I’m no mathematician, but I’d estimate that I get between 100 to four billion emails a day. And as much as I’d like to respond to every single one, it’s just not possible. Not if I want to do other things with my life, like get through my to-do list and make eye contact with fellow human beings.
So, how do I decide who gets a response and who gets lost in my inbox forever? Well, I put on my God costume, close my eyes, and see what happens.
Kidding, that productivity hack turned out to be a total bust. Instead, I work through my messages with the best intentions. Emphasis on best intentions because items do slip through the cracks. And if they do, it’s usually for the following reasons:
1. You Didn’t Consider My Availability
I’d love to get your thoughts on this presentation before my meeting today.
I see this pop up and think “Sure!” However, I open the attachment and see that it’s 65 pages. And that’s approximately 64 more pages than I can read in the 10 spare minutes I have today.
In an ideal world, I’d clear my schedule, develop the skill to double my reading speed, and give you my most brilliant feedback. But it’s far more likely that I’ll assume I’ll be able to “find time” at some point, then not be able to do that, and then not remember receiving your note until your meeting’s long over.
As soon as you know you’re going to want someone’s “thoughts,” send this: I’d love to get your feedback on my 65-page presentation before next Friday. I know that’s a lot to read, so let me know when it would be a good time for me to send it over.
2. You Didn’t Ask Anything at All
Here’s my presentation for next week.
You said your presentation for next week is here. And indeed, it is right here, attached to this message as promised.
But I’m not really sure what you need from me now. Would you like general feedback? Confirmation that I saw it? Perhaps a winky face emoji?
Every single email should include a next step (even if that’s “no reply needed”). You never want to leave the recipient thinking, “Um, OK, thanks?”
Try this on for size: Here’s my presentation for next Friday. I’d love your expertise in choosing the appropriate SFW meme. Let me know if you have any ideas!
3. You Didn’t Make it Clear Why I Was Invited to the CC Party
CC: entire marketing department, four engineers, one partridge in a pear tree, and me
Looping everyone in, let me know next steps on the presentation.
Hello, hi, why am I here? While it’s always an honor to be included on what’ll presumably turn into a never-ending email chain that haunts my dreams, I see this and am immediately confused. This is the first time I’m hearing about this project, and without any context I can conclude approximately nothing about why I’m being looped in.
Rather than “looping people in” and hoping they figure it out, spell out what you’d like from everyone: Jenni: Does the below timeline work for your team to create SFW memes? Tom: Can you double-check if they’re actually safe for work?
4. You Didn’t Use a Due Date
Do you have a cat I can borrow for my presentation?
While I’ll have every intention of responding to this, I probably won’t. And that’s not because you asked to borrow a cat with absolutely no context. But rather because before I can even think about responding, I have to get back to everyone who dropped into my inbox with a clear deadline. So this one will continue to get bumped down on my list until I forget what “send Dave cat details” even means.
Do yourself a favor and throw in the time or date you need a response by. It’s as easy as Can you let me know by Thursday afternoon if you have a cat I can borrow for my presentation on Friday?
5. You Didn’t Use Enough Words I Know
Pls send CTR dek 4 “SFW cat” by EOD
I will not respond to this because I cannot respond to this.
Partially because I wouldn’t even know where to begin in my response and partially because I’m not sure if doing that will result in a virus from whatever robot hacked your inbox.
Give your email a quick once-over and make sure that every word has at least one vowel. OK, fine, you’re busy—make sure most words do.
With the very rare exception, your co-workers aren’t mind readers. Nor are they perfect. They’re just people like you who are trying to stay on top of their inbox, while doing their job, while debating what they’re going to eat for dinner because lunch was an hour ago and they’re already hungry again (oh, just me?).
While I can’t guarantee that taking all my recommendations will get you a 100% response rate, it’s giving you a much better shot. And if you can get that by typing out a few extra words, why not take it?
Did I leave anything out? Tell me on Twitter!
Photo of person on phone courtesy of JGI/Tom Grill/Getty Images.