According to a recent study by McKinsey Global Institute, the average American worker spends 28% of the workweek reading and answering email. I don’t know who McKinsey surveyed for this statistic. Most of the people I know feel like they spend most of their days in their inbox and strive for a mere 28%. In case you are one of them, here are a few suggestions that will help you reduce your e-overload.
Pose a question in your subject line. It is much easier for the recipient to process and respond to a message when they immediately understand what is required of them.
Limit the contents of your emails to five sentences or less if possible. A short paragraph will fit within most preview panes, increasing the chances that your message is read promptly by the recipient.
Offer multiple choice responses. It’s easy to fire off a quick response. The emails that get stuck in your inbox are the ones that require thoughtful consideration. Sadly, we have less time for careful analysis these days, so minimize the burden by providing a decision tree. For example, if you are asking about the status of a complicated decision, jump start their thinking like this:
“Hi Jan, I was wondering about the status of the proposal I sent you last month. I know how busy you are so let me know if you are dealing with any of these scenarios:
I haven’t had a chance to review the proposal yet. Please contact me next week.
I have reviewed the proposal and have a question about it. Let’s schedule a time to discuss.
I have forwarded the proposal for approval and should have an answer for you by ___.
We have decided to go in another direction.”
It’s much easier for Jan to respond with “B” than it is for her to type out an explanation that will satisfy your query and set your expectations.
So, if you find yourself among the 28% (or jealous of them), use these three rules to minimize your email time and maximize your sanity.