Tips #4 – How to write effective emails

‘One look at an email can rob you of 15 minutes of focus. One call on your cell phone, one tweet, one instant message can destroy your schedule, forcing you to move meetings, or blow off really important things, like love, and friendship’ – Jacqueline Leo

When talking about efficiency, 2 words are coming out: SIMPLE and EASY.

Below, I summarized 3 rules to respect as good practice to gain in time, clarity and efficiency:

1. Subjects with keywords

The first thing that your email recipient sees is your name and subject line, so it’s critical that the subject clearly states the purpose of the email, and specifically, what you want them to do with your note.

The best way is to standardise your e-mail title and always start them with on of the following KEYWORD:

  • [ACTION] – Compulsory for the recipient to take some action
  • [SIGN] – Requires the signature of the recipient
  • [INFO] – For informational purposes only, and there is no response or action required
  • [DECISION] – Requires a decision by the recipient
  • [REQUEST] – Seeks permission or approval by the recipient
  • [COORD] – Coordination by or with the recipient is needed

 

The next time you email your direct reports a status update, try using the subject line: INFO – Status Update. And if you need your manager to approve a payment, you could write REQUEST payment. If you’re a project manager who requires responses on project schedule from several people, type ACTION Update schedule.

These demarcations might seem obvious or needlessly exclamatory because they are capitalized. But your emails will undoubtedly stand out in your recipient’s inbox, and they won’t have to work out the purpose of your emails. (It also forces you to think about what you really want from someone before you contribute to their inbox.)

2. Add a bottom line

Receiving hundreds of emails a week, goinf straight to the point is essential.

The best way to do so is to start your email with a short statement that declares the purpose of the email and action required (If any).

This statement  should quickly answer the 5 Why’s (Who, What, Where, When and Why). Example:


Subject:[INFO] – Payment cycle policy change

Eric,

Bottom Line: Treasury will perform 2 payment sessions per month (Instead of one) starting January 1st.

Background:
•This is an effort toward suppliers who struggle about our one day per month payment session. It helps improving the relationship we have with them that will lead to easier negociations in the future.
•All members of the management committee supported this decision.


Eric knows that no response is required because it was marked INFO. He also quickly grasps the information in the email because of the Bottom Line. Because this is a big change in payment policy, background details are provided to show that the decision is final, supported by management, and intended to result in positive effects for the company.

3. Be economical !

It’s obisous to say that short emails are more effective than long ones.

  • Try to fit all content in one pane, so the recipient doesn’t have to scroll.
  • Eschew the passive voice: It tends to make sentences longer. Instead, use active voice, which puts nouns ahead of verbs, so it’s clear who is doing the action. By using active voice, you are making the “verbs do the work for you.” Instead of, “The factroy was screwed up by flooding,” say, “Flooding screwed up the factory.”

Even though short emails are usually more effective, long emails abound. If an email requires more explanation, you should list background information after the Bottom Line as bullet points so that recipients can quickly grasp your message, like in the above example.

By adopting this methods, you will introduce clarity to your correspondence and that of your colleagues and clients and increase your efficiency and communication.

 

Thanks a lot for reading and let me know what you feel about this in the comments !

Cheers

R.

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