Email is maligned as a time-waster. But I find email to be an incredibly powerful tool when used properly.

I talk a lot about the inbound side — inbox zero, batch processing, etc. — but how about SENDING emails?

If you are good at sending emails, your life will be simpler, because people will have an easier time doing what you need them to do.

  1. Be as pointed and direct as possible. What are you trying to say? What do you need?
  2. Structure the email.
    1. Opening: Context. What is the purpose of this email?
      1. Example: “Hi, I wanted to check in on the status of…”
    2. Meat: Communicate the information or ask the question.
      1. “We are concerned that the current direction isn’t on brand.”
    3. Action items: What’s going to happen next?
      1. “Can you send me the latest files by EOD?”
    4. Signoff: Thanks, [your name].
      1. Anything more and you’re playing with it, darling.
  3. Many times you are sending an email to ask someone to do something. Try to keep it to one request per email. Make the question obvious (I usually ask it in the subject). Name the person if multiple people are on the string. Use a question mark.
    1. Bad: “It would be great if you could send those over so I can review them on the plane.”
    2. Good: “Lindsey, can you send the files by EOD?”
  4. Write at a third-grade level. One or two sentences per line. People skim emails, usually on their phones. Space the shit out.
  5. Remove superfluous words and colloquial phrases.
    1. Bad: “Why don’t we go ahead and set up the call at one of the better times for you”
    2. Good: “Let’s set up a call. When is a good time for you?
  6. Numbers and bullets. Use them. ANY time information can be chunked out as a list, use them.
  7. Underline, bold and/or italic important emails. Use all caps to emphasize words. (No, not full sentences of all caps — just the very important bits).
    1. We’ve all liquified our brains on a diet of Twitter and email and we tend to gloss over important words while skimming emails. Don’t give us that chance.
  8. Don’t forward (or copy) additional people onto an email string without a line of context on why you are doing it. There are few things more agonizing than parsing through a three-day, 17-email chain to figure out why the hell you’ve been added to it.
  9. Sometimes email threads evolve, like Pokemon. They start out on one topic but jump to another. Don’t keep replying to the same thread. Start a new one, with an appropriate subject line.
  10. If someone no longer needs to be on a thread, move them to BCC. Open your email with “BCC’ing [person] because they don’t have to be on this anymore.”
  11. Are you e e cummings? No? Then please use proper punctuation and grammar.
    1. When I read sentences like this: “Wondering if you could help as we are in a crunch and would love it if you could handle,” my brain hurts.

Do this and watch your emails blossom from limpid seeds into beautiful, highly effective flowers of delight!