When I came across VSRE, Very Short Reply Expected, I thought it rather a good idea. It was started by Panayotis Vryonis and generated pages of discussion as to how to control the volume and length of emails that threaten to overwhelm us. The idea is that if you receive an email marked VSRE, you needn’t feel disrespectful if you simply reply “Yes” or whatever is required.
However, the more I thought about VSRE, the less sure I was that I liked it. It is somewhat aggressive and formulaic, rather like the message at the bottom of emails telling you not to print them unless you absolutely must. And often redundant, like the announcements on trains reminding you to take all your belongings with you, as if your sole purpose in travelling was to leave things on the train.
Much better to control emails by other means.
The first is to write clear, crisp emails; re-read them to check for mistakes and edit them to cut out unnecessary words or sentences. The way you write influences the way people write back. If yours are well written and short, the chances are that your respondent will take care with his or her reply. If you write a rambling email full of mistakes, you’re more likely to get something similar in reply.
The second is not to answer emails too quickly. That gives you time to think, and so write a better reply, and it soon educates people not to expect instant answers. Why should you be at their beck and call? You’re a busy person and if your reply is important it is worth waiting a short time for.
A third way is to write as few emails as you can. The more you send, the more you will receive.
Then there are all sorts of practical things you can do, such as checking your emails only once or twice a day, diverting certain emails into folders, never clicking Reply All and so on. There’s a useful thread on LinkedIn called “7 ways to manage email so it doesn’t manage you”. But start with the writing.