My Email Rules

Email consumes hours upon hours stealing opportunities to do real work. Several people have devised plans to reclaim this time, so I stole the ones that work for me.

These rules have two goals: to respect my time and that of the receiver.

1. Keep as short as possible.

“I’m sorry to write you a long letter, as I did not have time to write a short one.”

Mark Twain

Invest a little of time upfront to ensure the reader can spend as little time as possible dealing with your email. Re-read and edit harshly. Aim for FiveSentenc.es or FourSentenc.es or Three or Two.

2. Answer in batches.

Process emails at set times (9 am, 4 pm and 9 pm) leaving the rest of the day open for deep work. Many emails work themselves out before I get to them without my interference.

Turn off notifications. Email is not instant messenging. It’s meant to be asynchronous.

During this batch processing, collect all replies to the same person to be sent in one email. Use the iPad’s Split Screen with Drafts and Mail to collect all the responses in Drafts, then send from there.

3. Don’t send work emails on the weekend (or in the night).

Save your nights for sleeping and weekends for rejuvenating.

Plus sending email at odd hours might set the expectation you expect a response. If nights and weekends are the times you can go through email, Airmail (and other programs) have “Send later” features that let you compose at night and send in the morning.

4. Don’t expect immediate replies.

If you’re not responding immediately, don’t expect others to do the same.

5. Aim to close the loop.

Avoid emails volleys that bounce back and forth yet go nowhere.

  • → “let’s have coffee?”
  • “great, when are you free?”
  • → “how about 2?”
  • “no good, have a meeting. Three?”

Provide enough information so both the receiver and I can be done with the issue. Offer some options “Let’s have coffee. I’m free Monday at noon, Tuesday at 4 pm or Thursday at 10 am. If none of these work, call me and we’ll figure out a time.”

If more information is needed, don’t send a placeholder “I’ll get back to you with this info.” Postpone sending the email until I have the information to send.

If there are more than 5-6 back and forth messages, just call/message/slack the person.

6. Everything doesn’t automatically warrant a response.

Don’t jump on the “Congratulations” email chain when someone blast emails a group about a new promotion. And don’t feel guilty about not responding. Sending “Congrats!” is literally the least you could do. If you did any less, you’d be doing nothing. Congratulate them in person instead. That will be much more meaningful.

7. Reply to the minimum people necessary.

Don’t use reply-all unless it’s absolutely necessary. Eliminate any CC’s and BCC’s unless they’re needed. You’re doing them a favor.

8. Make the subject as informative as possible.

A subject of “FYI” means nothing, but “FYI: TPS reports you asked for, no response back needed” is much more informative. If I can fit the whole email in the subject line, even better: “SUBJECT: I’m free for coffee Monday at noon. See you there.”

9. Get rid of quotes

Unless these are needed for context, just delete the pages of nested quotes.

10. Minimize attachments

Don’t send graphics as signatures. Don’t send text in an attachment (Word) that could have easily been included in the body of the email.

11. The best email is the one not sent

Enough said on that one.

References

  1. http://five.sentenc.es
  2. http://www.emailcharter.org
  3. http://calnewport.com/books/deep-work/
My Email Rules