Sure, it would be nice if every time I sent an email I got a response. But I don’t, and I don’t really care if I do.
I read some strange advice today – or at least I thought it was strange. It’s from the Zen Habits blog, and the title of the post is Your Emails are Too Long. It goes on (at length) about some very simple rules to keep your email to five sentences or less.
But the thing is, some emails are meant to be long. And that doesn’t mean that the author was being incoherent, inconsiderate, or pointless when he wrote it. Some emails, in fact, are meant to save you time by compiling all of the relevant details from a thread of discussion, together with supporting data and bold fonts around the parts that really need your attention. In fact fact, some of the longest emails you ever get are going to be the most valuable.
That is, if you don’t automatically assume that the length of an email is an indicator as to how quickly you should just toss it into the trash.
Now, the flip side of that is that I never (never!) expect anyone to read or respond to any of my emails. It’s my job to try to get the result I want from the communication, but it would be sort of arrogant of me to assume that I could get either a reader or a responder, just by writing an email – even if I went to all the trouble of whittling it down to five sentences. 😉
I send email for various reasons. Sometimes it is just a FYI, and I truly don’t care if you read it, but it seemed to be something you were asking for, so there you go. Sometimes it is because I want to get some thoughts down clearly in front of me before walking over to your desk to hash-out a project. Sometimes it’s because I have a few questions or I need you to do something. But I, of course, don’t exPECT you to answer the questions or do the thing – after all, I am not your master.
But you know what? What I do do, is I notice your response or lack of response. And I fine-tune my future communication accordingly. If I notice that you respond to email, but only on certain topics or only on certain days, then I will only send it in that way.
Also, by the way, my own emails are generally consistently at least a few words longer than anyone else’s on the same topic because I make a quirky point of including lots of “keywords”. So, if we are discussing the project about the “peppermint” “widgets” at the “redwood” “factory” in “Chalmeria”, then I will sure as heck include each of those keywords in some (often contrived) way in the text of my email. That way, when you come looking for historical data on the redwood widget peppermints, a few years from now, I will be your guy – the past discussion is right at my fingertips with a quick query of my (endlessly verbose) mailbox.
So it is very sad, I think, to see email lumped all together into one bucket, where we are told to call every “long” email as bad. Email is groovy. And, like phone, face-to-face, or USPS communication, it can be used well or not well.
- Your Emails are Too Long (zenhabits.net)
- Killing Email: How and Why I Ditched My Inbox (zenhabits.net)