How to email

Email can be a hassle – research shows that we spend approximately 30% of our work time on email. That’s 13 hours per week!

This articles has some tips to reduce that time as well as spend it more effectively and follow up structurally.

There’s 3 things to keep in mind when emailing:

– getting your message across effectively

– structuring your mailbox(es) so you don’t do things more than once, can find stuff easily later and can follow up on your emails strucurally

– make sure email doesn’t disturb you

General tip: learn keyboard shortcuts for the email program you use. It’s faster to type a shortcut than it is to move your mouse and click something. Also applies to every other program you use. Keep this graph in mind:

(source: https://xkcd.com/1205/)

Your message

The subject line is the first thing people read – use it wisely!

Have some keywords in there so you can search for the email later on if you have to. For example, a project name or number.

What do you want the recipient to do with your email. Is it a request? Action? Info? Put it in the subject line & make it clear.

Put the cliff notes up front so people read the most important things for sure.

Structure your message properly using The Pyramid Principle.

Write shortly and consisely. People don’t want to read a long email with fancy words and long sentences.

Provide alternatives and limit the total amount of emails sent. Example:

Can we have a meeting?

(que 10 emails back and forth to schedule a meeting time)

vs.

Can we have a meeting?

Some possible times for me are X,Y,Z.

If these times work, please send me a calendar request.

If these times don’t work, please provide 3 alternatives between now and then.

If not, a phonecall tomorrow or thursday?

Structuring your mailbox

We mentioned before to use the subject line – applies for structure as well.

Have one (or more) mailbox ‘Waiting for (reply)’ and go through it daily.

Even better: set up reminders using outlook (right click message – follow up – set date) or a service like followup.cc so you can send reminders when people don’t reply to your emails.

I apply the following rules from Getting Things Done to my mailbox:

The 2min rule prevents me from reading emails twice or thinking about what I have to do more than once.

If I will do something later, I make sure to label my task clearly so I don’t have to read the whole email again and know immediately what to do if I look at the task at hand.

Email & notifications

1 tip: turn everything off. Check email when you want to check email and not when it arrives in your inbox and the notification pops up.

Notifications are interruptions to your work and take you out of flow. You want to stay in flow.

More on this in our article on iPhone settings for maximum productivity and flow.

Books that helped us spend less time on email

 Made To Stick and the SUCCES-model mentioned in the book helped me to get my message to stick.

The principles from Getting Things Done helped me in structuring my work and email.

On writing well is a great book on writing and works just as well for email.

 The Pyramid Principle helps you structurize your writing.

What tips will you implement?

Do you have other tips that aren’t listed in this article?

Further reads

HBR’s How to Write Email with Military Precision article

Our own ‘iPhone settings for maximum productivity and flow