well-earned margarita and basket of hot wings instead of combing through your “sent” folder in a random panic of self-doubt. Or, perhaps, it just allows a better night’s sleep.
Is this idea actually new?
My Google searches show the idea comes up now and then, but not with emphasizing this policy as a cardinal rule. Also, the concept usually seems buried in Top 10, Top 30 or even Top 100 email tip lists. Who has time to legitimately incorporate 10, 30 or 100 new processes—solely email-centric—into their daily lives? Don’t we have meditative flossing to do?
Here’s a freebie, Silicon Valley
This policy also leads to an idea for software folks looking for a new thing—move the address fields from the top of the email window to the bottom. If that proposed change is too daunting, at least make it an option. Microsoft, you’re no stranger to rearranging icons, so get on it. —RW