Simplify Your Email to Have a Better Life
By Travis Hellstrom
Email is a tyrant. It wants your attention now and it doesn’t care about your goals, your deadlines, your purpose, or your dreams. When you’re a slave to your inbox you spending countless hours fighting fires, feeling distracted, scattered, and overwhelmed.
But the truth is, email is a tool that’s supposed to make your life easier. Email should serve you, not the other way around.
The Atlantic has reported that the average American spends 13 hours a week, or nearly a third of our office time, on email.
That’s 650 hours a year that we’re NOT spending on our most important work.
I think that’s crazy, and I want to help you get some of that time back.
In this simple guide I want to help you use email less and use it better.
I want to free you from the tyranny of email.
Here are a few ways to get your email under control forever.
Don’t Check Email Early in The Morning
Some of your most creative and powerful time is first thing in the day. Don’t go straight to email or social media. Or if you must, write your emails in a word editor with the internet off.
Don’t Write More Than 5 Sentences
Cut back on email length and never write an email over 5 sentences. If you have a lot of information to cover, consider linking to a concise document or scheduling a call or 10-minute group meeting instead. More here.
Pick Your Most Meaningful Work First
There is a worldwide obsession with productivity, optimizing and hacking life. What many of us want instead is meaningful work. Don’t pick the easiest emails or get distracted. Pick the most meaningful work in your inbox. More here.
Commit to Reversing the Email Spiral
Email is an attention epidemic because the average time taken to respond to an email is greater, in aggregate, than the time it took to create. This creates a downward spiraling effect.
One of my favorite tools is Unroll.me which helps you to easily unsubscribe to hundreds of emails all at once for free. Personally I’ve unsubscribed to over 1500+ email lists that I didn’t even know I was on. Check it out here at unroll.me.
10 Rules to Reverse the Email Spiral
From The Email Charter by Chris Anderson
1. Respect Recipients' Time
This is the fundamental rule. As the message sender, the onus is on YOU to minimize the time your email will take to process. Even if it means taking more time at your end before sending.
2. Short or Slow is not Rude
Let's mutually agree to cut each other some slack. Given the email load we're all facing, it's OK if replies take a while coming and if they don't give detailed responses to all your questions. No one wants to come over as brusque, so please don't take it personally. We just want our lives back!
3. Celebrate Clarity
Start with a subject line that clearly labels the topic, and maybe includes a status category [Info], [Action], [Time Sens] [Low Priority]. Use crisp, muddle-free sentences. If the email has to be longer than five sentences, make sure the first provides the basic reason for writing. Avoid strange fonts and colors.
4. Quash Open-Ended Questions
It is asking a lot to send someone an email with four long paragraphs of turgid text followed by "Thoughts?". Even well-intended-but-open questions like "How can I help?" may not be that helpful. Email generosity requires simplifying, easy-to-answer questions. "Can I help best by a) calling b) visiting or c) staying right out of it?!"
5. Slash Surplus cc's
cc's are like mating bunnies. For every recipient you add, you are dramatically multiplying total response time. Not to be done lightly! When there are multiple recipients, please don't default to 'Reply All'. Maybe you only need to cc a couple of people on the original thread. Or none.
6. Tighten the Thread
Some emails depend for their meaning on context. Which means it's usually right to include the thread being responded to. But it's rare that a thread should extend to more than 3 emails. Before sending, cut what's not relevant. Or consider making a phone call instead.
7. Attack Attachments
Don't use graphics files as logos or signatures that appear as attachments. Time is wasted trying to see if there's something to open. Even worse is sending text as an attachment when it could have been included in the body of the email.
8. Give these Gifts: EOM NNTR
If your email message can be expressed in half a dozen words, just put it in the subject line, followed by EOM (= End of Message). This saves the recipient having to actually open the message. Ending a note with "No need to respond" or NNTR, is a wonderful act of generosity. Many acronyms confuse as much as help, but these two are golden and deserve wide adoption.
9. Cut Contentless Responses
You don't need to reply to every email, especially not those that are themselves clear responses. An email saying "Thanks for your note. I'm in." does not need you to reply "Great." That just cost someone another 30 seconds.
If we all agreed to spend less time doing email, we'd all get less email! Consider calendaring half-days at work where you can't go online. Or a commitment to email-free weekends. Or an 'auto-response' that references this charter. And don't forget to smell the roses.