OT: James Fallows’ Secret Strategy for Avoiding Petraeus-Style Email Pitfalls

James Fallows is a well known journalist who now writes for The Atlantic. In this brief article he gives away a great secret for not being caught out by truly dumb emails.

Don’t write them.

At Microsoft many of us used to tell people, “Don’t put it in email if you wouldn’t want to see it on the front page of the NY Times.” That was good advice then (and not always followed, unfortunately), and it remains good advice now.

BTW, Fallows mentions that he uses the GMail “oops” feature that delays the actual sending of mail for a little bit, so you can recall a message. Here’s how you do the same thing in Outlook.

  1. Go to Rules (on the Home tab) and click Manage Rules & Alerts… (not Create Rule…)
  2. Click New Rule
  3. In the Start from a blank rule section, click Apply rule on messages I send
  4. Click Next
  5. Click Next without selecting a condition, and then click Yes for the warning about applying to all messages
  6. Check defer delivery by a number of minutes
  7. The previous step added a line to the box called Step 2; click on a number of in that new line.
  8. Enter 1 and click OK
  9. Click Next
  10. Add any exceptions
  11. Click Next
  12. Name the rule and click Finish

It looks like a lot of steps, but that’s because it’s a wizard that walks you through the creation of the rule one step at a time. It’s straightforward once you figure out it’s under Manage Rules & Alerts.

A whole minute? Delay sending by 60 seconds? 60,000 milliseconds? Steven, what are you talking about – this is the instantaneous age!

I wish I’d thought to put this tip in The Off Switch – not necessarily because I think everyone should do it, but because it can help you get away from the tyranny of email. Email doesn’t need to be instantaneous. That’s what a phone is for, or instant messaging if you have kids. Otherwise, stop, slow down, and lower your stress level by doing email as a discrete task, not an always-on stress inducer.

Once you start treating email as a task, with time set aside for it, you’ll likely find you don’t need the delay feature anymore, because you’re no longer slapdash whipping out emails.

The instantaneity of email was once upon a time a good thing. Now it’s taken over our business lives.

Reclaim your life! You’ll be amazed at how much more you get done.


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