Monday, October 4, 2010

You Need to Stop Setting Email Priority

Those of you that use corporate email are probably familiar with the “high importance”/”low importance” option when sending an email. This thing:

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When you get a message marked either of those ways, it looks like this:

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Sometimes the whole line is in red, too—I’m not really sure how that happens. In any case, here’s what probably think you’re saying:

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Here’s how you actually come across:image

The thing is, too, that since no one ever uses these things properly, both the “high” and the “low” have the same worthless meaning.

So what to do? Well first of all, don’t use these things at all. They don’t work with most email programs anyway, and when they do, you’re probably not using it right. Here’s a flowchart to help you decide what to do::

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You see, if you have an email that is so unimportant that you want to flag it as such, you probably don’t need to send it in the first place. Similarly, if you have an email that is so important that you want to flag it as such, you probably shouldn’t be using email alone, either—use a phone.

I must say, though, that I am surprised how rare this feature is invoked; it gives me hope for humanity. I have the occasional contacts that belligerently mark all their messages as super important, and some who always sadly mark theirs as unimportant. In each case, I am quickly conditioned to ignore the flag altogether as it fails to capture any meaningful, differentiating status. But most of the time, emails with either flag receive far more attention than they deserve simply by being “special”, and that’s a net loss for everybody. Or I hide that flag property from my views so I can’t tell and I win!