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Should You Send That Email? Here's A Flowchart For Deciding

Although the admonishment is useful, can anything curb the explosion of email?

Email is broken. There’s too much of it, no one can agree on how to use it, it’s too easy to send, which encourages a glut of CYA CCing, and there are spammers. Online IT Degree (which is apparently the real name of a real website) has ventured into this fray with a lighthearted flowchart, designed to help you decide whether it’s really worth sending an email.

It’s a losing battle–we learn that right up at the top. According to Online IT Degree, Atros, a company that banned email, has managed to only reduce its email volume by 20%. That’s with a ban! What can we mere mortals hope to accomplish?

Click image to zoom. Click here to view in another window.

We have some quibbles with the decision tree. The first question is "Are you at work?" and if you answer "no," then the chart leads to "okay." No! Not okay. Heartwarming PowerPoint forwards are never okay (confidential to our relatives: We love you very much). Further down, there’s weird ritual advice like implementing a "No Email Friday" policy.

But there are some good considerations there too. Poorly written subject headers remain the bane of our existence, to say nothing of the ongoing river of pain that is CC abuse. For a more thorough and thoughtful take on when to send email, we recommend Seth Godin’s checklist (forlornly titled "(maybe this time it’ll work!)").

Here’s the sick thing. If we know the Internet (and we think we do), we can confidently say that this infographic is going to get shared all over the place. Via email.

[Image: Roger Costa Morera/Shutterstock]

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  • Sara Spence

    I went to email this to everyone at work, but I did the quiz and it told me not to. Drat.

  • Gina Balarin

    Totally love this infographic! It's just a bummer that it's not immediately obvious how to share it more easily. Share buttons would be very cool here...

  • Peter

    The most unpleasant thing about this flowchart is the assumption that every moment of your attention at work belongs to your boss, and any time you spend sending personal emails/thinking about your children/picking your nose is cash money you've stolen from the company.

    Also Willa Lagoyda is begging the question; how can people be unfit for the purpose of using email, when the entire purpose of email is to allow people to communicate? It's not as if there is a master race of email users out there who are using it some proper way that escapes mere mortals; blaming humans is like making a shovel out of butter and complaining that the ground is too hard.

  • Jennifer Healy

    While I do agree with implementing some selectivity in one's daily outbox, I personally can't walk over to my boss or coworkers in the UK or Singapore "like people do." Nor can I always track them down during the 5 minutes a day they are at their phone, or call them in the middle of the night when it's their working hours. Bottom line: If you need to connect with someone or a group needs to be looped in, just keep your messages simple and relevant.

  • NEC

    I would rather e-mail with 10 cc's than hold a meeting that includes NEC (non-essential chatting), booking a boardroom, changing the meeting ten times because people can't make it...then having to follow the meeting up with, you guessed it, an e-mail.  If bosses would quit hiding (you know you do it) and extroverts take some time to read, then e-mail wouldn't be so useless. And if someone spams you with cutesies or unnecessary items, then TELL THEM they are on the spammers list (then they have to come and talk to you or send you an interoffice memo that you will get in 2013).

  • George Gregory

    Very cute - my laugh for the day, and some interesting statistics to boot. And I love flow charts.

  • Willa Lagoyda

    People are broken, not email. Email does not decide to send itself, nor does it purposely set out each day to distract people.....this is a user error not a technology error.

  • Steph Oates

    Agreed. I believe your system is only as good as your can shape your people and influence certain behaviours, but organisations don't change; people do.

  • Guest

    As a general rule when at work, if I need to make any sort of official request or decision, there needs to be a written trail. Also, my boss is a very busy woman, and she doesn't appreciate if employees come visit her office every time they have a question or piece of information to share. So I agree that copious emailing is in poor taste, it's often necessary in the corporate world.

  • trsmith95

    Amen to the 3 sentence rule. Yes email is easy and it undoubtedly serves a practical and time efficient function in many cases.  However, email is also a rather lazy form of communication.  It's easier/less confrontational to address an issue in which you have personally screwed something up in an email to you superior.  It is easier to reprimand a subordinate or colleague in an email and it is easier to ask a question about something, which you kind of understand but not really but know you should, in an email to try and save face.  However, by the time the back and forth explanation makes sense to you, it would have been much more time efficient to just pick up the phone.

  • Arun Sadhashivan


    The company that is trying to ban email between co-workers is called Atos, a French company that also provides all the IT for the Olympic games. It's still a program, and they haven't "banned" it yet.

    My wife works at Atos.

  • Righthand3

    did i hear ATOS...? believe it as you wish but they are the same corporation of monitoring illness for benefits... they are tottaly unprofiente.. Un- etiquette un-proffessional.

    you see them... you run like Ben Johnson

  • LouisJWagner

    E-mail has added interest and efficiency to my life as a retired person. It
    Has allowed me to stay involved with my children and grand children
    Much easier than if I had to rely on the written or spoken word. It
    Allowed me to organize 50th High School reunion and re-establish
    Friendships. I run A golf league for seniors on the Internet. Etc.
    Broken? I think not.
    Lou Wagner

  • richinto

    The EOM rule should read 'put the sentence followed by EOM in the Subject Line'. Putting EOM in the body makes the entire exercise irrelevant, as it is intended to make it clear to the recipient that the entire message is in the subject line, eliminating the precious milliseconds it takes to open the email, only to find it blank inside.

  • Leila

    Do not Reply To All with a "OK", "thank you" or something else that is not absolutely necessary.

  • Gerard

    It seems that Atos did a lousy job. Of the 200 emails, only 10% was useful. And 36 out of 200 were spam. Reducing the emails by 20% would translate into no more spam being sent, but still close to the original 144 irrelevant emails.

    And banning email reduces the amount of emails being sent by a mere 20%, not 100%? And they are supposed to be an example all companies should follow?