Get Your Email Answered

Letters from Friends I’ve evidently written about this before, but I have more to say. You see, I’m in my office on a Saturday trying to wade through the several hundred emails from really important people who have really interesting things they want to do with me. Each one of them matters a lot. And yet, I only have so many hours in a day. I’m sneaking into my office on a SATURDAY to try and get some emails back out to people. That’s where I am with things. You are, too. We all have too many messages fighting for our time.

I was thinking about what makes me choose to answer an email faster than another email. Here’s what I’ve noticed.

User Interface Matters

People who email me short numbered lists (or bullets) get much better responses from me, much faster, because I know what they want, and it’s succinct.

Single Use Email

People who put one need, one subject, one topic in an email get much faster responses, because I can handle it.

Repeat Performers

People who resend mail but don’t make me feel guilty rise to the top because I feel guilty anyhow, and I respond as quickly as possible. I don’t really want to encourage you to refill my inbox, but it’s true.

Direct and Obvious

People who send vague requests get no replies. I just can’t be bothered to guess what you’re asking for. Those who send something very obvious and direct about what they want get my time.

The Rest

Finally, what I see more often than not are emails where people just want to help. “If I can help you in any way, just let me know.” Here’s the thing. I never know how to respond to those. No one really ever does. Because normally when one goes seeking help, it’s when they’re ready to get something back for their request. General offers show a very positive sentiment, but they don’t show any kind of return loop, if that makes sense.

So, if you want your email answered, those are some tips.

Any tips you’d give me and the gang in the comments section?

And if I owe you a reply, read the above and let me know if you think you’ve done well by that list.

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  • Kathy Buckworth

    Totally agree with all of your tips/filter system and I would add one more you sort of touched on in “one topic/subject”. Make your subject line really clear – if it’s an event, put the date in the subject line – it’s annoying to search for that in a click through invite or wordy email. If its a media request, state that in the subject line, and if its personal, put that word in the subject too. My BB only shows about 20 characters of the subject line, so you have to be succinct. Save the funny/pithy for places where you can say more…like Twitter:)

    • http://www.ivanwalsh.com Ivan Walsh

      another thing I’d add is to number tasks and put the most important thing first.

    • http://www.ivanwalsh.com Ivan Walsh

      another thing I’d add is to number tasks and put the most important thing first.

    • http://chrisbrogan.com Chris Brogan

      I agree on your BB. That’s where we’re reading your mail.

  • http://www.socialmediamercenary.com Leslie A. Joy

    Great tips. I’ve personally written about this before. I swear, how to write an email needs to be taught in schools, but that’s another blog post.

    Subject lines matter. If someone sends me an email with a direct, descriptive subject line, it makes things easier for me.

    Include all necessary information-whenever I send an email I make sure I include any necessary links, attachments, etc. If I’m following up, I make sure to re-send all the information so the other person doesn’t have to go digging.

    Include contact info-I always include as much contact info as possible. And I list it in the email. I don’t care if it’s in my email signature-I want to make it easy for the person to contact me in whatever they’re preferred medium is. Sometimes I feel silly listing 8 different ways to contact me, but you never know what someone else prefers and it seems to work.

  • Marilyn Carpenter

    Love It

  • Marilyn Carpenter

    Love It

  • http://twitter.com/GordonMarcy Gordon Marcy

    You’re right. Succinct, direct, and clear email messages rise to the top of the list. It doesn’t have to be twitter brief, but the discipline to make every character count applies. A creative, attention getting subject line helps too. Always appreciate the timeliness of your posts. Working on email communication this morning. Now, if I can help you…. -:)

  • Carrie Wilkerson

    would also add that if you email my assistant – please do NOT also cc: me and several members of my team. That does NOT increase your odds. Send to ONE member of the team (preferably the assistant and she/he can decide where it goes from there first.) For those of us that travel alot – that prevents the fw, cc, bcc madness amongst our staff ;)

    Carrie

    • http://chrisbrogan.com Chris Brogan

      True that. The CC bug must be ended. : )

  • Brian Hawthorne

    Polite, well-written, concise letters that fit on one screen of the Mail app on my iPod Touch get answered first, as I can often deal with them in the interstices between my other tasks. If it has to wait for one of the decreasing number of times I sit in front of a desktop or laptop, it will be a long time in getting answered.

    • http://chrisbrogan.com Chris Brogan

      I quite agree, Brian.

  • http://twitter.com/AmyJantzer Amy Jantzer

    Very much agree. I’m a bullet point kind of girl when it comes to emails. When i get emails that are more than a paragraph long I’ve been known to “save them for later” and sometimes that “later” never comes.

    • http://chrisbrogan.com Chris Brogan

      Exactly, Amy. That’s what I do, too. leave the longer ones for never.

