Dec 09, 2013 How to Help Super-Busy People Read and Act On Your Emails
Most business people receive a vast volume of email. It’s easy for them to overlook yours, even when it’s important. Fortunately, a few simple techniques can help make your emails quicker and easier to notice, read, and act on, even for super-busy people:
Write an action-oriented subject line. “Please review the attached document by 3 p.m.” will immediately alert your recipient that something needs to be done. “Document attached for review” isn’t as clear.
If you can, put the whole message in the subject line. Don’t force your time-starved colleagues to open the email if they don’t have to. You can end the subject line with EOM (End of Message) or NMW (No Message Within) if you make sure your colleagues know what they mean.
I picked this technique up while consulting at an incredibly busy communications department of a global financial services company. And did those folks get emails!
Keep it friendly. The human brain interprets communications with the help of facial expressions and tone of voice. Email doesn’t have those. If there is a way for your recipient to misread your email as flippant or hostile, they probably will—resulting in a delayed response or worse. Here are some ways to emulate a personal presence:
- Start your note with a friendly, positive sentence. “Hi John, I hope your afternoon is going well.”
- Use emoticons … when comfortable and appropriate.
- When possible, express requests as questions. “Could you send me the report by 5:00, please?” comes across as nicer than “Send me the report by 5, please.” Your recipient is more apt to respond, and happier about doing so.
Even when the whole message is in the subject line, ending with a simple “Thanks” can help.
Lead with what you’re asking for. After putting your request in the subject line, put it up top again in the body, right after your friendly greeting: “Hi Jane, I hope your afternoon is going well. Could you send me the report by 5, please?” Only after that should you get into the reasons why, special instructions, and so on.
It may feel more natural to put a request at the bottom of your email, after you’ve explained the situation. But busy people frequently will just scan the first paragraph and overlook what you are asking for—or the deadline.
Use the priority indicator sparingly, but use it. You don’t want to cry wolf, but the little red indicator does help a pressing email stand out in a crowd. Starting the subject line with a text tag in all caps (“URGENT: …”) is even heavier artillery, so use it sparingly.
Some of these techniques won’t be appropriate in every situation, but in general, they’ll help a lot.