Saturday, April 25, 2009

FYI Is "For Your Indigestion"

I wrote "Be Fairer To The Fairer Sex" on 7 Apr.

In the article, I lamented how women are expected to be better than men before they are considered equal. At about that time, Mrs Lim Hwee Hua was to become the first woman minister. I thought I just had to mention that notable milestone in the Singapore political scene as well as its significance in our journey towards gender equality.

I posted the article at 8.33 PM that day and what I did not expect was for Mrs Lim to drop me an email hours later at 1.26 AM, technically the next day, expressing her agreement with what I have written. It was not a long email but yet it has said so much. It was trully amazing.

This is what she wrote:

RE: Your Random Thoughts

Hi there

Enjoyed reading your thoughtful and interesting piece "Be Fairer to the Fairer Sex". You are spot on in many observations. There are indeed biases, intended or otherwise, that we women face. We can protest or raise awareness while seizing the opportunities as they come along.

Many women have told me they are very pleased with the appointment as the talk about gender-blindness in political appointments has been translated into action. Let's indeed see this for what it's intended to be and rally even more women into leadership positions.

Take care.

Lim Hwee Hua

Being a public figure, she must be used to reading comments about her in the Internet by now. For that, she probably would have a way to 'scan' relevant net contents, no differently from most other politicians.

Knowing what others say about you is one thing but responding to them is something else altogether.

Holding a portfolio as the Minister in the Prime Minister's Office, as well as Second Minister in both the Finance and Transport ministries, coupled with her traditional role as a wife and a mother, her schedule must be very tight. Amidst all the important and urgent tasks on hand, I could not have imagined seeing "Reply Vanilla" on her 'to do list'.

And yet, she did.

My job keeps me really busy and email is one of the major time-sucker. Typically, I would receive more than a hundred emails a day and I spend a considerable amount of time just opening them. Every other email appears to be screaming for my attention and the urge to ignore and delete is over-powering.

Some of the emails are junks while many others are chunks.

Junk mails are spams and they just add up to the number of unread mails in the inbox. "Chunk mail" is my own "endearing" term for super duper long emails or emails with a gazillion attachments. Both junk and chunk mails set my daily battle scene in my email inbox.

Many of my emails say "FYI".

On the surface, they do not seem to need anything from me. However, I have learnt not to be so gullible. These "Just for your info and no action is required" emails usually make a malicious about turn to haunt me. The senders find it legitimate to come to me for some actions subsequently because they have been 'keeping me informed' and thus I am assumed to have sufficient knowledge on the matter to do something for them. After awhile, "FYI" becomes "for your indigestion".

Then, there are loads of cc emails. It is tough to know for sure if the sender has conscientiously included me in the cc list, well, just to 'keep me informed', or, it is just a mindless action of clicking the "reply to all" button.

There is another type of email which I call "Singa" mails, named after "Singa, the Courtesy Lion". These emails really do not need my action and are usually very short. They are sent because the senders have been taught to say "please" and "thank you" from young. So they felt obligated to end the email exchanges by saying a nice last word such as 'Thanks".

More often than not, these "Singa" emails are nothing more than "Yes, noted" or "OK, will do". I find all these niceties totally unneeded in email communication. Together with spam mails, these "Singa" mails further hike my unread mails and thus giving an illusion that I have more undone tasks.

I realise that many office workers have developed the "Pavlov's dog-type" reaction to email alerts. The moment the "you've a mail" chime is sounded, productivity drops. Somehow, the need to at least look at the inbox becomes compulsive. After looking at the subject headers, it becomes irresistible to click on the newly received unread mail.

Some studies have suggested that by turning off that "you've a mail' alert, productivity can improve by 5% to 10%. So, it makes sense to have the right discipline on "email management" and not to be victimised by this pervasive technology.

Here are some of the ways you can stay sane:

1. Turn off "auto scan unread mail" - If you set it to 5 minutes, your work will be interrupted every 5 minutes with "you've a new mail" alerts. If you are doing something which requires uninterrupted attention, replace "5 minutes" with something more reasonable or switch the "auto check" feature off altogether.

2. Rid the easy ones - If you can get rid of an email within 1-2 lines, do it. Get it off your plate and get back to your work. Don't be too caught up in spending 45 minutes to compose one reply.

3. Write less - Verbose writing is frown upon. Emails are not epic literature and stop annoying your readers with lengthy replies. However, that does not mean that you should write elliptically, ignoring standard grammar. Singlish is also another great no no in official writing.

4. Don't reinvent the wheel - If you need to give similar replies, consider creating templates using built in 'mail template' feature or have them stored in word processor applications such as MS Word. Spending time doing things from scratch is not going to earn you any extra praises or bonus from your boss.

5. Be honest - If you know in your heart that you are never going to respond or do anything to an email, delete or archive it right from the beginning. Sometimes we keep these emails aside and tell ourselves that we will come back to them soon. Usually, nothing happens in the months to come. So, trust your instincts, listen to them, and stop trying to be perfect.

I have a busy schedule but it pales next to Mrs. Lim's. She probably has her way to manage her inbox and that is why she could afford to reply me.

Perhaps I can devise mine too. Any good tips?

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