Ping Pong by Janina Reinhard from The Noun Project

Ping Pong by Janina Reinhard from The Noun Project

Scheduling meetings over email is like playing ping pong, where a simple “Can you meet at 4:00 pm?” could easily turn into an endless volley of back-and-forth replies. 

In The 4-Hour Work Week, author Tim Ferris suggests a simple strategy to streamline things:

Email communication should be streamlined to prevent needless back-and-forth. Thus, an email with “Can you meet at 4:00 pm?” would become “Can you meet at 4:00 pm? If not, please advise three other times that work for you.”

Get into the habit of considering what “if … then” actions can be proposed in any e-mail where you ask a question.

The “if…then” statement preempts follow-up questions and prevents them altogether. By avoiding separate dialogues, you dramatically reduce emails sent. Let the other person give you some options while you get back to doing real work.


  • nyhyke

    This may not be specifically related to Freelancing, however, the back-and-forth email issue is one that really frustrates me. What causes the back and forth with emails I deal with is people don’t seem to take the time to actually read what I wrote. My biggest pet peeve is people don’t answer the question, or questions, asked in the email. When I ask what day would work for you, don’t respond with “whatever works for you.” If the email says “do you have an updated resume” don’t respond with “can I come in to fill out an application.” The list of non answer related comments I get back is endless. If I email a supplier and ask, for example, the length of time it takes to ship an order, please don’t respond with “we will ship that out as soon as possible. ” My suggestion for people in any line of work is to simply answer the question(s) that are asked. I have an example of an email that took five other emails to get a simple yes or no answer. I kept asking the same question, but rephrased it each time. I finally had to ask the individual if they would respond with a yes, or no in order to simplify the process. I felt like a Dentist pulling teeth.

    • Anders Sundstedt

      I know, this is frustrating. Spot on Nyhyke!

      Sundstedt Animation

    • Juss Sayin'

      If your emails provide three or four examples like your comment does or are anywhere near as long as your comment, you’re part of the problem, not the solution.

  • Ross Andrews

    Good thoughts. I think a similar ‘trick’ is to insure that each email has a single theme, especially if an action is required (like a response), and that the SUBJECT matches the theme of the email. So many times a thread will get started from a disassociated subject (i.e. “Leaving for the Beach!”) and it turns into a data mining exercise to find the thread two weeks later.

  • Phil

    I would take this advice a step further… I’ve had success with this direct approach:

    “Sounds great, I’d love to get coffee… I believe you work downtown, and so what about the Starbucks at 5th and main at one of these days/times?

    Thu 9/10 8:00a
    Mon 9/14 8:00a
    Tue 9/15 8:00a or 9:00a
    Wed 9/16 11:00a

    Or feel free to propose some other days/times if none of those work.

    Let me know and I’ll send a calendar invite. My cell is xxx-xxx-xxxx should you need to reach me the day-of… see you soon.”

  • davidinark

    Sometimes. Frankly, I usually just Bin-13 those. If you don’t know, then you aren’t trying very hard to contact the person you are trying reach.

  • FirefoxGuru

    Who doesn’t already do this?! It’s called going the extra mile 🙂 I thought it was going to be IFTTT.

  • Paul Ince

    Or use something like to give a series of options to all those that are invited.

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