Keep email short, concise and effective

Last night I wrote an email to a colleague of mine, with a proposal for the design of a team intervention we will facilitate in a few weeks time. Calling my colleague was no option this time: she is hosting trainings in Delhi and Bangalore (India). The time difference is significant, and her working hours are long enough already. Email was the only option.

Before I send out an email, I have learned to carefully check the content before pressing the send-button. I learned the hard way. When I don’t do this carefully, this results in mistakes that I remember for years.

When checking the mail, I realized it was way too long. My notes added up to 627 words, which is a big thing to read for someone who just tumbles out of a plane in India. Well, it is for anyone. This blog contains less words.

This is an ineffective use of email.

I thought back of many trainings, workshops and group interventions this year in various companies, where high work pressure and stress are topics we discuss. Many professionals know the drill: email inboxes on a daily basis fill quicker than you can empty them. The consequence is that you ‘process emails’ usually late at night and in the weekends, experiencing stress from an inbox. This inbox is a strange cooking pot of ingredients: information, actions, things to read, things to do today, things to do someday (but certainly not today) and numerous cc- and bcc-messages where the purpose of copying you is unclear.

People often compromise their work-life balance, to experience a short spike of satisfaction when they succeeded to make the inbox fit one screen again. Only to discover one hour later that reality has bypassed them again.

Make mail short and concise

I thought back of a course of Kevin Kruse ( that I’m studying at the moment. Next to very useful tips about managing your time and managing meetings, he has useful tips about how to work with email.

The most fantastic tip I read is to limit every email to 3 lines or less. Be very clear on the purpose of your mail (information sharing, asking for advice, doing a concrete proposal) and limit yourself to 3 lines maximum. End your emails explaining in one sentence in your signature why you keep your mails so short.

This simple method will force your self to think about purpose of the mail, and to be short and concise. The people you communicate with will benefit, and will hopefully return the favors.

Great suggestion. From today onwards I will experiment with short and focused emails. I allow myself for 5 lines maximum (and maybe later bring this down to 3).

What benefit do I expect?

  • No confusion about the purpose of my mails
  • Replies that are short and concise as well
  • Quicker responses to my mails (as these are easy to process)
  • Improved clarity and understanding
  • Less time wasted processing mails that are not relevant

This provides additional advantages in an international setting. When people from multiple cultures communicate by email, not all of them have English as their primary language. Emails in cross-cultural environments and multi-site project teams are often a source of confusion and irritation. By keeping messages short and to the point, and by stating the purpose of your mail in the first sentence or in the subject line, you help your colleagues in other countries and cultures to interact more effectively with you.

I have adjusted the signature of my mails already!

Do you keep your mails short, concise, to-the-point and effective? Let me know. Send me an email!

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