- since 1996

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worst practice number four: e-mail attachment abuse

The ability to attach files to an e-mail is a real blessing. Indeed, it is so convenient to be able to add a file to a message and then send it to somebody so that they can open them minutes, days or hours later. Unfortunately, a lot of e-mail users are abusing this feature, by attaching humungous files and then copying the whole world. In fact, some of these attachments are not really useful, plus many of them will never be read due to lack of time. Meeting minutes in Word format for instance, get very long, bulky and besides, they are useless. They are indeed far more readable in text format, or even rich text format embedded in the body of the e-mail. Besides, if you e-mail readers are using PDAs and smart phones, they will be able to read the minutes directly, without having to download bloated attached documents. In this particular instance, there is no real requirement for attaching a file. I would therefore urge e-mail users to get back to the beauties of the good old text format: it's fast, straight to the point and enables fast speed reading.

Most of the time, the very size of these attachments is a real problem, mainly due to the fact that the newer versions of Microsoft Office have this tendency to inflate file size indiscriminatingly. As a result, most internal corporate e-mail systems will reject messages above a certain limit (in very large corporations, you might not be able to receive e-mails above 4 MB for instance). Of course, broadband is now ubiquitous, we no longer have the problem that we used to have when downloading large attachments; still, mobile Internet is developing and mobile Internet on the go means that, even when you are using 3G+, you will not have a lot of bandwidth available (the reason being that bandwidth falls when using 3G on the move. Your mobile might tell you that you are using HSDPA, ie that you are connected at 1Mb/s but in fact you aren't unless you are standing still).

My recommended strategy here would be to only stick to these attachments that are really indispensable, and check their sizes, and also try and avoid anything above 2.3 MB in size. Similarly, when the yuletide comes, and people want to send each other virtual cards by the hundred, I would also suggest using hosted services such as the excellent Plaxo ( virtual card service. Result and impact guaranteed.


continued from part two


worst practice number five: copying the whole world

We have already discussed the requirement not to use strong language on e-mail. There is another type of e-mail abuse which is also very well spread. I mean the fact that a lot of e-mail users cannot resist the temptation to copy the whole world of their discussions and debates. It is a very bad idea, for it is much easier to talk the matter through when they are no witnesses, and therefore a true and in-depth negotiation between persons can actually work wonders.

Similarly, blind carbon copies (BCC) can be useful to inform an addressee without requesting him or her to act upon anything. But you shouldn't really misuse this functionality, and you should even try and avoid it as much as you can. I have seen people being blind copied of e-mails without actually noticing that it was a blind copy they were receiving and forwarding the e-mail and acting upon it, therefore showing the whole world that they were in the know although they weren't supposed to be. It is a much better practice and it is my recommended strategy, not to use blind carbon copy and conversely, formally and explicitly forward the e-mail, adding a cover comment with a mention that this e-mail is 'for your eyes only' (commonly abbreviated as FYEO). As a result, the person who has been blind copied of the e-mail will not really be able to forward it or use it without your consent, because it is clearly and explicitly stated.


worst practice number six: the e-mail history trap

A lot of email-users think that they should store their entire e-mail history, and they feel very proud about this. Once again, things have changed since the 1990s, disk space is no longer an issue, and standard disk space is approx. 160 GB, so that the size of your Outlook 'pst' file, even if it is goes beyond 1GB, is not a real issue. However, keeping too many electronic messages is mostly useless. Usually, barring a few rare exceptions, any message older more than six months old which you have not read at least once in these past six months should be archived forever. Chances are that you will never get back to it, and you might not even be able to remember that it exists anyway.

Both Outlook and Lotus Notes allow for archiving to be organised and scheduled, e.g. if messages are older than six months. Besides, let us emphasise once more that you shouldn't keep files on thorny subjects. This kind of filing is not really useful, unless you're getting ready for legal action. In which case, I would recommend that you dump the thorny e-mail folder on a DVD and keep it separate from your PC. One never knows what an administrator can do remotely and how far these people can get. Doing thus will keep you on the safe side.

worst practice number seven: personal e-mails mingling with professional e-mails

I see very often that people are writing to me for personal reasons using their professional e-mail system. I recommend that you avoid this at all cost. Keep all personal matters separate from professional ones, and never ever use your professional e-mail system for personal messages. Each of these professional messages can be recorded and traced, and even possibly pried into by your company administrator or even legal department (then you could be in trouble). Your company is actually entitled to read these messages, and in certain countries, it can go very far. In other countries like Germany and France where privacy is probably better respected, you have the ability to create a 'personal' folder, and store your personal messages in there.

However, webmail is now ubiquitous, and very reliable, not to say more apt and professional than most corporate e-mail systems. The brand new Ajax-based Yahoo! mail is an absolutely beautiful and very professional looking application. I would recommend that you use either Yahoo! mail or G-mail or any other personal e-mail system you like to send and receive personal messages, and therefore keep problems at bay. Favour webmail systems over disk-based email readers like Eudora or Outlook express, which also leave traces on your computer and besides, aren't available from any terminal connected to the Internet. This is my recommended strategy for using personal e-mail in the workplace (needless to say that it's best not to use it too much, but at the end of the day, managers are also responsible for how they want to organise their time).



part one

part two

part three

part four

part five

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