The Other End of Sunset

Monday, April 26, 2010

It's an ill wind, blowing no good

Rings as hollow
as a high school cheer
--Chagall Guevara

Welcome back, my OtherEnders. I was at a cool entrepreneur event in LA (LaunchpadLA) a couple of weeks ago, and was chatting with someone over drinks. In the course of the conversation, he said "Hey, you haven't posted anything on your blog in a while. Whenever I read it, I get this weird sense about the world."

Now, I don't know what that weird sense might be, but he's right, I haven't posted in a long time. I have a few half-written posts in my Dropbox -- my favorite storage tool ever -- and I'm going to try to get them out over the next few days. So, sorry for the flood of Sunsets about to hit your RSS feed. And each of them will be shorter than usual. Keeping them short minimizes my desire to write another paragraph, and add another lyric, and ... keep editing forever.

So, a short post...

The first one is about email. I got a set of questions after my last post (which was about meetings), about how to communicate outside of meetings. So, rather than answer them individually, I'll answer them here. And, since it's my blog, I'll use myself as an example.

Not surprisingly, if you want to reach me, email is the best way. I do have a phone (as you know from my earlier post on Google Voice), but I don't like to talk on the phone. So, if you want me, send an email.

Thus, this post is about email, in general, and, specifically, that which is sent to me.

On topics like this, people vary widely, so this will be very idiosyncratic.

Who's that writin'?
John the Revelator
--classic gospel hymn

// Note: For those of you playing the home game, I can't take credit for the John the Revelator lyric. I picked it up, sadly, from the Sons of Anarchy television show. Great show, cool bikes. And pretty good soundtrack music. I'd like to say I knew this classic from the dusty recesses of my brain. But that would be a lie. Back to work. //

Email, as a general medium, is a quite poor way to hold long conversations. Tools like GMail's threading view -- where the emails are grouped together by topic, automatically -- help by keeping context together.

But real conversations are rich communications -- intonation, physical position, motion, facial expressions, cultural knowledge are all used in our understanding of someone else's speech.

Obviously, on email, most of these things don't translate. For example, your intonation doesn't come across -- so it's hard to figure out which things you're serious about, and which things are asides. And, as we all know, jokes really don't translate well to email.

These limitations make email a terrible way to hold long, involved conversations, especially controversial conversations.

Don't get me wrong, I'm a huge email user -- even in my current, confused work status, I get hundreds of emails each day -- so I'm not going to suggest we ditch email entirely. And, as a result, I've developed a system for dealing with my mail. I'm not saying it's the perfect way, but if you're trying to reach me, here's the user guide.

First of all, be brief. Don't channel my blog, nor your inner novelist. Be brief. Did I mention be brief? Writing more than a page to tell me what you want to tell me usually means you don't really understand what you're writing. You are probably providing too much detail, not summarizing enough -- and it makes it far more likely that I won't read the entire mail. Rewrite, over and over, until you get to the core message.

This is somewhat akin to the elevator pitch for a company. Brevity helps.

Again, half as long
--A River Runs Through It

Be clear in what you want from me. I talked about being clear in the ask in a previous post, so I won't belabor it here. Any more than I already have, that is.

And use the technology for what it does well. Put your additions/comments/questions inline -- if I ask you a question, give me an answer next to the question. If the answer is next to my question, I don't have to skip around the note finding what I asked, and what you answered, etc. Yes, it's lazy, but it takes me less time to parse an email that uses inline comments… which makes it more likely I'll make it all the way through.

And, while talking about questions, try to ask me yes or no questions when possible. You are going to get an answer far more quickly if I can hit "r" (for respond, you do use GMail keyboard shortcuts, yes?), and type "yes".

I have some fantasy of answering all emails within a day. I don't even come close. But I send off yes/no notes pretty quickly. I will answer your email containing long answers, but it will take longer. And if I really disagree, it will take me a long time -- because I'll want to think about why I disagree.

In general, the longer I take to respond, the more likely that I disagree with whatever you said. Sorry.

However, if you haven't heard from me in a while, send me a reminder. It's ok to nag me, I don't mind. I will feel guilty, but I'll probably stop whatever I was doing to read and respond to your nag.

And I apologize in advance for my overly long slow responses!

It's been a long time comin'
--Crosby, Stills, and Nash


  • Seems like your blog is more of a business platform now. Yay for you, I suppose?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:29 PM  

  • Love your book...might buy it for future referencing.

    BTW, it appears the e-mail aggregator idea for a yahoo account is "limited to Yahoo! Mail Plus subscribers. Please contact Yahoo! Mail's support team for more information."

    I was sad. What a great idea! Yahoo is blocked by the school system here and I was so happy to find a way to get those few emails that go to Yahoo into gmail. Alas...

    By Blogger JanathePlanna, at 5:27 AM  

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