Communication in the Internet Century

Communication in the Internet Century usually means using email, and email, despite being remarkably useful and powerful, often inspires momentous dread in otherwise optimistic, happy humans. Google executive chairman and former CEO Eric Schmidt and former Senior Vice President of Products Jonathan Rosenberg share nine insightful rules for emailing (or gmailing!) like a professional. Here are their personal rules for mitigating that sense of foreboding:


Respond quickly. There are people who can be relied upon to respond promptly to emails, and those who can’t. Strive to be one of the former. Most of the best—and busiest—people we know act quickly on their emails, not just to us or to a select few senders, but to everyone. Being responsive sets up a positive communications feedback loop. These responses can be quite short—“got it” is a favorite of ours.

When writing an email, every word matters, and useless prose doesn’t. Be crisp in your delivery. If you are describing a problem, define it clearly. Doing this well requires more time, not less. You have to write a draft then go through it and eliminate any words that aren’t necessary.

Clean out your inbox constantly. When you open a new message, you have a few options: Read enough of it to realize that you don’t need to read it, read it and act right away, read it and act later, or read it later (worth reading but not urgent and too long to read at the moment). Choose among these options right away, with a strong bias toward the first two. Remember the old OHIO acronym: Only Hold It Once. If you read the note and know what needs doing, do it right away. Otherwise you are dooming yourself to rereading it, which is 100 percent wasted time.

Handle email in LIFO order (Last In First Out). Sometimes the older stuff gets taken care of by someone else. 5. Remember, you’re a router. When you get a note with useful information, consider who else would find it useful, and pass it on.

When you use the BCC (blind copy) feature, ask yourself why. The
answer is almost always that you are trying to hide something, which is
counterproductive and potentially knavish in a transparent culture. When that
is your answer, copy the person openly or don’t copy them at all. (HN I disagree with this. The only thing you should be hiding is the person(s) email address that you are copying. Many people do not like their email address being shared.)

Don’t yell. If you need to yell, do it in person. It is FAR TOO EASY to do it

Make it easy to follow up on requests. When you send a note to
someone with an action item that you want to track, copy yourself, then label
the note “follow up.” That makes it easy to find and follow up on the things
that haven’t been done; just resend the original note with a new intro asking
“Is this done?”

Help your future self search for stuff. If you get something you
think you may want to recall later, forward it to yourself along with
a few keywords that describe its content. Think to yourself, How will I
search for this later? Then, when you search for it later, you’ll probably use
those same search terms.

Excerpted from the book How Google Works by Eric Schmidt and
Jonathan Rosenberg, with Alan Eagle. © 2014 by Google, Inc.

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