Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content


Entry archive:

A light display of Ernesto "Che" Guevara, an Argentine who fought in Cuba's 1950s revolution, is seen on the facade of Cuba's Interior Ministry (MININ) in Havana's Revolution Square June 8, 2009. (Desmond Boylan/Reuters)
A light display of Ernesto "Che" Guevara, an Argentine who fought in Cuba's 1950s revolution, is seen on the facade of Cuba's Interior Ministry (MININ) in Havana's Revolution Square June 8, 2009. (Desmond Boylan/Reuters)

The Manager

Workers unite! You have nothing to lose but your e-mail chains Add to ...

July is a revolutionary month, marking historic events such as U.S. Independence Day, France's Bastille Day and that country's 1830 July Revolution (as well as our own less flamboyant and more peaceable 1867 Confederation). So it's a good time to take up arms against the oppression of e-mail and the less evident but highly dangerous suppression of doodling, by joining the growing online rebellions against each.

The e-mail charter

The e-mail charter was created in response to the overwhelming tide of e-mail that cruelly and unjustly enslaves us.

It began with a blog post by Chris Anderson, curator of the popular TED (Technology Entertainment and Design) conferences and its scribe Jane Wulf, and now has its own website, e-mailcharter.org, where you can declare your support for 10 Rules to Reverse the E-mail Spiral:

1. Respect recipient's time

Do unto others in e-mail as you would have them do unto you. The onus is on you to minimize the time your e-mail will take to process - even if it will take more time at your end before sending.

2. Short or slow is not rude

We must mutually agree to cut each other some slack on e-mail. Given the e-mail load we each face, it's okay - really, it's okay - if replies take a while and don't give detailed responses to every question or issue raised. "No one wants to come over as brusque, so please don't take it personally. We just want our lives back!" the declaration states.

3. Celebrate clarity

Make sure your subject line clearly labels the topic, and perhaps even includes more information on status than the typical e-mail red or blue alert system. You might indicate, in brackets, that your message is: [Info] [Action] [Time Sensitive] [Low Priority] The e-mail should use crisp, muddle-free sentences - preferably no more than five of them. Make sure the first sentence provides the basic reason for writing. And avoid strange fonts and colours.

4. Quash open-ended sentences

Don't send a long, turgid screed, followed by the vague invitation such as, "Thoughts?" Even "How can I help?" is probably too open-ended for an e-mail.

The charter reminds you to help the other person: "E-mail generosity requires simplifying, easy-to-answer questions. 'Can I help best by a) calling b) visiting or c) staying right out of it?'"

5. Slash those surplus ccs

The charter compares using the "cc" line to mating bunnies: For every recipient you add, you are dramatically multiplying response time.

When there are multiple recipients on an e-mail, please don't default to "Reply all" when giving your response. Maybe only a few need to be copied on your thoughts - or none.

6. Tighten the thread

E-mails often carry a long thread of previous e-mails. Context is helpful, but the charter argues that it's rare that a thread should extend to more than three e-mails. Before sending, pare it down to the essential.

7. Attack attachments

Don't use graphics files as logos or signatures that appear as attachments, as recipients will waste time opening them. "Even worse is sending text as an attachment when it could have been included in the ... e-mail," the freedom fighters advise.

8. Give acronym gifts

If your e-mail can be expressed in a half-dozen words, just put it in the subject line followed by EOM (end of message). The recipient saves time by not having to open the message. You can also end a note with NNTR (no need to reply). The charter argues that these two acronyms are golden and deserve wide adoption.

9. Cut contentless responses

If you send a message asking someone to take part in a project and they reply with an "I'm in," don't waste their time with an e-mail saying, "Great!" Cut responses that lack content.

10. Disconnect

The charter, perhaps with the naiveté of all revolutionaries, suggests that if we all agreed to spend less time on e-mail, we would all get less e-mail. It suggests marking a half-day in your work calendar in which you don't go online, or committing yourself to e-mail-free weekends.


Consultant Sunni Brown, who specializes in visual thinking and information design, has borrowed from the American Founding Fathers in her Doodle Revolution Manifesto:

"We, the Doodlers of every nation, in order to form a more perfect world, establish semantic truth, promote whole-mind learning, provide for the struggling knowledge worker and student, enhance educational well-being, and secure the benefits of the Doodle for ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Manifesto for Doodlers everywhere."

It takes aim at the modern notion that doodling is wasteful - dawdling, or drawing something without thinking. Instead, it argues that the very act of creating a doodle engages the mind: "Doodling is thinking."

It then adds: "No longer will the Doodle hide in a house of ill repute. No longer will simple visual language be underused and misunderstood."

Naturally, there are self-evident truths in the declaration:

  • That doodling is as native to humans as walking and talking;
  • That humans have been doodling in the sand, in the snow and on cave walls for more than 30,000 years;
  • That we are neurologically wired with an overwhelmingly visual sensory ability;
  • That doodling ignites three learning style - auditory, kinesthetic, and visual - and thus dramatically enhances the experience of learning;
  • That doodling promotes concentration and increases information retention by up to 29 per cent in studies;
  • That doodling supports deep, creative problem solving and innovation;
  • That doodling has been part of intellectual breakthroughs in science, technology, medicine, architecture, literature and art;
  • That doodling is and has been deployed by some of the best and brightest minds in history; and
  • That doodling is a form of expression free and accessible to all, rather than being confined to the elite realms of high art and design.

So why not become a strategic doodler? Use it to enhance your creativity and productivity. And refer skeptics to the manifesto, with its closing declaration:

"We first demand that teachers, bosses, and other authority figures cease and desist any suspicion and disapproval that stigmatizes doodling. We assert our belief that doodling is most appropriate where society perceives it as least appropriate: in situations with high information density and high accountability for learning.

"Today, we liberate the Doodle and elevate it to its proper place in our world. We take up our pens, pencils and felt-tipped markers and deploy doodling - strategic and simple - wherever we deem it necessary."

Report Typo/Error

Next story




Most popular videos »

More from The Globe and Mail

Most popular