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09 Nov

Help the receiver choose your email first

Datum: 2023-11-09 08:00
A thoughtful young woman is looking upwards, with illustrated envelopes floating around her head, suggesting she is contemplating her email communication or awaiting messages.

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.

Do this

If you want to, try this tech­nique and see if it makes your dig­i­tal com­mu­ni­ca­tion more efficient:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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!

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