Updated January 29, 2016
I got to thinking about the emails that land in my inbox and what I tend to respond to and what I don’t respond to. Helping others is absolutely one of my favorite things to do, but unfortunately, there’s just no way I can respond to everything.
I don’t know how it works for you or for others who get a fair amount of email, but here are some things that make me more likely to respond.
1. Be super brief
When I open an email that is paragraphs long, I feel overwhelmed. I try to sail through my emails as fast as humanly possible which puts me in sprinting mode. A loooong email makes me feel like I’m grinding to a halt. When that happens, I tend to resent it and then I delete. I’m not saying that’s good, I’m just sayin’.
2. Cut to the chase
A lot of emails I get provide a lot of background. I understand this tendency because I am the QUEEN OF GIVING TOO MUCH BACKGROUND. I’m trying to work on this. But when I read emails, I really prefer only the essential background details. If I need more background, I can ask.
3. Use numbered lists
I like numbered lists, as in, if you have 3 questions for me, I’d much rather they be clearly identified by a “1, 2, 3” instead of being buried in a lot of text. I don’t do so well with questions buried in text. I tend to miss them. That leads me to…
4. Tell me what you want
Sometimes I get emails and by the time I get to the end, I have no idea what the sender wants from me. Do they want advice? Do they want me to check out their site? Are they just sending encouragement? Are they telling me in a not-so-direct way they hate me? This makes it really challenging to know how to respond.
5. Use automated email messages carefully, or not at all
There have been times when someone has emailed me, I emailed them back and then I got an automated response like, “Thanks for emailing me. I get a lot of email so I may not be able to respond to you…” This is always a turn off. Other than a vacation reply (make sure you turn it off when you return), I’m not a fan of automated responses. If you’ve ever used automated responses in the past, like on the contact form on your site, do some testing to make sure you’re not accidentally sending automated responses you don’t intend to.
6. Make it easy for me to answer
If I can answer an email with a quick “Yes” or “No” or “I wrote about that here…” or “Thank you for your note” or “That looks great to me” or “I’d go with Option A over Option B” or something similar, I usually respond. But if you pose a very open-ended question, I often would like to answer but simply don’t have time. Mostly because I probably have to go make dinner.