If the e-mail isn’t urgent to me, then it’s not “urgent.” Period.

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I learn some really useful things from Real Simple magazine.

That’s the publication that was at first derided as Martha Stewart Living for lazy people—until it surpassed MSL in ad pages and started racking up awards. It’s one of our sister mags, so I get to peruse it for free. And while it’s usually a breezy, brainless read for me (so this is what my bedroom would look like if I could see the floor), I always pick up a nugget or two that’s actually useful in the workplace. That’s because, unlike MSL, RS recognizes an audience that may in fact hold the kind of jobs that perhaps did not allow them to spend Easter weekend creating triple-lacquered blown-egg objets.

The current RS has a one-page quickie titled “the art of polite stalking” (I guess lower-case headlines are real simple). It begins,

If your best friend doesn’t call you back, you just keep leaving messages untl she does. But how many e-mails or voice mails can you leave someone you have a more formal relationship with before you look like a stalker? And what’s the best way to get a response?

I take “formal relationship” to mean work-related. It’s pretty typical for me to come in on a Monday morning to more than 100 e-mails in my in box. And that’s even with me checking e-mail multiple times over the weekend to make sure I read and respond to truly urgent missives from work. I’ll tell you what my in box consists of: maybe 50% solicited news round-ups from various media, business and academic outlets; 40% unsolicited press releases; 10% messages from colleagues, sources and/or readers regarding my various articles and projects. Our spam filters are fairly powerful, judging by the relative infrequency of offers to enhance my bank account or my penis size.

A handful of e-mails come marked with a red exclamation mark, signaling the contents are urgent. I don’t have to tell you they never are. They’re always press releases about some study, book or product that interest me not at all, which leaves me wondering: what precisely is the e-mail etiquette for the use of that attention-getting punctuation mark? Here’s the answer I got from Real Simple:

…despite your own feelings, designate an e-mail as “urgent” only if the recipient would view it that way. As [Art Ramirez, assistant professor of communications at Ohio State University in Columbus,] notes, “It’s obnoxious.”

Are you a habitually urgent e-mailer? Do ‘fess.

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