Four sentences emails

Why is it bad?

  • Opening my inbox and seeing all those email sitting there and looking at me is frustrating and makes me feel guilty.
  • It’s also time wasting because less than 1 out of every 20 emails I receive are so contrived or life changing that I need to read them multiple times.
  • A consequence of being a time wasting activity is that I lose time that I could spend in other activities that I enjoy more like continuing my Division by Zero webcomic.

Solution?

Use at most 4 sentences in all my emails, no exceptions no matter what topic or recipient. If I need to communicate more information I use a different medium like a Google Docs document or a blog post and I add a link to it in the email.

Benefits?

  • I spend less time in my inbox.
  • My recipient spends less time reading my emails and frees her to do more interesting things.
  • With 4 sentences I need to get to the point and I can’t conceal my “agenda”. That reduces one of the biggest problem with communication: misunderstandings.
  • It makes me think hard about what I say and the way I say it. I can’t spend the same effort with emails that are paragraphs or pages long.

Shortcomings?

  • Your emails will sound less personal than before because you send out less information.
  • If you use email to communicate with friends that you don’t communicate with through other medium you are not going to be able to keep them as informed about you as before.

Alternatives?

Spending the same or more time on email wasn’t an option so the only other options were:

  • Using less than 4 sentences: not feasible for me. I usually spend one full sentence saying “Bye” or “See you” and generally another sentence with “Hello,” or similar. In practice, I have about 2 or 3 sentences, instead of 4.
  • Stop responding to some emails. Gladly I’m far from receiving so many emails that I have to do something that harsh.

Things to keep in mind

After several weeks using this approach I found out the following:

  • I still feel like I sound personal which was one of my biggest concerns.
  • This works for any other messaging system like Facebook and LinkedIn.
  • I have to be careful not to start replacing periods with commas.
  • 4 sentences is the limit, not the goal. If you can use less sentences do it.

At the beginning I added http://four.sentenc.es/ to my email signature to let people know why my emails were now more succinct. If 4 sentences is not the right number for you there are 5, 3 and 2 sentences versions available.

Do you have email under control? Do you use any other technique?

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