McKinsey and Company released a 2012 survey showing the time spent by an average worker in reading and answering emails was 28% of the work day! In a 2013 article Stephanie Vozza discusses how people can increase the productivity of their emails to claw back some of this wasted time.
She reminds us that if you are writing long emails you’ll probably find recipients are skimming through the content (if they bother to read it) and likely putting it aside with the intention of taking action at a later time. Stephanie writes that evidence suggests anyone writing an email of more than five sentences should understand that the chances that a reader will go through all of it are minimal, whereas five sentences or fewer will likely be read quickly and often elicit an instant reply.
What about productivity?
Guy Kawasaki uses this 5 sentence rule and provides four basic guidelines to allow you to get the right balance between brevity and not appearing rude or impolite. His guidelines on how you can be productive in writing emails are as follows:
1. Focus on five simple questions:
When someone reads your email they need to be able to quickly identify (a) who you are; (b) what you want; (c) why are you contacting them; (d) why they should take action; (e) what they do next.
2. Remove excess detail to maximize chances of getting a response:
Read the email before sending and remove excessive information. Are your emails trying to tell a story, and if so, why? Check your own inbox and see how many unread or unactioned emails are just sitting there because they are too long and contain superfluous information.
3. Stay focused by writing shorter:
Imposing a five sentence rule on yourself forces you to think in a more focused manner. This not only helps you to save your time, but it also saves the recipient. A shorter email allows the recipient to act more quickly and increases your chances of a reply.
Stephanie’s article refers to web designer Mike Davidson who created five.sentenc.es, a website that explains the 5 sentence philosophy. As a result of visiting this website I’m now trialling the following text as a part of my email signature.
Q: why is this email 5 sentences or less?
A: five sentences is a personal policy that all email responses, regardless of recipient or subject, will be five sentences or less. It’s that simple. It is intended to reduce inbox overflow; it is NOT intended to be impolite
4. Don’t shorten an email offering praise!
The only qualification to these guidelines is that you should write a long email if your intention is to offer praise – no email of praise will be too long for the recipient.
Click the following link to read Stephanie Vozza’s article Productivity Lifesaver: The 5-Sentence Email
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