With the large majority of today's communication transmitting through emails, more and more of my clients are attempting to bring structure to email communication.
The informality of the email channel facilitates a loosening of standard structure and conciseness from the old school business letter. That, in and of itself, it not a huge issue, but the volume of emails creates a multiplier effect on our time to sift through ineffectively written emails. To put this into perspective, there are currently one billion business email accounts which account for 100 billion emails sent and received each day.
Try this PAR method (Problem, Action, Result) to better structure your thinking and emails, so your recipients can reply more quickly and effectively.
Context is king. Provide brief overview of the problem or situation to ensure you and the receiver are in synch. Do not assume knowledge or common understanding of the situation unless you have clearly established this beforehand. If you cannot provide reasonable context in a short paragraph or two, then either include an attachment for review or reconsider if an email is the right communication channel (vs. a phone call or meeting).
Action recommended / requested
Be specific. Blurry expectations lead to lead to blurry places. Clearly and concisely describe the action you recommend taking or requested the other party to take. Avoid "I need this by the end of the week". Be specific with something like, "I need final proposal emailed to me by 5:00 pm ET on Friday, Oct. 10".
Answer the "why" question. Any action is taken as a means to achieve some result. Identify the expected outcome and benefits of the action to ground both parties in why you are doing this. To the extent you can quantify the result you will be better equipped to assess, correct and recognize progress.
Here are a couple other email rules I have seen to help manage emails and time:
- If an issue is not resolved after five e-mails, you must meet (phone or in person) to resolve the issue.
- Use subject line pre-fixes to help the receiver prioritize (911 = need reply within 24 hours; 611 need reply within 3 business days; 411 = information only)
Even if the PAR method conservatively saves you only 30 seconds per email, today's average emailer would save nearly an hour per day. So, think PAR and save time!