One way in which we are all indisputably equal is that everybody is allotted 24 hours in each day. Nobody gets more.
I have been considering how I use my time. An ever-increasing proportion of lawyers’ waking hours is spent reading and sending email. It seems almost impossible to conduct professional life without email. The expectation of clients and colleagues alike is that their messages will receive immediate attention. So I have thought about ways of reducing the amount of time I spend writing and reading emails without being unnecessarily curt or abrupt. Here are my suggestions.
First, drop the greeting, at least for internal use. I worry that perhaps something has gone wrong if a colleague across the corridor sends me an email starting ‘Dear Ronnie’ or even ‘Hi’. Even worse are emails which start ‘Good morning, Ronnie.’
A particular dislike of mine is ‘I hope you are well’, especially when the hope is expressed by someone whose only reason for sending me an email is an attempt to persuade me to buy search engine optimisation, or some other service which I do not want or need.
When it comes to the core subject matter of a message, I like to save time and reduce the length of emails by using abbreviations. Here are a few of my favourites.
- CDS = Chocolate Deficiency Syndrome
- CICB = Comments In Capitals Below
- DSAR = Data Subject Access Request
- FEOR = For Ease Of Reference
- GFI = Go For It
- GOYA = You might wish to Get Off Your Chair and seek ways of making progress
- NRN = No Reply Needed
- PFU = Please Fix Up
- RWYA = Ready When You Are
- WDYT = What Do You Think?
- WOMBAT = Waste Of Money, Brains and Time
- YRA = Your Recommendation Accepted.
Outlook is normally set up to notify the user of the arrival of a new message by showing an on-screen alert. These notifications are a distraction for those of us who like to focus on one task at a time. There was a significant improvement in my quality of life when I discovered that such notifications could be prevented by going to File/Options/Mail/Message arrival and unticking the ‘Display a Desktop Alert’ box.
Email signatures offer a further opportunity for saving time and energy. Most professional users of Outlook add at the end of an email a long and detailed signature block, incorporating kind regards and complying with a host of technical requirements. Not everybody is aware that Outlook also offers a facility to select an appropriate message from a bespoke collection of previously drafted signatures. My own collection includes these:
- We did not reply to your previous email because it is our general policy to respond to unsolicited marketing messages only when we are interested in the goods or services offered. Join my campaign to make sending unsolicited marketing email a criminal offence.
- Thank you for thinking of us. We have no suitable vacancies at present but will bear you in mind should a vacancy arise.
When sending email outside the office in a professional capacity my preference is to include a full signature block (incorporating links to our website and social media) only once in each email chain. Thereafter I use a short form signature block which includes little more than my name and telephone numbers (fixed line and mobile). However, when communicating internally and with friends, I sign-off emails, as I do this brief article, simply: R.
Ronnie Fox is a partnership and employment solicitor practising in the City of London