Is your inbox clogged with emails you just don’t have it in you to respond to? I’ll do that tomorrow, you think. And again the next day. And again. Until it’s lodged safely on the “previous” screen and all that’s left is the niggling sense of guilt that you didn’t do something you were supposed to do. Sound familiar?
It might not be all your fault. So many emails these days are too long and too unclear. They’re harder to respond to because there’s no clear information or ask identifiable. But that’s someone else’s problem, you think. Right? Well, sort of.
What if we all started paying more attention to making our emails shorter, clearer, and more succinct? Think of it as the email revolution. And part of that revolution involves taking these 5 steps to declutter your inbox.
1. Cut it in half
Think before you write. What’s your general expected word count for this particular bit of correspondence? 250 words? Write it out, then see if you can cut it in half, by weeding out unnecessary words, equivocations, and superfluous details. Keep practicing this and eventually you’ll be able to half it before you start writing and save yourself the editing step.
2. Think 5 sentences or bust
This won’t work in every situation, obviously. Discretion here is key. But, whenever possible, try to challenge yourself to send emails of 5 sentences—max.
3. Pyramid it
Journalists often use the pyramid technique when writing news stories. Put the most important information right up front, then the pleasantries and other sundries in decreasing order of importance down the page. That way you reader knows immediately what this email is about and what you need from them.
4. Don’t get lazy
Don’t think of shorter emails as an excuse to slack. We’re talking sharper, better emails—not just one-line, half-baked responses that will only frustrate your colleagues and your boss. Try to see whether you can solve the problem, finish the project, and make the email chain stop at your desk through a bit of careful thinking.
5. Clarity is key
One of the best parts about this new email philosophy is that it will encourage you to ask for what you need and want—clearly, and without hedging bets or hemming and hawing around your questions. Make it easy for people to help you, or say yes to your proposal, or just correspond with you in the course of business. You’ll all be better off.