My Email Rules

Email can consume hours of your day stealing opportunities to do real work. Several people have devised plans to reclaim this time, so I stole the ones that work for me.

These rules have one main goal: to respect my time and that of the receiver.

1. Keep as short as possible.

“I’m sorry to write you a long letter, as I did not have time to write a short one.”

Mark Twain

Invest a little of time upfront to ensure the reader can spend as little time as possible dealing with your email. Re-read and edit harshly before sending. Aim for FiveSentenc.esFourSentenc.esThree or Two.

2. Answer in batches.

Process emails at set times (9 am, 4 pm and 9 pm) leaving the rest of the day open for deep work. Many emails I’m sent work themselves out before I get to them without any of my interference.

Turn off notifications. Email is not instant messenging. It’s meant to be asynchronous.

During this batch processing, if I got multiple emails from one person, I’ll use the iPad split screen to have Mail and Drafts open side-by-side. I compile all replies in Drafts and then can send one reply.

3. Don’t send work emails on the weekend (or in the night).

Save your nights for sleeping and weekends for rejuvenating.

Plus sending email at odd hours might set the expectation you expect a response. If nights and weekends are the times you can go through email, many email programs have a “Send later” feature that let you compose at night and send in the morning. While iOS Mail doesn’t have that feature, you can still write an email on the weekend, pick cancel, and use the option to “Save Draft.”


First thing on Monday, go to your drafts folder and send all those emails. This makes you look like a champ for getting up early and doing a ton of work. Additionally, yours may be one of the first email your receiver sees that day.

4. Don’t expect immediate replies.

If you’re not responding immediately, don’t expect others to do the same.

5. Aim to close the loop.

Avoid emails volleys that bounce back and forth yet go nowhere.

  • → “let’s have coffee?”
  • “great, when are you free?”
  • → “how about 2?”
  • “no good, have a meeting. Three?”

Provide enough information so both the receiver and I can be done with the issue. Offer some options “Let’s have coffee. I’m free Monday at noon, Tuesday at 4 pm or Thursday at 10 am. If none of these work, call me and we’ll figure out a time.”

If more information is needed, don’t send a placeholder “I’ll get back to you with this info.” Postpone sending the email until you have the information to send.

If there are more than 5-6 back and forth messages, just call/message/slack the person.

6. Everything doesn’t automatically warrant a response.

Don’t jump on the “Congratulations” email chain when someone blasts a group with an email about a new promotion. And don’t feel guilty about not responding. Sending “Congrats!” is literally the least you could do. If you did any less, you’d be doing nothing. Congratulate them in person instead. Trust me, that will be much more meaningful.

7. Reply to the minimum people necessary.

Don’t use reply-all unless it’s absolutely necessary. Eliminate any CC’s and BCC’s unless they’re needed. You’re doing them a favor.

8. Make the subject as informative as possible.

A subject of “FYI” means nothing, but “FYI: TPS reports you asked for, no response back needed” is much more informative. If you can fit the whole email in the subject line, even better: “SUBJECT: I’m free for coffee Monday at noon. See you at Starbucks on Taylor.”

9. Get rid of quotes

Unless these are needed for context, just delete the pages of nested quotes.

10. Minimize attachments

Don’t send graphics as signatures. Don’t send text in an attachment (Word) that could have easily been included in the body of the email.

11. The best email is the one not sent

Enough said on that one.

References

  1. http://five.sentenc.es
  2. http://www.emailcharter.org
  3. http://calnewport.com/books/deep-work/

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