3 email mistakes and how to avoid them

Automation is wonderful, except when it's not. Be sure your email auto-responds and CCs are properly configured so you don't waste everyone else's time.
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In prior years, this annual series covered individual apps. This year, we are looking at all-in-one solutions in addition to strategies to help in 2021. Welcome to day 17 of 21 Days of Productivity in 2021.

OK, so we've talked about some things we should do with our email - Stop treating it as an instant messenger, Prioritize things, trying to reach Inbox Zero, and filtering it effectively. But what things SHOULDN'T we do?


Automated email reply

Lucky you

1. Please do not Auto-respond to everything

There is always that one person on any mailing list. They have gone on vacation and set up an "I'm on vacation" auto-reply message. However, they didn't set it up correctly, so it responds to every email on the list with "I'm on vacation" until an admin mutes or unsubscribes them.

We have all felt this pain, and I'll admit that at least once in the past, I was that person.

Learn from my mistakes, and make sure that your auto-responders or vacation messages have limits on who they will respond to and how often.

An actual email with lots of CC'd recipients

This is a real email

2. Please do not CC everyone and the world

We've all done it at least once. There is that big list of people we need to send an email to, so we just carbon copy (CC) all of them. Sometimes this is warranted, but most of the time, it isn't. Sure, it's nice that you invited everyone to have birthday cake in the atrium, or that your cousin twice removed is getting married, or that the company just got a big account. Please, use a mailing list if you have one, or blind carbon copy (BCC) everyone if you don't. Seriously, BCC is your friend.

3. Reply All is NOT your friend

Reply options in Kmail

This one goes hand-in-hand with the previous item. I do not know how many times I have seen someone send a message to a list (or just a big group of people) that was meant to go a single person. I have seen the relatively benign emails that have been sent that way and resulting disciplinary action emails that followed.

Seriously, do not use "Reply All" button unless you have to. And even then, make sure you really have to.

Some email applications manage this better than others. Kmail, the email component of KDE Kontact, has several different reply options available in a sub-menu of the Reply toolbar button. You can choose to just reply to whatever entity is in the From field (usually a person, but sometimes a mailing list), or to the author (dropping anyone in CC or BCC), just to a mailing list, or to all (don't do this). Seeing the options listed explicitly can really help you understand who's going to get a copy of an email you're about to send, which is sometimes more thought-provoking than you might expect. I've caught myself changing the recipient of an email to just the author instead of to an entire list upon realizing that a comment doesn't necessarily add to the end goal of a complex discussion.

(Also, if you write an email that could get you in trouble with HR or your company, think about it for a long time before hitting Send.)

Hopefully, these are things you are already not doing with email. And if someone you know is? Feel free to share this with them.

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Kevin Sonney is a technology professional, media producer, and podcaster. A Linux Sysadmin and Open Source advocate, Kevin has over 25 years in the IT industry, with over 15 years in Open Source. He currently works as an SRE at elastic.

1 Comment

Too true!

Death by CC is so common in the corporate landscape. I know it's good to keep people in the loop, but sometimes you simply drown in email!

The famous auto-reply on to an all-employees message is funny but annoying also...

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