How to Use E-mail Autocomplete
Learn how to use your e-mail's auto complete feature for fun and reference.
Today's topic is making your email program’s autocomplete feature your friend.
At my job, our wonderful email program has autocomplete. It remembers everyone I've ever emailed. As I type a name, it guesses who I'm emailing. It helpfully shows everyone who matches what I've typed. Pressing enter selects the one it thinks is the closest match. Voila! My email is on its way.
Autocomplete Can Guess Wrong
That's the theory. In practice, what happens is this: I decide to type a cute, romantic email to my Sweetie. I type "Swee" and hit Enter, expecting the message to go to, well, Sweetie. I forgot, however, that I created a distribution list to invite my theater-loving friends to a play. The list is Sweenie Todd attendees. A few moments later, my friends who were expecting an invitation to a musical interlude about a psychotically murderous barber instead get a message that uses words like shmoopie-woopie. From here on out, I can never get drunk in their presence again. I would wake up the next day with Shmoopie-Woopie tattooed somewhere embarrassing, and my real shmoopie-woopie would not be amused.
Now when creating a temporary list, I always name the list with the word TEMP in front. That's short for temporary, as in, temporary list. Since the only entries in my address book that start with TEMP are the temporary lists, the slip-of-the-fingers is far less likely to cause embarrassing confusion. My next party list is called TEMP Marshmallow and Feather Pillow invitees (you don't need to know details). The word TEMP makes me blissfully unlikely to confuse the word marshmallow with the address book entry for my aunt Marsha. (Which is not to say that Marsha wouldn't enjoy marshmallows and feather pillows. She is a New York playwright, after all.)
Long List Names Get Forgotten
The other problem I have when using autocomplete is that I give my distribution lists descriptive names like, Research project for determining if life exists on Mars and Economics of carbon paper as pencil replacement study group. Sure, those names are easy to think up when I'm creating the list, but I never, ever remember them when it's time to use them. If I'm lucky, I can remember the first word, type a few letters like ECON, and then choose the right list. More often, I end up typing CAR for CARBON, PEN for PENCIL, and STU for STUDY before thinking to try ECON for Economics. The convenience of autocomplete has now turned into a game of Remember the List trivia. And when it comes to trivia, I'm the worst. I'm the guy on the trivia team who's certain that Marilyn Monroe's great granddaughter is Marilyn Manson. I can't even begin to count how many ways that's just wrong.
The solution? Let's take the TEMP idea one step further. Always use a descriptor that describes the kind of list at the start of a list name. For example, every project team list could start with PROJECT. PROJECT Does Life Exist on Mars and PROJECT Carbon Paper Economics study. Since you know you're looking for some project, just type the word PROJECT and the autocomplete list will show you just the project distribution lists, since those are the only ones that start with the word PROJECT. I put the word PROJECT in upper case so it stands out as a tag, and not as part of the list name.
Some other kinds of lists you might consider: MEETING for attendees at regular meetings, like MEETING Monday morning staff list; CLASS for class rosters, such as CLASS Leadership and Ethics or CLASS Understanding Sanskrit Political Commentary; and SOCIAL for all those social gatherings like SOCIAL Candlepin Bowling, SOCIAL Wine tasting, and SOCIAL Beavis and Butthead marathon.
Include a Year For Regular Groups
Sometimes you have a group whose membership changes each year. Let's say you were offered board positions at a food bank and a Girls Club. You thought those were great honors. You thought you'd do no work and get paid mega bucks. Surprise! In non-profits, the board members do mega work and get paid no bucks. “Giving back” is its own reward. You sigh, and create two lists, BOARD Food Bank and BOARD Girls Club so you can easily email the entire board at once.
There's only one problem. Every year, a board member leaves and a new one signs on. You could just delete the old board member from the list and add the new one. But I prefer to create a whole new list for this year's board. That way, I can still email past boards if needed. I make the lists different by adding the year. BOARD 2009 Food Bank. BOARD 2009 Girls Club. That also lets me type BOARD 2009 and I can see at a glance all the boards I was on in 2009. If you're a teacher, this also works for class rosters. CLASS 2009 Ethics, CLASS 2010 Ethics, and so on.
Rather than allowing autocomplete to embarrass you publicly, take control! Label your distribution lists with a keyword in front, helping you keep your important lists separate from your personal entries. Adopt consistent keywords so you can type the keyword, and use autocomplete as a quick reference to find the list you want. For lists that change every year, consider adding the year right after the keyword, turning your autocomplete into a full-fledge reference system.
Work Less, Do More, and have a Great Life!