Specific, purposeful emails are great

When I’m emailing with teammates, I try to do them a few favors.

I make my purpose clear, specific, and up front. I often write the whole email, figure out the real purpose, and then move it into the very first sentence and subject line. I’m a little pessimistic, so I figure I’ve got three sentences, tops, to persuade someone to read an email. They are way more likely to retain at least part of my meaning if there are bullet soundbites for those unlikely to read past the first paragraph. When I want to get down to details, it all goes “under the fold” of the soundbites.

If at all possible, I don’t want to generate Yet Another Meeting. I’ve been in too many meetings that could have been an email. Need to update me on a project? Write it out. Have a simple question to ask? Write it out. Have a complex question to ask? Boil it down to three simple ones, write it out. Need to explore an idea? That’s closer to requiring a meeting! Want to talk about something that requires the sophistication of reading faces and vocal inflections? That requires a meeting, go ahead and schedule one!

What I try to avoid, at all costs, is to throw a bunch of random datapoints or ideas together without drawing a conclusion. Some of the most frustrating emails I’ve read ended with “Thoughts?”. If I’m going to email someone, I’m going to ask a specific question or make a specific point. Ending with “thoughts?” leaves it up to the recipient to guess what the sender wants from the them and then respond in kind.

Don’t ramble, don’t use a meeting when an email will suffice, do make conclusions and do ask specific questions. I will send you email hugs to thank you for respecting my time.

One thought on “Specific, purposeful emails are great

  1. wadewinningham

    Around the time I was about to graduate from college, I asked my step-father at the time, a VP at a global organization, what quality he looked for most in an employee.

    He said, “Bring me solutions, not problems.”

    Your post reminded me of that. Rather than “We’ve got a problem, what do we do?” I’ve always been more “We’ve got a problem. Here’s what I’m planning to do about it and why. Proceed?”

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