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SOS! Save Melissa from Drowning!

At the end of Better Business Writing class on Monday, Melissa checked her email. While she was a participant in the class, she had received about 100 messages–not as many as usual, she said, since a lot of people had skipped work because of the ice and snow in Seattle.

Now let’s just imagine: It is 4:30 p.m. on Monday, and Melissa decides to handle her email before she leaves to go home. How long does it take?

Responding carefully to 8 important messages, then putting the messages in the right folders: 40 minutes.

Responding quickly to 25 simple messages, then filing or deleting them: 32 minutes.

Reading, rereading, and then filing 9 messages that might be important (but it is impossible to figure out what they are about): 20 minutes.

Deleting 19 messages after reading them and seeing that they need no action: 14 minutes.

Reading and forwarding 4 messages when she realizes they should be handled by someone else: 4 minutes.

Deleting 7 duplicate messages people have forwarded to her: 2 minutes.

Deleting 17 messages that she decides are pointless after a quick glance: 2 minutes.

Reading and deleting 1 joke after she decides she doesn’t understand it: 1 minute.

Staring glassy-eyed at the last 10 messages, then doing nothing with them: 5 minutes.

TOTAL: 120 minutes–2 hours

I don’t actually know whether Melissa stayed in the conference room for two hours handling her email. I left her there focused on her laptop, tapping out message after message.

Melissa and millions like her are drowning in email. Please help. Here are three easy steps you can take:

  1. Don’t copy or forward email to Melissa and anyone else unless they have to have it. No one has time for "would be nice to read" messages. (Don’t copy your manager either unless the message is a must-have. Just keep a copy to show him or her if it becomes necessary.)
  2. Write concise, clear messages that quickly state what Melissa and others should do.
  3. If you know Melissa is away from her job for the day, go easy on her. Don’t add to the flood. Try to handle matters yourself or with the help of someone else.

Now imagine it’s 6:30 p.m. Do you know where your reader is? Pounding out another email in an empty conference room? Or enjoying the evening? You can help make the difference.

Posted by Lynn Gaertner Johnson
By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English. She grew up in suburban Chicago, Illinois.