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How I handle email (which is not how everyone should, but you may find some of these useful)

This is all about work email. I have succeeded in transferring most personal communication to Slack, iMessage, and WhatsApp, with a sprinkling of Skype for the grandparents. The sole holdout is Dad, who insists on emailing me links to Serbian tabloid news, child rearing advice, and recipes.

Inbox Zero is a great idea in its original form: live you life and write your emails in a way that solicits as few return emails to you as possible. It means giving some thought to what you put in your responses, and being clear and definitive about them. It doesn’t mean mindlessly deleting or archiving everything or, even worse, sending out half-baked replies just to pass on the baton when you’ll get a dozen of them in return.

I only check email twice a week day and once on a weekend, and with the explicit intent to clean out the inbox (unless when on service or when I’m the primary attending for a sick inpatient). Never check email “just to see what’s there” unless you have the time and the means to do something about whatever you’ll find. More than once in the past I was left to sour over an unexpected administrative roadblock or a non-urgent patient care calamity during a family event, when I could have just as easily waited for Monday morning.

When scheduling meetings: Doodle (or your preferred equivalent) for more than three people, email is fine for 1 or 2. If using email and I’m scheduling, proposed times, location, and a tentative agenda are all in the initial email. If I’m responding to a meeting request I try to put all of those in my reply, but that also depends on who’s requesting.

I thank in advance, not after the fact, and rarely send emails whose sole purpose is to give thanks.

If I get an unsolicited and unexpected email from someone I don’t know but that’s not obviously a mass posting, I wait for the second one. Most times it never arrives.

If the email looks like it came from a template it gets deleted without being read.

If I am cc’d on an email chain with many recipients and not directly called out, I archive and wait it out. The only exception is when I know that one or two replies from me would be able to end the game of email chicken that these chains tend to become.

The few times that I didn’t follow these guidelines, I came to regret it (confirmation bias warning!). I’m sure plenty of people don’t give it a second thought and go by just fine. But they probably don’t work in health care.

Update: Out of Office messages are equally important, and covered well here. My own recent OoO message was as explicit as it could get without using profanity, and hopefully conveyed the sentiment that no, I won’t be checking messages at all.

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