  • http://raulcolon.net Raul Colon

    Chris,

    I promise I won’t send you any more emails with those multiples sheet spreadsheets. I thought creating a separate sheet for to do’s, categories of my requests, and more detail would make it a lot easier for you to handle.. LOL

    Just kidding but I was sharing an experience I had with someone who needed help on a charity. She was very good a delegating but in reality she just wanted credit for things others did (did not do much herself).

    The funniest thing was that she created these very complicated spreadsheets for volunteers.

    Just understanding her spreadsheet was more difficult than executing the tasks. LOL

    Have a great weekend it makes me feel better than I am not alone checking emails and playing catch up during the weekend!

    :) Have a Great Weekend!

    • http://chrisbrogan.com Chris Brogan

      You did a great job by re-sending me the information today. I owe you a response on Monday. And you, too. : )

      • http://raulcolon.net Raul Colon

        I was just joking.. Have a great weekend!

  • http://BestSellerAuthors.com Warren Whitlock

    My best tip: To get through, make sure you are speaking to a person the way they like to be reached.

    First off.. some people respond better to Facebook messages or tweets, text or phone.

    If it’s email, some use it like a tweet, and will get lost after the first sentence.. especially if they read email on their phones. Ask one question, or send one link. You can expand when they respond.

    Don’t forget the basics.

    - Name in the FROM field
    - Subject line is most important
    - Context for rapport.
    - SIG for contact.. not for sales message

    ASSUME nothing.. expect maybe that anyone reading email has too many :) Include the link they should already have, LAST NAMES of people, title of the project/company

    • http://chrisbrogan.com Chris Brogan

      Great points, Warren. I agree with it all. : )

  • http://twitter.com/JPriceWrite Jack Price Write

    “Quick question, I was wondering if . . . ”

    Instead of greeting the person, use the format above. It shows up in a preview pane more like an ongoing conversation with someone you know. The use of the word “question” piques curiosity. The promise of brevity leverages the desirable “what the heck; I’ll take a quick look” response.

    • http://chrisbrogan.com Chris Brogan

      What I find, Jack, is that if I see “quick question,” it’s a toss-up as to whether it’s quick. : )

      • http://twitter.com/TheGirlPie GirlPie

        And a “quick question” rarely guarantees a quick answer ~
        I get: “Quick question: how should I sell myself?”
        Oy vey! (Thankawd for boilerplate macros, standard attachments, & FAQ links.)

  • http://lucrativeblogs.com Leah Smithies

    This is a very good insight to how to handle all those email. I could (and have) literally spend hours just wading through them, not counting the time to respond to a few. Thanks Chris. Leah :)

  • http://www.margieclayman.com Marjorie Clayman

    I would say that given the number of emails we all get, grouping content into a single email rather than sending 27 one-liners is probably a good way to go. The nature of my job is such that I have a lot of questions and answers for clients throughout the day (and for my boss, and for my co-workers), but I try really hard not to have a trigger finger on the “send” button. I try to save as a draft and wait till I think there’s no more coming. Hopefully it helps :)

    • http://chrisbrogan.com Chris Brogan

      Yes, but only if the things grouped are all easily and equally dispatched. If you give me some tricky stuff, then I can’t do it as a blender.

      • http://www.margieclayman.com Marjorie Clayman

        Hmm. I always work on the assumption that it’s better to send 1 email that someone can print out and check things off of…course, that’s the way I do it, so um…of course everyone would go that route!

        Interesante…

        • http://www.riseabovethestatic.com/web-presence-development-blog Steve Birkett

          I think it comes down to understanding the recipient. Hopefully if there are multiple items to take care of, the person asking has some form of relationship with the other and can tailor to the way the recipient likes to work.

          I personally like the one overall mail for actions, as Marjorie suggest, but some of my clients would be horrified if I sent them anything longer than a few paragraphs or bullet points!

          • http://www.margieclayman.com Marjorie Clayman

            True…it’s always a balancing act. Isn’t it sad – even emailing is complicated. *sigh* :)

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  • Simon Jordan

    I agree Chris. Too many people can waffle without getting to the point.
    I also find the subject line is key to getting it opened.

  • Simon Jordan

    I agree Chris. Too many people can waffle without getting to the point.
    I also find the subject line is key to getting it opened.

  • http://www.itinerantentrepreneur.com/journal/ Robert Dempsey

    You have the best tip there, and I can say from experience it’s 100% true – it’s how I got the chance to interview you and become the first advertiser on My Escape Velocity (which is awesome btw).

    We all get a ton of email, and if your popular or in a corporate job your inundated. Much like blog posts, having a concise and to the point subject gets you the open, scannable body text gets it read, and a clear call to action gets a reply.

    • http://chrisbrogan.com Chris Brogan

      Both things I appreciate, Robert. : )

  • Anonymous

    This blog post is vague, like the emails you don’t answer.

    I think it would be more effective to give us a bulleted list of characteristics of a response-worthy email. That’s kind of what you did, but not exactly.

