You know what it’s like. You have a task you want to finish but you are dependent on others to do their parts as well in order to do so. You just need a quick response from everyone, and since there are a few you want to reach simultaneously, you email them. Someone answers you straight away, but you have to wait for several of them. The clock’s ticking and still nothing.
For you who prefer listening to reading, this post is also available as an episode of the “Done!” podcast:
You email the ones who did not respond again and try reaching them via phone as well — not once, but several times — and since you too have plenty to do, you start getting annoyed that you have to spend time chasing them.
Completely overloaded at the other end
The frustration is understandable, but we do not have the slightest insight into how the ones who have not responded are doing and how much they have on their plate. Perhaps their workload and email inflow is completely overwhelming. Yet, you still need that quick response.
Maybe there is a way for you to increase the chances of getting answers faster after the first email — in spite of the fact that it is just yet another one in the long row of emails in the other person’s inbox?
A more informative subject line
Hanna got in touch with me a while back and told me about how she handles these situations so that the chances of her email getting a higher priority with the recipient increases. Her method has nothing to do with making threats, using the ”high priority”-flag when sending the email, or using only capital letters to get the recipient’s attention, but instead, she helps the recipient prioritize the email early on by simply being specific and clear.
When she needs to get quick answers from several recipients, she includes the following in the subject line:
- How long the task will take
- A brief description of the task
- When she needs an answer at the latest
Composing a subject line like this could sound something along the lines of:
”Simple 10-minute task: get back to me with an estimation for November. Reply before Friday 12 am”
Simple and smart, if you ask me. Since the one who has a sizable to-do list often wants to ”get rid of things”, it is tempting to pick and process the emails that look inviting first, and which we know for sure will be quick and easy to check off our list. If we state the amount of time the email will require to process, we create an incentive for the recipient to deal with our matter faster.
Rarely just a minute
This is probably the reason why we tend to use the expression ”You got a minute?”, which is a common phrase to interrupt someone with when we just want to ask something quick. The only problem with this seemingly innocent question is that it is a pretense, since it rarely just takes a minute. So, in order for this to work more than once, we need to ensure that the time estimation is as accurate and realistic as possible.
By clarifying the deadline of the task in this way, the recipient will be able to determine the degree of urgency when reading the subject line already, instead of discovering the expectation and need for a quick response after reading the entire email.
If you want to, try this technique and see if it makes your digital communication more efficient:
- Think about in what situations and for what kind of emails this trick could be useful to get replies faster. I am guessing that you have already thought of a recipient that is always hard to get hold of or get responses from, or an email you send to a group of people at frequent intervals that you always have difficulties getting fast responses to.
- When it is time to send the email you have in mind, formulate your version of a more informative subject line. If you already have an idea of what it could sound like, create an email right now and save it as a draft until it is time to really send it. You might as well put your good idea in writing right away when you have it as well as this method fresh in mind.
- Now notice if and how the responses from the recipients differ from what you usually get, meaning if you notice any improvement. If not, perhaps you could fine-tune your subject line somehow next time.
Being clear gets you answers faster
If you include more information in the subject line for the emails you really need quick answers to, you will help the recipient prioritize your email amongst all the other emails they have to choose from. If you only need a quick response (and you state this in your subject line), chances are you will get a much faster answer than you otherwise would.
What’s your method?
Do you use some other trick or format to ensure you get responses faster? Tell me!