I get more than 500 emails a day, on 4 different accounts. It's hard to pay attention to all of them. There are emails you know you can ignore, and some you know you have to read. But there are so many you simply don't know. 

The trick to notice anything is for it to stand out. But how do you get an email to stand out? There are not too many elements to an email header that you can play with. 

This reminds me of my first trip to Tokyo. The sheer amount of street advertisement was overwhelming. How can anyone see anything here? How can one advertisement stand out over the others? It was impossible for me to notice anything among all the colors and pictures all around me. 

Except for one advertisement that caught my attention. I don't even know what the street "sign" was for, but there were several people (live...) who were strapped to the building wall, playing soccer with a ball held by a string. This is how far you needed to go to grab my attention. 

So what about email? There used to be a time when everyone used the "high priority" red exclamation mark to let me know that their email was more important than any other email in my inbox. Well, at least it was more important to them. And very soon, almost all emails in my inbox were marked with the red exclamation mark, and no single email was unique enough. 

What did I feel when I saw those emails? I felt that someone was thinking that their message was more important than anything else in my inbox. I felt they were arrogant, self-centered, and I developed an allergic reaction to those emails. Those would now be the email I open last. Not first. 

But after a while, the percentage of emails marked as high priority declined, as we got desensitized to them, and they became less effective. One day I noticed a unique email. Instead of being marked as high priority with the red exclamation mark, it was marked low-priority, with the down blue arrow. I opened that email first. Why? For one, because it looked different. When 20% (or more) of my inbox was still marked with red exclamation marks, this one was the only one marked with the down blue arrow. Second, I felt that someone was telling me: "hey, I sent you an email, but it's not very important. Get to it when you get the chance. Do your more important stuff first." I felt that the sender was considerate of my time. He was not arrogant. On the contrary. 

So I opened that email first. Even though it was the only one marked "low priority..." I looked at my inbox just now. I have 919 emails. 23 are marked high priority. None is marked with the low-priority down blue arrow. 

Opportunity? Try to mark you next email with the down blue arrow. Until everyone catches on...

 

Published on: Mar 8, 2016
Like this column? Sign up to subscribe to email alerts and you'll never miss a post.