Writing email seems to be a recurring topic of mine. I receive about 400 messages a day at present, and most of these require an answer. There are mails that get a faster response, and some that take days. Here’s the difference, plus a few more ideas.
One Decision Per Email
It seems counter to cutting down on email to ask you to limit the decisions required in a message to one per email, but I’ve seen it have the opposite effect. Think about choosing to go out to eat: if the first message is, “what day is good for you?”, the second message is, “what type of food do you like?”, and the third message is, “should we invite Jay, even though he laughs a lot and makes it hard to concentrate?”, you’ll see my point. These three questions all have a certain level of decision making to them. The mail on which day (better solved by a phone call) is different from the mail on what type of food, and both are different than whether or not to invite Jay (also probably better solved by a phone call).
Don’t Ever Say “Quick Question.”
I say this because what almost inevitably follows are five to nine paragraphs explaining WHY the question will be asked. It’s as if there’s lots of context needed. It’s almost always not. I’ve written complete strangers and used under 200 words to convey my needs and interests. In fact, I do that often.
Here’s a quick question:
From: Chris Brogan
Subject: Will you register for PodCamp Boston 3?
I’d like for you to register for PodCamp Boston3. It takes place July 19th-20th at the Harvard Medical School. I feel it will be the most powerful and transformative experience you’ve had with media in a long time.
Please consider it: http://podcampboston3.eventbrite.com
Main PodCamp Boston site: http://podcampboston.org
Let me know if you have any questions,
Your Signature File
I’m in between signature files. When I rebuilt my hard drive, my tools for writing a signature with formatting seem to have broken. So, I’m using a plain text one at present. Let’s just say I’m looking at all of your signature files closely.
Good: ways to contact you online and off (never presume your email address is obvious, especially if your email has been forwarded by others).
Good: very brief descriptor of your title and company (if it’s a business email).
Good: link to your primary blog or website
Bad: all kinds of marketing at the bottom
Bad: links to every social network where you belong
That’s my opinion, but if you want to form your own, pay attention to signature files over the next several days. See what you pay attention to, and what gets overlooked.
With the volume of email I receive, some messages get overlooked for a duration of time. Some people follow up perfectly, and others do something that will nearly guarantee that I don’t respond to the second email as well. Here’s what’s useful in a follow-up message:
- Brevity. I probably know I haven’t responded to you, but your message might not be top of mind. Just seeing your name and the words “following up” in the body of the message over a forwarded copy of the last one you sent me will usually jar me into action.
- Simple summary. Maybe your last email was huge and had lots of requirements to it. If you sum these into a few short sentences, it might get me to complete the work.
- Reminder of deadlines. Lots of us work on all kinds of things at the same time. My job alone is challenging, so when you’ve asked me for help with an interview or the like, a little reminder of when you need it (especially if I get two days or three days before the deadline) usually can get me back on track.
Not Just Me
With more and more people overwhelmed, I’m not writing these suggestions and advice to help myself, except insofar as I’m saying that I have the same problems as other people. You might see some advice in here that you wish others would do on YOUR behalf. If so, great. Feel free to forward a link to your friends who need to follow this advice the most, with a loving and courteous message before the link, naturally.
What About You?
What are your ideas for how to improve the state of your inbox? How might you convince people to write emails that get answered faster? Where do you want to correct me?
The Social Media 100 is a project by Chris Brogan dedicated to writing 100 useful blog posts in a row about the tools, techniques, and strategies behind using social media for your business, your organization, or your own personal interests. Swing by [chrisbrogan.com] for more posts in the series, and if you have topic ideas, feel free to share them, as this is a group project, and your opinion matters.
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Photo Credit, juan23for