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Tech Soup

Your emails are too long

I have a confession to make: as much as I love technology and entertainment, my favorite website has nothing to do with either.

In fact, the author of the site - one of the only Internet sites that I can’t live without - firmly believes that we rarely if ever need the latest technology. Regardless, his views on life and how to best live it are usually right on the mark.

If you haven’t heard of it, I strongly suggest you head over to zenhabits.net.

Leo Babauta, the site’s owner/creator, believes in living a minimalist lifestyle. Although you may not always agree with him, his insights on life are eye-opening and well worth checking out.

Babauta, whose site was named as one of the Internet’s best 25 blogs by Time Magazine, recently wrote a column about long emails and I’d like to share it with you this week.

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Post written by Leo Babauta

One of the worst problems I’ve seen when people send me emails is amazingly common: they’re way too long.
I’m a fairly busy guy, but who isn’t busy? I try to be responsive but when I get an incredibly long email there is no way I’ll answer quickly. If an email is short, I’ll shoot out a reply as soon as I read it.

So why send long emails?

Here’s a rule: a long email is never necessary. Never.

Why am I writing this? Is it a rant against people who’ve emailed me? No, it’s a general problem that I’ve seen with email, and I hope this will help people write more effectively.

Why Long Emails Suck

A few brief reasons:

  • It takes too long to read. I don’t have a lot of time to read, and by sending me an essay you are saying your email is more important than the other things I have to read.
  • It doesn’t respect my time. When you send me an email, you’re making a request on my time (to read, process, respond). If you send a long email, you haven’t edited. You haven’t decided what’s most important. You are saying, in effect, that I have to do that instead. You’re sending a message that your time is more important than mine.
  • You don’t get to the point. What’s the main point you’re trying to make? What’s your main question? Spit it out, or it will get buried.
  • You ask too many questions. I won’t be able to answer all of them without half an hour of my valuable day. So don’t ask so many — just ask one or two.
  • I won’t respond. If you’re looking for me to read the email right away, or worse yet, do something for you, good luck with that. I’m not a diva, but I also have things to do and can’t get to every long email. And there are many of them, not just yours.

Rules for Short, Effective Emails

  • Keep it to 5 sentences. No more. I stole this fromfive.sentenc.es of course, but I’ve used it for years and it works. I usually try to do fewer than 5.
  • Figure out your main point. If you think you need more than 5 sentences, you haven’t figured out the key thing you want to say. Take a second to figure it out, and stick to just that.
  • Ask one thing. Don’t ask 10 questions, just ask one. Or two at the most. You’re much more likely to get an answer quickly.
  • Edit. If you stretched it to 8 sentences, cut out 3.
  • Link. If you need to refer to info, include a link to it on the web.
  • Post it. If the info you need to share isn’t on the web, put it there. Create a long answer or long background document (then edit it to the essential info) and post it online. Use your blog, or one of the many free tools for posting info. Create an FAQ if it’s useful. Link to it in your email.

Tech Video of the Week

This CollegeHumour video surmises that many of the classics would be a heck of a lot shorter had cellphones played a part.