Mail designed by Simple Icons from The Noun Project

Mail designed by Simple Icons from The Noun Project

According to a 2012 study by New York City-based management consulting firm McKinsey and Company, the average worker spends 28 percent of their day reading and answering email. That amounts to nearly 13 hours a week and to 650 hours a year. Keeping emails brief and to the point can help you reclaim some of this time, increase your productivity and improve your chances of getting a reply.

“Proper email is a balance between politeness and succinctness,” according to Guy Kawasaki, author of APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur. “Less than five sentences is often abrupt and rude, more than five sentences wastes time,” he says. He outlines four simple guidelines to follow when writing an email:

  1. Your email should answer five simple questions: Who are you? What do you want? Why are you asking me? Why should I do what you’re asking? What is the next step?
  2. Cut out excessive details to get a response.
  3. Shorter emails will help you stay focused.
  4. Limit everything but praise. 

(Exception to Kawasaki’s rules: If the only reason you’re sending an email is to praise someone or offer some kindness, there are no limits. Don’t worry about the length.)

The website five.sentenc.es has started a movement limit to emails to fewer than five sentences. They outline the approach as such:

The Problem
E-mail takes too long to respond to, resulting in continuous inbox overflow for those who receive a lot of it.

The Solution
Treat all email responses like SMS text messages, using a set number of letters per response. Since it’s too hard to count letters, we count sentences instead.

Ready to join the movement? Head over to http://five.sentenc.es/ to grab an email signature message explaining your new outlook.

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  • Eliza F

    “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” -Mark Twain

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  • GeoffB

    Really great idea from the brilliant Kawasaki, but the email signature should read ‘fewer’, not ‘less’ :

    ——————————————–
    Q: Why is this email five sentences or fewer?
    A: http://five.sentenc.es

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