It’s my contention that 95% of the world is using email wrong. Or maybe it’s just 95% of the people I email with. Either way, I think that emailing is more than just pounding out a few words and hitting send. A few thoughtful, time saving approaches to email can change how you communicate entirely, and make the process easier and faster for everyone you email, including yourself.
Will this change your life? Probably not, but I did once get complimented on my emailing style, which was followed with a substantial job offer.
1. Subject Line
Be explicit and clear with a subject line.
A subject line is a quick way to tell your reader what they’re going to be reading. It’s not a BuzzFeed article, “The contents of this email will shock you…” It’s not a space for a greeting “Hey!” It’s not a space for nothing “No Subject.” If you’re writing an email with no subject, just don’t send it, you’re wasting time.
A subject line will be used to prepare a reader, focus the conversation in following emails, and to index the conversation for future dates.
Let’s say you’re talking about starting a business selling gum ball machines with a few friends, a subject line like, “Investment Capital for Dum Gum Ball Machines” makes sense. I can immediately see that it’s about Investment Capital for Dum Gum Ball Machines. “Money Gum Ball” is a weaker subject line. Is there going to be a gum ball made of cash? Will you win money if you get a certain gum ball, or is this a way to get money? You may think it will be easy to remember because you wrote it, however it may not be as easy to remember for everyone on the email. It also may not be easy to remember in three months when you want to find that email that had the name of a investor who might want to give you money.
Be explicit and clear with a subject line.
If you repeatedly use the same type of subjects like “Dum Gum Ball Meeting Notes,” Don’t be afraid to add more specific identifiers to your subject line. “Dum Gum Ball Meeting Notes — Business Plan Write Up” or “Dum Gum Ball Meeting Notes — 4/12/14.” More specific headlines on repeatedly used emails will make them easier to index, easier to reference in the future, and keep everyone on track as to what the discussion actually is. Which brings me to…
2. Thread Integrity
Think of an email chain as a single thought, a discussion on a single subject. The more thoughts happening an email, the more things to read, and the harder to grasp important points. So, when you’re on an email chain, preserve thread integrity, make sure an email chain stays about a single thought.
Let’s use an example of you and a few friends chatting about when you’re all going to meet up to go bowling on an email chain. Discussion of times, driving arrangements, and ribbing Scott about his 47 last game are all pertinent things to the subject of meeting up to go bowling.
It would however, be unwise to add to the discussion your thoughts on your bowling friend’s new business selling gum ball machines. Those are different thoughts. They need to stay separated. So, if you’d like to begin that discussion, start a new email chain with the same people with the new subject.
If you have multiple thoughts going on in one chain, it’s easy to loose track of them over email and have both of them discussed ineffectively.
In the previous example, if you’re asking, 1. “When does everyone want to meet for bowling?” And then several emails later, 2 “How much does everyone want to invest in the first gum ball machine?” It’s easy for a replier to not respond to one of the questions. They may have answered the first question before the second question came up and not think to be looking for a question. Or they may come in late and never even see the first question and think the whole thread is about the new subject that had nothing to do with why the email was started.
Make sure an email chain stays about a single thought.
A second important reason is it makes referencing previous emails harder too. Say one of your friends later decides, I think $20,000 is too much to invest in Dum Gum Balls, and the rest of you are sure he signed off on it. How will you search for that email? When you’re searching your email with ‘Dum Gum Balls’ and the bowling chain pops up, you’re likely to not look there because it appears to be chain about bowling, not your gum ball business.
3. Action items
Action items tell your readers what you need them to do. Writing clear, concrete action items in your email will make your emails more focused and make it easier for your readers to do important tasks.
Let’s say you’ve just had your Dum Gum Ball meeting, and things are moving fast. There’s a bunch of tasks that need to get done and you’re sending the email to make sure it all gets done. A common way of doing this is a single ugly block of text:
Someone said they thinks they have a friend at a venture capital firm, they’re gonna talk to him. Scott’s gonna look at the pictures and give feed back. Tom’s gonna meet up with Scott. Jason said he could go ahead and look into putting together a fun Gum Ball Machine Prototype and send photos to Scott. Jacob’s gonna find pricing for space at Chuck E’ Cheese.
I’m Scott, what am I doing? Looking at pictures… What pictures? I’m meeting with Tom too… why… Uhh… This is a mess.
Make clear, action items. Use Bullet points, bolding, underlining whatever you have to do. Make an important tasks look like a check list. I want to be able to look and see exactly what needs to get done. Also, if you’re assigning people to tasks, use their name right at the top.
Jill— Talk to venture capital friend, let us know what he thinks of idea.
Tom & Scott — Meet up and clean up the business plan.
Jason — Build prototype machine and send photos to Scott for review
Scott — Review Photos and share design feedback with group.
Jacob — Find pricing on space at Chuck E’ Cheese.
With a list like format, there’s no question as to who has to do what. There’s no confusion or mess or puzzle solving. Just clear tasks that need to be done.
4. Reply All
Reply all gets people into trouble and leads to a lot of pointless emails in inboxes.
If you get a group email, make a conscious thought, “Does everyone need to see my reply to this?” In many cases the answer will be yes, but, in many other cases the answer will be no.
In an earlier example a group of friends were emailing about bowling night. Let’s say someone asked, “Does anyone need a ride?” When you go to respond, “I need a ride,” it makes sense to send this to everyone on the email, as any member of the chain may have space in their car for you, and may offer to pick you up.
If someone emails, “Hey, I’m gonna reserve shoes for us,Wednesday October 1st, at 10:oo PM let me know your size.” Not everyone on that chain needs to know you’re a size 15, just the person asking. You may think, “Eh what’s the big deal in sending my response to everyone?” Fair point, but myself and many people don’t like to get more emails than they need. It’s just one more thing you’re putting in their inbox they have to do. They have to open your email, see that it says size 16, decide this email has nothing to do with them, and then delete it or whatever. It’s a small waste of time, but a waste of time regardless.
5. Time and Date
Make dates and times clear. It sounds simple, but for some reason people constantly screw this one up.
Wednesday, August 31, 7:00 PM.
That. Use that format!
It also makes it easier for people using Google Calendar to quickly add events to their calendar.
6. All Necessary Information
I’ll expand on time and date further and say, include all necessary information. It may seem redundant or like people may already know, but go ahead and make it more clear than it needs to be. Clarity will make emailing more efficient and cut down on emails with follow up questions.
Addresses, meeting times, things to bring, agenda, these are all pieces of necessary information that are often left out of emails and cause follow up emails.
Try writing emails clear enough that someone could figure it out everything they need to know in a 10 second walk to their car before they drive to a meeting with you. If your email that says, “See everyone at 8″ it’ll send your reader looking for addresses, meeting times, and if they need to bring anything.
A clear email will get everyone on board
See everyone at Friday, August 29th at 8:00 AM at In-N-Out 922 Gayley Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90024.
Don’t forget to bring a shirt you don’t mind getting ketchup on.
7. Make It Matter
Why are you emailing? Give me a clear, good reason to read your email. Email with purpose. We’re all busy and inundated with notifications, pointless emails don’t make life easier.
If you’re emailing with a want, make that want clear.
If you’re emailing with an answer, make your answer clear. Think a few steps ahead to any potential follow ups and answer those too! If one asks if you want go to lunch, why not respond with a yes, a suggestion of time date, and place you’d like. Just because your friend is not as good at emailing as you, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make it easier on everyone by using your pro emailing tactics.
Any other must do tactics to email I’m missing, or horrific emailing stories? Talk to me, @Perlstein. No,I’m not giving you my email just yet.