We often worry about how to manage our inboxes and fret over the workload of too much incoming email. In my personal journey to become better at email, I’ve found that only half the problem is my inbox. The other half, my outbox, is equally important.
Here’s a few quick tips that I follow when sending email.
Keep it short
Composing a long email is a waste of time. I’ve found that if I have complex thoughts or emotions about a certain issue, it’s much better to work things out face-to-face, over the phone, or via video chat. There’s an incredible amount of value in the back-and-forth of conversation for working out issues and exploring ideas. Longer thoughts or musings, where a response from another person isn’t required, are probably better suited to other media such as a blog posts.
Keep it actionable
What information do I expect from the recipient of the email? I try to ask at least one question in any email where I expect a response. By asking specifically for what I want, I’m making it easier and faster to reply.
Any style is fine
Top-post? Bottom-post? Who cares… in my quest to keep a clean inbox, I’ve gotten creative in how I reply. My top priority is clear communication. For a short reply, I’ll usually just quickly post it at the top, but when addressing multiple issues, I try to respond inline for clarity. As long as the email I’m sending is clear and readable, the style isn’t important.
One paragraph per thought
By breaking email up into more paragraphs with fewer sentences per paragraph, the email instantly becomes easier to digest
One stylistic rule I do try to stick with is to break up separate thoughts in to separate paragraphs. I find it difficult to parse paragraphs that are more than a few sentences long anyway. By breaking email up into more paragraphs with fewer sentences per paragraph, the email instantly becomes easier to digest. It’s also easier to reply to each separate thought.
Quick and imperfect
As with almost every task in life there’s a tradeoff between perfection and time. I highly value quick responses for back-and-forth communication so it’s more important for me to respond quickly than to have the perfect reply. Even if I need to do a bit more work on the issue, I find it nice to respond quickly and let the sender know I’m working on it.
I actually spend a minute or two on each email I send trying to make it more friendly and nice (maybe I’m not naturally the nicest person? Ha.). Asking how someone is doing, how their life is going, just saying “hello,” or wishing them a good weekend seems to go a long way in building better relationships via email. I treat email as a task-based medium and I try to keep it productive and positive. If I need to work out an issue where my thoughts aren’t so friendly and nice (it happens), I’ve found it’s better to reach out in person or over the phone.
With these rough guidelines, I’ve found that I’m sending better email and receiving higher quality replies. I’m far from perfect at managing my inbox, but I’m working on making email work better for me.