This story published in the June 16, 2014 issue of Fortune magazine rings true for every nonprofit we serve. Sending clear, concise emails can help us all stay more productive. You and your employees can waste several hours a day wading through the inbox. Here’s how to say more while mailing less.
1. Quit trying to solve problems by email
Gather everyone for a 15-minute huddle at the same time every day or week. With the right people in the room, it’ll take you seven minutes to resolve issues that might otherwise lead to an hour and a half of emailing back and forth. Plus, since you all know when you’ll see each other next, you’ll spend less time messaging one another to set up other times to talk.
2. Use hyperspecific subject lines
Be nitpicky! It’ll keep everyone from wasting time searching in-boxes for lost messages. To set up a June 15 call about your budget, use the subject line “June 15 call re: budget.” If the date switches to June 17, take three seconds to update it in the subject line. And when you get an email with a vague subject line like “Two questions,” change it to something more precise in your reply.
3. Insist on extreme brevity
Keep emails Twitter-tight, and tell your team not to send you missives that you have to scroll through, advises Joseph McCormack, author of Brief: Make a Bigger Impact by Saying Less. “Write them on a smartphone, for a smartphone,” he suggests. And don’t barrage employees with giant attachments. Instead, take a cue from Jeff Bezos: Read the material silently at the start of a meeting — then discuss it on the spot.
4. Ban emails with multiple parts
More than 43% of professionals abandon complicated emails in the first 30 seconds, according to McCormack’s research. “They either pause and say, ‘I’ll get back to it later’ — or don’t read them,” he says. Ask your team to stick to one topic per email and to send a new message for other, unrelated requests. And if you get a three-part message, respond to each one with a separate, accurately renamed email.
5. Close the conversation quickly
Long acknowledgments or thank-yous can lead to email clutter — but no one wants to be rude by leaving messages unacknowledged. To thank someone or answer a simple yes-or-no question, put your response in the subject line followed by “(EOM)” — short for “end of message.” Recipients will know they don’t need to open the email. Hint: Spell out EOM the first time. It’ll save you from getting a bunch of responses asking what “EOM” means.