Email is such a funny thing. People hand you these single little messages that are no heavier than a river pebble. But it doesn’t take long until you have acquired a pile of pebbles that’s taller than you and heavier than you could ever hope to move, even if you wanted to do it over a few dozen trips. But for the person who took the time to hand you their pebble, it seems outrageous that you can’t handle that one tiny thing. “What ‘pile’? It’s just a {redacted} pebble!”

– Merlin Mann (The strange allure of email bankruptcy)

Email is a great system for exchanging information, unfortunately it’s not a two-way street. It takes no real time and costs nothing to fire off an email asking a question or sharing a link. But, on the receiving end it takes minutes or even hours to read, process and respond to the message. Compound that with the fact that I get over 100 emails every single day, and if I were to even spend an average of 2 minutes on each of them I’d burn half of a workday every day on email.

Now, I have tools that help triage and process my mail and that helps. Spam filters keep the worst garbage out of my way. But, the scourge of automated emails from systems and social networks, CC’s and unnecessary mailing lists more than make up for the savings.

If you want your email read, here are some tips:

  • Clearly indicate if this is Informational or Actionable
    • Is there a short prefix you can put in your subject like FYI?
  • If you want me to do something or answer a question, put it in the first sentence.
  • The first three sentences should give me the gist of the email and allow me to know if it’s something I need to read now, later or never.
  • If it needs read now, make it as short as you can while including the information required.
  • Organize longer emails so that I can find the relevant information quickly.
    • If it’s a group email trying to coordinate things, make my name a header and put the things I’m responsible for in it.
    • If it’s really long, and really important should we have a meeting instead?
  • If you want to have a conversation, let’s schedule a call or face to face, not volley emails back and forth.

Remember, fair or not, I’m going to make the decision about what I’m going to do with your email in just a few seconds. Make it clear what you want or are trying to communicate!

Categories: #productivity


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