5 pointers on keeping those e-mails tight

Dec 01, 2015 by Ronnie Apteker

One of the secrets to a happy life is to keep things simple. We all tend to overcomplicate everything. It is easier to add layers of complexity to our challenges than it is to get to the point. And if I keep adding to this opening paragraph I will be doing it again.

Simplicity is fundamental, and it requires more effort than meets the eye.

Efficient, but is it effective?

It is so easy to contact someone. We literally can’t hide in this day and age of fast digital communications. E-mail is indeed efficient, but is it effective?

We all know that feeling of inbox anxiety. We have been at a conference all day, or we just got off an overseas flight, or we had a long meeting… the e-mail runneth over. Help!!!

Managing one’s e-mail is a very real modern day stress. Being responsive, keeping up, not missing anything. Phew! So, put yourself in the other person’s shoes, because, we all have the same dilemma. Try keep your e-mails short and focused. Spell check your text and make sure it makes sense. Not everyone speaks good e-mail.

Avoid sounding like: 'If u can read dis, den alz aces. Er, something like dat.' It is not fun trying to decipher incoherent text. So, proof it like an editor and make sure all is concise and easy to read. Make it clear. Be professional.

For me personally, if something is important, I find the best use of e-mail is to send a short few line summary and use the mail to set up time for a face-to-face conversation. Even touching base over the phone can clear things up faster than back and forth mails.

The best meetings are done in person. It takes more time, but it is effective. If something is that important to you, you will put in the time. Hopefully it’s also important to the other person, otherwise you might first need to try break some ice.

Information overload

There is too much of everything these days: digital distraction, junk mail, spam, jokes, mailing lists... it never ends. Try keep this in mind when mailing people. I use a bit of strategy when it comes to sending mail. People close to me have routines I am familiar with. I know the best time to mail them.

If I send jokes or perhaps something interesting to read, like an article on a new technology, I try do this in the evenings or on weekends, when people can actually relax and enjoy.

When it comes to a cold calling e-mail, I would not send it first thing in the morning. Afternoons are generally better, say after 4 pm, when the day is winding down.

Like the Buddhists tell us, it’s best to avoid attachments. This is my view, and I could be wrong. But I personally prefer it when the gist comes in the body of the mail, not as an attachment. The attachment is an extra click action and it takes more time. Also, I can’t easily comment on the attachment if I am needing to give a response. If the attachment is a one page text document, then that can easily be cut-and-paste into the body of the mail – more user friendly in my experience.

Again, keep e-mails tight – don’t waffle - especially if it is about business. Like that old saying goes “I would send you a shorter e-mail but I don’t have time.” That is a paradox that will keep us all busy until the small hours of the night.

Think before you send. Perhaps ask a trusted colleague to check your e-mail before you send it to a person you are trying to make an impression with. So much about life can boil down to one single moment. If an e-mail you are about to send is that important, then give it the time it needs. That shows respect for the other person.

The nudge

We all get driven crazy waiting for replies. Not everyone is responsive, not everyone cares. Perhaps it’s simply not important to the other person. It kills us as we pace up and down waiting for an answer. Where do we stand? What is the story? Are we in our out? E-mail can make or break a day. We all need closure, for better or for worse.

Sometimes we want to mail out again. The suspense is too much. But, we don’t want to annoy or appear desperate. This is when a gentle nudge can help. Sometimes people simply forget to reply. Their inbox is overloaded and our mail is lost in the clutter. A creative push may be the ticket. Have a look here at the Coolfidence Nudges for some ideas. Simply to remind that person that you are there. Something like the Double Take or Short Stop is always fun to send. Also considering showing them Some Respect – if you know the person well this will make them smile, and it will be a well-executed nudge.

Do’s and don’ts

Be careful of the BCC – it is evil. End of discussion. I generally avoid it.

The CC is the less evil option, but it can lead to evil. Especially when you are trying to make a point and CC a whole bunch of people to get attention. Probably don’t do that. It often annoys people. If you have something to say, then say it without the theatrics. For jokes and fun stuff, sure, but if you are having a serious business moment then give it some thought. You don’t go knocking on someone’s door with 10 people standing behind you chanting your name and high-fiving you – be cool.

Attachments should be avoided where possible. Trust me on this.

Don’t e-mail people intense stuff to absorb on a Monday morning. I can’t emphasize this enough.

Big, fat e-mail signatures are a terrible waste of space. Try keep this to a line or two.

No one likes a spammer. Enough said.

Don’t fight over email – that is the golden rule of all golden rules. If you have a problem with someone then take it offline.

Share good news – people like those kinds of mails.

Get to the point

E-mail is old school. Today’s youth are more into things like shorter WhatsApps. E-mail allows us to go on and on. Put in effort – be concise.

Don’t be sending someone a long e-mail with blah blah blah … and with an ending that goes “What do you think?” That is disempowering to say the least.

Summing up

Is it e-mail or email? Whatever it is, it is here to stay in the business world. It is a powerful tool when used well. As my friend Dave in Boston reminds me “I answer e-mail for a living”. Yes, sometimes it does feel like we are a slave to the inbox. Use mail to set up an appointment and go talk in person. Nothing is more effective. It takes time to get across town, but it will save you a lot more in the long run, and bring peace of mind. Human interaction is what life is all about, and e-mail can be used to facilitate that.

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