Saving our most precious resource- time- by eliminating unnecessary email responses

One of the biggest time-wasters in our modern lives is email.  Many life-design and time management gurus have tips about when to check email, how to process it and other ways to cut down time.  The issue that wastes lots of my time: unnecessary email responses.

I put a call out to a variety of communication experts regarding thoughts to cut down the non-useful niceties after an exchange, illustrated in this email chain:

Colleague: I will send those over Tuesday.
You: Great, thanks.  Have a nice weekend.
Colleague:  Thanks, you too.  And Happy Holidays.
You: You too.

This chain generated three useless emails- that compounded by a factor of multiple times a day every day- waste a lot of time per year. 

My original proposal was to evaluate a series of symbols or acronyms to denote in a polite way that the email exchange has ended and no further correspondence is required (Abby Marks Beale has told me these are referred to as tags).  This would be similar to the way ### is used to denote the end of a press release or RSVP tells you a response is needed.  I originally suggested:

NNTR  (No Need To Respond): To say something and politely note that no further correspondence on the topic is required
ORI (Only Respond if Issue):  To confirm information and politely note that a response is only required if there is a problem
NWT (Noted With Thanks): To confirm that you have received the information and that no further correspondence is required

In my above example chain, the potential tags would be used by the last person saying something useful, so the email could end:

“I will send those over Tuesday. ORI” or “I will send those over Tuesday. NNTR”

Or at worst, you would respond “NWT” because sometimes you need to acknowledge a response or it will create a follow-up “did you get this” email.

These experts had a lot of fantastic things to say about managing email and I wish I could everything, but for brevity, we will just focus on the specific query.  Randy Dean, email sanity expert and author of the best-selling book Taming the Email Beast, said he speaks on this exact topic and uses NRN (no response necessary) as an ender.  I say even better (NNTR is too clunky)!  Randy also gave the thumbs up on the ORI and NWT acronyms and also added that if you can, try to get the response in the subject like to use EOM (end of message) so the person doesn’t even need to open the email.

Professional etiquette expert Arden Clise of Clise Ettiquette concurred with Randy, using NRN and EOM.  She also added that you could put ORI or NWT in the subject line as well.  Marlene Caroselli also just puts thanks in the subject line when possible as does Stacy Robin of the Degania Group.  Abby Marks Beale also suggested putting the tags in between the less than and greater than signs to clearly denote them (e.g.< NRN >) but warned that people responding to messages without changing tags in the subject line can create a lot of confusion.

On the flipside, Crystal Kendrick, President of the Voice of Your Customer expressed concerns about the professional community adopting acronyms and suggested the use of full and formal language instead as a transition to acronyms. Phil Stella of Effective Training & Communication, Inc. also prefers the spelled out versions, thinking that the acronyms are a bit too cutesy for work.  Life Coach and Presenter Jeff Deutsch of A SPLINT also reinforced that sometimes that nicities add character (which I agree with, they can be used in conjunction with the tags).  He also sagely pointed out that no set of tags will reverse time wasting from not carefully reading each email you get. As he said, “missed parts of earlier emails necessitate do-overs”.

Thursday Bram, who is also a fan of NRN and EOM and has been using those tags successfully for a while wondered how to get people to understand and adopt them.  Since lifestyle and etiquette expert Sandra Lamb told me that she has found the only solution is to impose strict rules in each email, I have decided to follow that counsel.  I am going with Jan Wencel of Life Contained’s suggestion to use the tags with the explanation (i.e. NRN- No Response Necessary) until people get used to them.  

Another great alternative is Margaret McDonald of Smart People Communications’ suggestion to use a key in the email signature (like is frequently done with the “don’t print this email/save the trees” signatures that have become prevalent over the last year), such as:

In an effort to save our most precious resource, time, I use the following acronyms.  Please consider adopting them and sharing them with your friends and colleagues:

NRN  (No Response Needed)
ORI (Only Respond if Issue)
NWT (Noted With Thanks)

Certainly, using the full-language version works too and is a good interim solution.  Any solution that works for the parties involved is a step in the right direction and hopefully over time a standard will fall into place.

What are your thoughts on the subject?  Will you join in?  Do you have better suggestions?  Please comment to share your thoughts.