Every day, workers send about 200 billion emails. Not surprisingly, the average worker spends 28 percent of the workday managing email. That's a huge productivity drain, and if you're using email like most people, you're only making things worse.

While I've often written about sales and marketing emails, I've not yet provided short, easy-to-follow rules for day-to-day emailing. Here you go:

1. Use email sparingly.

The old-school concept of email is that "information is valuable," and therefore every email message is a gift to the recipient. Today, however, everyone has information a-plenty; what's in short supply (and therefore valuable) is time.

An email forces the recipient to spend precious time assessing its priority, reading its contents, and taking action, even if it's only to delete the email. Therefore, only send work emails when they're necessary and pertinent.

2. Avoid CCs and distribution lists.

While there are times when an email should be sent to an entire group, sending copies too widely guarantees that too many people get too much information. This clogs up everyone's inbox and wastes everyone's time.

Conventional wisdom is, "When in doubt, copy." That's stupid. Emails are an imposition on those who don't need the information in them. The smarter, better rule is, therefore: "When in doubt, don't copy."

3. Skip the formalities.

Wondering whether to use "Dear Mr. Jones" or "Hi, Joe" is a waste of time and effort, as is considering whether to end the email with "Sincerely" or "Best Wishes." Isn't it time we scrapped the quaint formalities of the pen-and-quill era?

Start with a sentence that's meaningful. Don't waste time inquiring about my health, my weekend, or the weather. Get the point for both our sakes. When you're done making your point, stop writing. Period.

4. Use commonplace words.

Corporate-speak bulks up an email while making it harder to read, and fancy verbiage forces the recipient to waste effort decoding your meaning. Work is an everyday behavior so use everyday words. Example:

Wrong:

"Our go-to-market, customer-focused, innovation strategy should enable customers to utilize a state-of-the-art graphical user interface to submit product enhancement requests."

Right:

"We need an easy-to-use screen that lets customers complain or comment."

5. Write simple sentences.

Long, convoluted sentences are hard to read and even harder to understand. Short, simple sentence save time and get the point across.

Rule of thumb: no sentences longer than 15 words.

Wrong:

  • "Due to the requirement for due diligence, you are being requested to provide complete details of month to month payments that will ensue in the event of a buy decision."
  • "The first step in the process should be an overview analysis of the relevant portions of the contract with a mind to expose any critical errors that might prove disadvantageous in the future."

Right:

  • "We need to see the financing details before we buy."
  • "Review the contract to see if there are any time-bombs."

6. Create short paragraphs.

Most people read emails on phones rather than desktops or laptops. On phones, long paragraphs bleed off the screen, making them difficult to read. Use bulleted and numbered lists to make similar paragraphs easier to read and understand.

Rule of thumb: no paragraph longer than three sentences.

If you'd like to see examples of this style of writing paragraphs, just pick out any of my blog posts at random, or read one of my books. I'm obsessive about avoiding paragraphs that have too many sentences in them.

7. Send long documents as attachments.

When sending a long document, attach it to the email in PDF format rather than paste the text into the body of the email. Provide a quick summary in the body of the email to provide context.

Email programs (especially on phones) are optimized to display short messages in fairly large fonts. A separate file makes it easier to read the long document full screen (with fonts and formatting) or print it out (without the email thread).

Following these simple rules will make your emails more effective, your company more successful, and reduce everyone else's information overload.

Published on: Oct 3, 2016
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