21-95757299_4892de1bd1.jpgPerhaps the largest time suck in the world of emails is responding to emails to get more information.

This is unfortunately because most people’s emails stink. We save all of us time and energy, and focus our own minds too, when we write smart emails. Poor emails are rude – they are forcing others to make your badmin their admin. SMART emails are:

  • Specific. They make a specific request or provide specific reference information. They are also brief and to the point, without wonderings and meanderings. No mind farts, which is when you’re only thinking for the first time while you’re typing. If the email is your thinking space, then you must re-read it to ensure it is short and to the point. Aim for no more than 5 lines.
  • Measurable. They use numbered points so that each point can be responded to if further information is required, the same points providing a way to measure the set task or reference.
  • Actionable. They highlight what is expected of the reader with this email. If a response is expected, it is made clear with: who needs to do it, what they need to do, and by when with a due date. If it is for reference, this is made clear and for what reference it shall be needed.
  • Readable. They use double spaced paragraphs because the eye needs whitespace, use bold to highlight main points, use numbered points, use plain fonts in black to make them universal, use correct English – not text language – to save people having to be ghetto to understand what they are saying (this is plain politeness), use a different email for each subject and use the subject as a subject, not the actual body of the email.
  • Time-aware of others’ time. They only respond to the people who need a response, respond to every email that is received to confirm receipt so that people aren’t waiting to hear back from you while you mull it over, make decisions where decisions need to be made rather than long chain emails, and follow the rule of three – only three emails on a topic or it gets deferred to a phone call or meeting.

Make it your policy that if your email will be going into someone else’s inbox, that they aren’t demotivated when they receive email because it’s lame, but are please to receive it from you because they know that you write SMART emails that give them all they need. Keep people happy by writing SMART emails.

Your Leading Thoughts

As you know I love a good framework – so perhaps I’ve missed a vital point by trying to be too smart. What points would you add?

Archived Comments

  • http://internetmarketingjam.com Jim Connolly

    Useful and interesting post, Scott.

    I tend to write short emails whenever possible. I also like to get emails responded to quickly and keep my inbox at zero. I can’t imagine how people work, with a dozen unanswered or unactioned emails.

    Cheers mate!

  • http://www.seanprice.co.uk Sean Price

    I agree trying to keep your emails SMART is the best way forward including some basic things including if you are writing something short and to the point – put it into the subjet line. Really make the most of the fact that most email clients will show *around* 70 characters in the subject line so if you are aiming to get the message across quickly put it in there.

    Without trying to shameless plug my own site i did write about using SMART objectives when it comes to running multiple projects at work (http://seanprice.co.uk/facing-multiple-projects/).

    However I do believe that remembering to use good filtering, SMART objectives and batch emailing (see 43folders merlin mann type articles) that you really can increase your productivity and efficiency in email.

  • http://twitter.com/SewCraftyFox JenFoxProverbs

    As an editor, I always edit my own emails, usually aiming to cut text as I do so. Bullet points, bold key words, sub heads if required etc all make an email faster to digest and therefore more likely to elicit a meaningful response.

  • / Scott Gould

    Hey Jim!

    Thanks for the comment and all the love recently, much appreciated :-)

    I also live at Inbox Zero and can’t imagine how people work with tons of emails in their inbox just left there. It was a main point of mine when I taught a productivity seminar recently.

    How long have you lived at Inbox Zero?

  • / Scott Gould

    I must say Sean that I actually dislike the email body to be in the subject line! But each to their own.

    I’ll check out your article now.

  • http://www.seanprice.co.uk Sean Price

    I will only use the subject line as the email body if its short and sweet. I.e. 140 characters like twitter or something perhaps. A message that I need to put across to someone in a short space then for me I find it easier and works rather well but absolutely each to their own.

    Its like a lot of people use the http://five.sentenc.es/ aooriacg ir outting EOM (end of message) which I disagree with – many different approaches I guess.

  • / Scott Gould

    Totally. I think editors know how to do this, as you do. Editing emails is vital as it ensures you get right to the point and elicit, as you say, a meaningful response.

  • / Scott Gould

    I like the idea of aiming for 5 sentences – I already aim for that. EOM is ok but I guess gets a bit technical

  • http://dr1665.com Brian Driggs

    Wow. Bril.

    I am a big proponent of SMART goals, so it’s ironic this had not occurred to me sooner. Definitely something I’ll keep in mind moving forward. I can take a hint. LOL.

  • / Scott Gould


  • http://dr1665.com Brian Driggs

    SMART goals, emails, comments – What are your thoughts on how we might apply “SMART communications” to proving the value/significance of those tools we touched on earlier this week?

  • / Scott Gould

    Hmmmmmmmmm…. Very good question. Let me answer that in another blog post….