How To Keep A Job In This Economy – Productivity

It seems that email is taking over as one of the main forms of business correspondence in the American workplace. Americans spend roughly 2 hours a day checking email, or a quarter of the normal workday. That’s a lot. Not to mention the time spent checking personal email accounts at home.

As the amount of email in our inboxes keeps rising, I’ve begun to notice a backlash toward email and other types of technological accessibility, such as blackberries or cell phones. Thousands of people are taking “email diets” or foregoing email accounts altogether.

I think email is too valuable to the modern business to just give-up on. However, I do think we can be smarter about how, what and to whom we write emails. I think we learn from Europeans and start spending more time “crafting” each email as if it were a true business correspondence rather than an instantaneous record of our immediate thoughts.

Here is my formula for writing effective emails that people will actually read and respond to:

Descriptive Subject Lines
Emails with subject lines like “hey!” or “wazzup?” might be ok for personal emails between friends, but when you’re competing for email time from the CEO of your company or an important customer you want to make sure it’s your subject line that grabs their attention. Be descriptive about your email, making sure to include important points while staying within 1 line of text.

Short Paragraphs
Email paragraphs should be no more than 3 – 5 lines of text. Studies have shown that reading text on screen is a lot harder on the eyes than reading printed text on a page, which is why making paragraphs short is the key to getting people to read everything in your email.

Important Points First
Emails should also be written in a journalistic style: most important, “newsworthy” and current information first, followed by action items and any necessary background information last. People tend to skim or even just skip the body of emails, so make sure you have the important stuff right at the top.

Bulleted Lists
People like to scan things on a computer screen rather than read through heavy blocks of text. This is why bulleted lists are a great way to present information, especially if you are addressing an email to multiple recipients with multiple action items or questions in need of answering. Include a recipient’s name next to the action item and you have an even better chance of getting that person to respond quickly, since people are drawn to their own names.

Ask For A Response
If you need a response by a certain date, be sure to say so in your email. With so many emails flooding inboxes per day, it’s easy for emails to get lost in the shuffle and forgotten. However, by putting a clear response time in the email, people will assume the matter is urgent and be more willing to respond right away.

This post was originally published on April 7, 2008.
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2 responses »

  1. This is really good advice.

    I’d spend that the higher up the food chain who was getting the email, the more time I spent working on it. The more work that I put into an email, the shorter the email.

    I’d give an executive summary then I’d explain further as the email went on. My wife told me that if it was important, it needed to be in the first paragraph.

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