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 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 to grab an email signature message explaining your new outlook.

  • Eliza F

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

  • 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?

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