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PLEASE READ — IMPORTANT!!!!!!!!! July 17, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Inexplicable Memos From Above, Technology Trouble.
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I get hundreds of e-mails each day. Some people get fewer; others get more — perhaps one thousand or more. And a lot of e-mails get deleted; I can name at least five reports or updates I get each day that I burn without reading. But I also read extremely quickly, both for pleasure and for business. I could actually skim each e-mail I get if I really wanted to.

E-mail overload isn’t a joke; it’s a serious thing, and a serious pain in the ass. There are dozens of articles on managing it; here’s one that’s not too bad. The problem is that the non-tech-savvy workers at your office or business refuse to manage their e-mail flow. Instead, they glance at subject lines and, if the subject lines aren’t compelling enough, delete the messages.

Or, worse, when they get back from vacation and have 3000 e-mails, they clear-cut their e-mail boxes regardless of what’s in there.

Some people would put these on their e-mails if they could.

Some people would put these on their e-mails if they could.

So managers have begun appending attention-getting comments to their subject lines — or, in some cases, making the subject line the entire message. Here are some examples:

  • Meeting Thursday at 3pm — IMPORTANT
  • Do you drink coffee in the breakroom? PLEASE READ!
  • LOST WEDDING BAND HELP! HELP!
  • There is cake in the upstairs conference room. Please help yourself.
  • it’s girl scout cookie time! please support my daughters! IMPORTANT!!!!!

You get the idea.

The problem with tagging all your subject lines as “important” is that eventually the importance becomes background noise. One of my old jobs was with a help desk ticketing outsourcer — we took the calls and put them in our CMS, which then sent them out to the companies that actually did the helping. Well, our biggest client kept saying “we can never see tickets because you keep ranking them at ‘3’ — can you make them ‘2’ or ‘1’ so we can see them?”

My face fell when the inevitable e-mail from my boss showed up two days later. See, in that system, “3” is the generic importance code — where “4” was “when you get around to it, I have a question I’d like answered”, “3” was “please help me with this problem”, “2” was “please help me with this important problem”, and “1” was “our system has taken a critical hit; please fix it right now”. At first, everything became a “2” and “2” became “1”. But we couldn’t go any higher than “1”, so critical problems and important problems got mixed together because someone at this one client decided it was vitally important that everything be important*.

Same thing’s happening with e-mail. Everything is important, so nothing is important. Except the things that say “PLEASE READ — IMPORTANT”… at least, for now.

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* Redundancy used intentionally.

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Comments»

1. modestypress - July 19, 2009

Isn’t this a variation of “grade inflation” in high schools and colleges?

Every average term paper and essay question answer is a “B” instead of a “C.” and every good one deserves an “A” instead of a “B”.

Every email is important, the equivalent of an “A” answer on a quiz.


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