Email Expert Exposes 27 Email Pet Peeves that Tick People Off as Much as Spam

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If left unchecked, spam can drive you nuts, but what about the email messages from people you either want to or have to hear from?

We all know that if left unchecked, spam can drive you nuts, but what about the email messages from people you either want to or have to hear from? Are there some things they're doing that's making you swear at your computer screen every time you "hear" from them?

Peggy Duncan, author of "Conquer Email Overload with Better Habits, Etiquette, and Outlook Tips and Tricks," has been collecting these pet peeves from comments she receives in her email overload seminars and on her Web site ( She says, "These pet peeves are not only aggravating, but they're also contributing to email overload which is a huge problem in the workplace. Studies show that email overload causes people to work anywhere from one to two extra hours a day, either at work or when they get home. Another study showed that it reduces the IQ more than marijuana because of the constant interruptions that interfere with the ability to focus. The answer is to reduce the load on the front end, clear out the mess that's already there, and then get into the habit of dealing with each message as you open it."

1. Sending or responding to all to CYA (cover your butt). Stop sending to all if all do not have a need to know. You wanted to make sure you were covered so you’re sending everyone on a list your answer—whether they needed to know or not. Or you're sending a message to everyone because you're too lazy to select the appropriate recipients.

2. People trying to solve complex issues using email. You're part of a new committee, then the email messages start, back and forth, dizzying speed, the more they come, the more confused you get. Pick up the phone!

3. Dirty email messages. These are those messages you receive loaded with those darn carets (>>>), or pages and pages of email addresses that weren't protected using a blind copy feature. Is it too much to ask for the sender to clean dirty emails before sending it? Would you send a letter out on your company stationery like that? You can get rid of carets by pasting the message into Word and using the Find and Replace feature to find a caret and replace all of them with nothing. You can get rid of all the email addresses just by deleting. Clean it up, then send it.

4. Subject lines that don't match the message and do little to let you know what the message is about. Don't pull up an old message, hit Reply, and send me a message that has nothing to do with the previous one. Suppose you sent an email message two months ago that said, "The monthly meeting has been cancelled." You pulled up that old message because the email addresses were already in it. But this time, you wanted to let everyone know that coffee and donuts would be served at this month's meeting. At the very least, change the subject line and by all means, add enough info in the subject line so I'll know precisely what your email message is about (the way newspapers do when they headline an article).

5. Last-minute cancellations. Cancelling a meeting at the last minute and letting me know via email. I show up, "Oh, didn't you get my e-mail?" When did you send it? I left my office two hours ago, and now my whole day is shot.

6. Procrastinators. People who wait until the last minute to ask you to do something as if you had nothing else to do. You know the work was in a pile on their desk, and while they were digging for something else, they found it, and sent you an email message, marking it urgent. Then when the deadline isn't met, it's not their fault because they "gave it to you."

7. People who call you instead of checking their email. You've done your job, and sent an email message to people with information they need. They end up calling you asking for the info because, "I'm too busy to check email. Please always call me with the information or at least call me to let me know you sent it."

8. No response. You send a legitimate email message to someone who has requested information. The message clearly needs a response, but nothing happens. If you're too busy to hit Reply to say "No," you need to examine how you're working. Why did you make me waste your time and mine?

9. One-liners. "Thanks," "Oh, OK." My goodness! You sent an email message to 25 people, and 15 of them sent you a one-liner. Next time, put "No Reply Necessary" at the top.

10. Underlines. Don't underline anything in a message (or on a Web page) that's not a hyperlink. I always move the mouse toward it thinking it'll take me somewhere.

11. Someone replying to my message without the previous message below it or attached to it. I forgot what I asked them.

12. Smileys, emoticons. If you wouldn't put a smiley face or emoticon on your business correspondence, you shouldn't put it in an email message.

13. Plaxo. Those emails from you asking me to update my contact information. Your best customer is getting 10 of these a day! And, I don't even remember who these people are. I went to the Plaxo Web site and opted out of receiving any of these annoying updates. Make sure you opt out for all your different email addresses.

14. Senseless Autoresponders. How about the one that says, "Thank you for your email message. I will respond to you as soon as I can." What a complete waste of my time to open this stupid response. It's almost like the letter carrier leaving me a message in my mailbox saying, "I picked up your mail today. I'll bring you more when I get it."

15. Words from grown, business people using shortcuts such as "4 u" (instead of "for you"), "Gr8” (for great) in business-related email. Are you lazy, or just can't type or spell? If you wouldn't send a company letter out like that, it shouldn't be in an email message. (This is different from legitimate abbreviations a company may develop such as NRN for No Reply Necessary.)

16. Read receipt. As if you're checking up on me to see if I open your message. I don't know why people waste time doing this because most people probably have this feature turned off in their email software.

17. Too many attachments. You should get permission before sending someone an email message with more than two attachments. Instead of sending 5 PDFs, consider combining them into one document.

18. Attachment and no body. If you send an email message about an event and no explanation in the body, I delete the message (especially if it's a large file that would drain my ink supply if I printed it). If the details are in the body of the message, I don't need the attachment. I don't need to see how creative you were with your flyer. I just need the info.

19. Abuse of my email address. I register for an event, then every week, I'm getting notices of deals, webinars, teleseminars, etc.

20. Recipient names not private. No bcc and pages of email addresses in the message.

21. Passing on hoaxes instead of checking them out first. What would make you believe that Bill Gates would send you $5000 just for sending an email message? And did you know that the Teddy Bear file you so willingly deleted from your computer was a legitimate Windows file? Check it our first at

22. Who are you? People I met briefly some time ago sending me an email message without reminding me who they are.

23. Messages without signature lines. Your email signature is a great way to let people know more about you, especially when your email address is something like

24. Adding me to your email list. I just met you, barely remember you, and I'm already on your distribution list for your newsletter, thoughts for the day, and news you think I want to know.

25. Bad grammar and punctuation. You can't hide behind an administrative assistant to clean up your act, so go take some classes and learn how to write and spell. Some messages are so bad, it's like reading a foreign language, and it wastes my time trying to figure out your mess.

26. Work email abuse. People sending me non-work-related email from their job. I don’t want my name and email address showing up in company reports.

27. Unprofessional email IDs. People who would send a business email message using addresses such as cutesuzy at... or beingblessed at...or hardliquor at....

CREDENTIALS: Peggy Duncan is an organization, time management, and Outlook expert who shares tips and strategies for managing email overload as part of a popular seminar series based on her new book, Conquer Email Overload with Better Habits, Etiquette, and Outlook Tips and Tricks [PSC Press 2004].

Peggy was formally trained at IBM, and has helped busy people become more productive since 1997 as a personal productivity expert. Her clients include media powerhouses, corporate giants, national associations, and government agencies. Her expertise has been featured in O, the Oprah Magazine, Real Simple, Fitness, Good Housekeeping, Essence, Black Enterprise, and others. She has authored several books on organization, time management, and technology, and is also a former radio and TV show co-host. She's a lively, energetic guest who makes learning fun.

Availability: Atlanta, nationwide by arrangement, and via telephone and the Web. Available at last minute.

Contact: Peggy Duncan is available at 770-907-8868, or She's on the Web at When booking Peggy, ask for a copy of her book, "Conquer Email Overload with Better Habits, Etiquette, and Outlook Tips and Tricks."

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