Emails are productivity’s worst enemy.
Sure, in 2017 it’s far from being a groundbreaking or shocking statement. Everybody’s talking about it (And it kind of made Tim Ferriss’ Career).
In the age of millennial entrepreneurs and Slack loving tech hipsters, email have been marked as the enemy for a long time.
Yet, leaving trendiness aside, emails are still a great format for collaboration and communication.
So why do people hate emails so much?
Easy, most people suck at writing great emails.
If your inbox is full of 153 messages long email threads, or you have 2,321 unread emails and not sure how to prioritize them – you’re probably a victim of bad emails.
But before we go about blaming email, let’s remember:
Emails don’t waste people’s time. People who write crappy emails waste people’s time.
Teach your team to write great emails
The original reason I sat down to write this post is because it’s crucial for me that everyone on our team at Stardom will learn how to write great emails.
When I recruited the first 3 employees for my agency I found myself reviewing their emails again and again before hitting the ‘send’ button.
So I sat them down and went over my 5 core principles to writing great emails.
Recently, we’ve added 4 new team members – and I found myself in the same email training situation again.
This time, to increase efficiency, I’ve decided to document them so I can share with new employees in the future and also make sure this approach becomes a core part of our DNA.
If you want to improve communication effectiveness in your company’s emails as well – feel free to share this blog.
The 5 key elements to writing better emails
You are probably writing your email in one of two ways:
- Sitting at your computer working on a project / going through emails etc.
- On the go.
In both cases, you have a specific context in mind.
You have all these thoughts running around and you’ve decided to send out an email.
Sometimes these emails can look something like this:
“Hi John, you didn’t send me those reports”
Or like this:
or even this:
You know these emails. You’ve either sent or received those emails.
As a recipient – your first thought to see that email is:
I might get it after a few minutes as I try to find context from our last interaction – but I’m wasting time and energy.
The other option is that now the email thread begins to grow with messages like:
“Hi, I’m not sure which reports you’re referring to. Are you talking about the weekly KPI report?”
“I’m not sure what you mean. What do you want to change with the headlines?”
You see, when your email recipient got the email – he was probably not having the exact same thought you were having and they sure don’t read minds.
This is why it’s important to provide context.
You have to make it as easy as possible for them to understand what the email is about, why you’re sending it and what’s the deliverable.
If not you’ll be drowning in email thread hell and tasks will take 5 times longer to get done.
Here are 3 examples of how the previous email will look like with context provided:
We spoke earlier about the KPI report for client X and you said you’ll send me a copy by the end of the day.
Can you please send them over so I can review them?”
I was going through our blog and I feel like the headlines are not really “getting” our company’s tone of voice.
I feel like they should be more energetic.
Let’s discuss this in our weekly strategy meeting. Can you please add it to the agenda?”
Remember you sent Neil an email earlier about the analytics implementation on client’ s X website – did you ever hear back from him?
If not, I think we should follow up today”.
Doesn’t take long to write – but definitely takes much less time to read, process and write back.
You can close this thread after 1-2 emails tops with actionable deliverables.
2. Topic per email
While I believe every email should be read once (I’ll explain in a different post), being able to find an old relevant conversation is crucial when managing projects or relationships.
Also, easily retrieving information and being able to skim through an email is super important for productivity.
Every email your write should focus on one topic only – it makes the conversation easier to focus on and put into context.
Don’t write one email with tons of different topics that your recipients need to analyze and dissect to understand what are you talking about in every part of your email.
It’s like talking about 3 different things at the same time – it makes it hard to process and act on.
Keep it clean – one topic per email.
3. Attach all relevant information
There’s nothing worse than getting an email that sends you on a scavenger hunt for all the files and relevant information to understand the subject at hand.
When somebody sends an email mentioning data from different reports, or information from different articles and conversations you have to relate to, you now have to start looking for each document separately just to get the email’s context and be able to respond.
Huge time waster. You hate getting those emails, don’t be the one sending those emails.
If you mention a document/article/resource – attach a link or the document to the email.
Your recipient should be able to get all the information needed from your email without going through their Google Drive or Dropbox.
When writing those emails, you’re thinking to yourself: “Oh they’ll get it and I don’t have time to attach all relevant links. It will save time.”
In reality, what happens is that you’ll get a reply saying something like:
“Hi, did you mean this article?”
“I couldn’t find the document, can you please send it over?”
Or worse. You’ll get the reply late – because your recipient couldn’t just answer your email on the go – it’s not a 2-minute task anymore. It’s a project.
Attach all relevant information to your email – you’ll get faster responses and less inbox clutter from all the questions you’ll get on your original email.
4. Organize and use formatting
For some reason, people don’t like formatting their emails.
I can promise you, your email is one of many in your recipient’s inbox. Help them skim through your email as fast as possible using formatting.
Are there any key points you want them to take notice? Mark them in bold so your reader can easily get to them.
Do you have different points in your email you want to make? Format them into a list.
Do you have sections in your email? Use headlines to make it clear.
When I pitch guest posts I usually write a short intro and then add a level 2 headline saying “My guest post idea”.
So if the editor wants to skip through the usual intro and go straight to the main point of the email – he can easily navigate through it.
Help your recipient navigate through your emails with great email formatting.
5. Make it actionable and clear
What do you want your recipient to do?
Give you his opinion? Add this task to Trello? Review a document you sent? Just keep a piece of information in mind?
Don’t make them guess.
The same way you’d always use a Call To Action in your marketing copy, use them for email as well.
Don’t leave your reader hanging thinking “ok, what should I do now?”.
Simply put in a call to action directing them to the outcome you expect to get from the correspondents.
In conclusion – Aspire to make the correspondence as short as possible
Your 1# goal is to not live in your inbox.
You want to be out getting real shit done.
When you write bad emails – you’re going to get long email threads clarifying what your email was about and tons of follow-up questions you could avoid.
Before hitting send, ask yourself:
- Is my message clear enough
- What outcome am I expecting?
- Is there any missing information?
- Did I provide the right context?
Sure, it will take you a little longer to write the email and you think you’re saving time by writing those super-short snippets.
In reality, you’re planting the seeds for email blunders and making your inbox into a time-sucking monster.
Respect other people’s time so you improve your productivity as well as theirs.
Now, be honest with me – how many of these email sins have you done in the recent month?