Updated: May 20, 2010 17:34 IST

Don’t get mauled by email

D. Murali
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Title: The Simplicity Sirvival Handbook, 32 Ways to do less and Accomplish more. Author: Bill Jensen.
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Title: The Simplicity Sirvival Handbook, 32 Ways to do less and Accomplish more. Author: Bill Jensen.

Email and the myriad other ways of connecting with anyone anywhere are both a blessing and a curse, cautions Bill Jensen in ‘The Simplicity Survival Handbook’ ( While the upside of these amenities is to bring the world to you, they also bring ‘the noisy, unfiltered, unfocused, and undesired world to you,’ so you need to get disciplined about closing your virtual door, he adds.

“The first step in eliminating most of the noise coming at you is admitting that you own part of the problem. If you are like most people, you were never taught to quickly scan and edit massive amounts of information before getting sucked into the minutia of each message.”

The key to continuously eliminate three-quarters of what comes at you, or ‘delete 75 per cent of your emails,’ as the author explains, is to accept that you have to change how you scan information. “And not just the stuff from ‘outsiders.’ It is supercritical that you also change how you scan messages from your company, teammates, and buddies too.”

Three rules

Scanning rule number 1 is to ‘hit delete immediately’ if both the subject and the sender fail to create the reaction that you have to read it today! This strategy, Jensen assures, will empty at least 50 per cent of your inbox before you begin truly paying attention.

The next strategy is to scan the remaining messages for two bits of information, viz. action you must take, and date or deadline for that action, within the next two or three weeks. “If the messages do not contain an action and a short-term date, delete them. At this point, your inbox should be at least 75 per cent emptied.”

Time commitment for the above two operations combined is a maximum of 10 minutes, prescribes the author. Now you are ready to begin paying full attention to whatever is coming at you, but if you would like to pay attention to even less, he recommends the use of the CLEAR model for scanning the remaining messages and narrowing down your focus to only 10 per cent of messages.

The acronym is explained, thus: “Connected to your current projects and workload. List next steps – what you should do after reading the email. Expectations – what success looks like. Ability – how you will get things done: lists tools and support. Return – your WIIFM: answers ‘what’s in it for me?’” If the message does not meet CLEAR criteria, hit ‘delete’ or tell the sender you need these five points before you can respond properly, Jensen advises.

Shorter mails

A chapter devoted to writing ‘shorter emails for better results’ begins by insisting that anything worth reading must fit in the top 3” x 5”, the most common size people use for their message window. “Newspaper journalists are taught to write by visualising an inverted pyramid. Most critical facts and emotional connections are always at the top of the story. ‘Filler’ details run at the bottom. That way, if the story must be cut, entire paragraphs can be lopped off, always from the bottom. Same thing applies to emails.”

You are writing a billboard, not a letter, the author dins in. The writing, therefore, has to facilitate easy scanning. And the rules include: “No more than 75 to 110 words in the top 3”x5”. About 8 to 12 sentences, the fewer the better. Break anything longer than 3 lines with bullets and/or white space. Set for auto-wrap or hit Return after 8 to 10 words for shorter line lengths and easier readability.”

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