“Brevity is the soul of wit”
This advice from Shakespeare’s Hamlet is true of intellectual humor, but it’s also true of email: Brevity is the soul of effective email.While we would all like to make more money, there’s one thing that none of us can create: more time. Time is fungible and incredibly valuable so don’t waste your time writing email treatises that your recipients will never have time to read.
Nowadays we’re all deluged with hundreds of emails every day; you could do nothing but manage your email all day long. However, there’s work to be done and that’s led more and more professionals to look upon email as a necessary evil, a constant battle against time suck.
You can turn the email onslaught to your advantage by applying one principle: keep it short.
All of us know at least one person who makes us groan in agony when their name appears in our inbox. You know before you read it, that your mouse will get a scrolling workout, you’ll need to diagram it to excavate the point, and you’re dreading the time replying will extract from your lifespan.
Don’t be this person. Instead, be the person who writes short quick emails that are easy to read, easy to respond to, and don’t suck up time.
The always-quotable Guy Kawasaki sums up the brevity mandate in his effective email guidelines:
The ideal length for an email is five sentences. If you’re asking something reasonable of a reasonable recipient, simply explain who you are in one or two sentences and get to the ask. If it’s not reasonable, don’t ask at all. My theory is that people who tell their life story suspect that their request is on shaky ground so they try build up a case to soften up the recipient. Another very good reason to keep it short is that you never know where your email will end up. . . There is one exception to this brevity rule: When you really don’t want anything from the recipient, and you simply want to heap praise and kindness upon her. Then you can go on as long as you like!
So keep it short. Keep it sweet. Make your point, move on, and never forget that if you wouldn’t reply to it, you shouldn’t send it.