    Also, what’s an example of a response-worthy email?

    • http://chrisbrogan.com Chris Brogan

      So because I used headers instead of bullets, it wasn’t easy to see the elements of a good email? Hmm. Back to the drawing board, I guess. : )

  • http://jeffkorhan.com Jeff Korhan

    On the money Chris – Whether seeking new business or offering to help, it pays to be direct and to clearly suggest the next action.

    I agree on the guilt thing too. When I ask for a response to let me know my message/content was received, I invariably get a prompt and favorable reply.

    All of this comes down to how you do it – as you say, without the guilt. We all create enough of that on our own!

    Jeff

    • http://chrisbrogan.com Chris Brogan

      With you, Jeff. The next action is the most important part of it, I feel .

      • http://jeffkorhan.com Jeff Korhan

        No question about. 2010 was a good year – but lots of unfinished projects. Doing some planning today as a matter of fact. :)

      • http://jeffkorhan.com Jeff Korhan

        No question about. 2010 was a good year – but lots of unfinished projects. Doing some planning today as a matter of fact. :)

  • http://jeffkorhan.com Jeff Korhan

    On the money Chris – Whether seeking new business or offering to help, it pays to be direct and to clearly suggest the next action.

    I agree on the guilt thing too. When I ask for a response to let me know my message/content was received, I invariably get a prompt and favorable reply.

    All of this comes down to how you do it – as you say, without the guilt. We all create enough of that on our own!

    Jeff

  • http://twitter.com/susangiurleo susangiurleo

    My email system: Do, Delegate or Delete.
    If it’s something I have to take care of: Do.
    If my assistant or team can take care of it: Delegate
    If it doesn’t fall into either of the above: Delete

    It works when I really do delegate like I should. That can be the trick – sometimes I try to do the nitty gritty stuff that I shouldn’t because “it just takes a minute,” but minutes add up.

    Soon, I may have an assistant screen email before it gets to me so she will take care of the triage. Otherwise I get lost in the minutia.

    • http://chrisbrogan.com Chris Brogan

      I break down when the “do” takes more than afew minutes. What do you do in those regards?

      • Rebecca

        Schedule it as a task or project. I keep my inbox to 1 screen or less. My boxes are: appt, task, waiting for someone else, file or delete.

  • http://www.jessilicious.com Jess Webb

    Hey Chris!

    Thanks for sharing these points – this will definitely help me to refine the emails that I send! :) An interesting theme I noticed running through all of these points is to be to the point – say what you want, in as few words as possible, and in a format that is quick and easy to read and understand. I think that can be applied to other communication, as well…. ;)

    • http://chrisbrogan.com Chris Brogan

      Exactly so. Maybe it’s just me, but so many people beat around the bush.

  • http://blog.memberhub.com Matt Harrell

    Great post Chris! When you get a DM from someone it’s always right to the point. That’s great! Sometimes you can’t get out what you need to say in 140 letters, but you can always get to the point early in your email and then support it in the next *short* paragraph.

  • Mark

    You should try tools like the gmail option that filters high priority items for you. I also use filters on action words like rsvp, register and attached to pull actionable emails to the top of the queue. – Mark from Ameres.co

    In terms of getting read, I try to use meeting invites to propose meeting times to discuss items, that way the item gets a second read if they do not decline it immediately when it’s read.

  • Anonymous

    What caught my attention here is the “let me know if I can help” portion. I think we all want to be useful for folks when we can, but aren’t sure where we can dig in or the stuff we *can* do may not be what’s needed at the time. For example, with a recent family-related crisis, we all want to be helpful, but don’t know what this really means when we are living in different states. I know that personally if I do want help, I reach out to specific folks I know I can rely on, even if there’s plenty of others who might help if I could only ask.And sometimes, the time to find a portion of a task to farm out seems to be more work than doing it yourself.

    I don’t know if you can keep a list of the offers, because this might just become a pool of folks to rely on in the future. Or do you think the offers are sort of those half-sincere statements, like “We’ll have to have lunch sometime” where the end point never seems to get scheduled or prioritized?

  • http://ajleon.me ajleon

    Great tips, Chris! I get a ton of email, but I cannot *even begin to imagine* how you respond to yours. I am genuinely surprised every time your respond to one of mine. :)

    Totally agree with you on the “if I can help you in anyway, just let me know.” lines. Great sentiment, but impossible to respond to.

  • http://ajleon.me ajleon

    Great tips, Chris! I get a ton of email, but I cannot *even begin to imagine* how you respond to yours. I am genuinely surprised every time your respond to one of mine. :)

    Totally agree with you on the “if I can help you in anyway, just let me know.” lines. Great sentiment, but impossible to respond to.

  • http://ajleon.me ajleon

    Great tips, Chris! I get a ton of email, but I cannot *even begin to imagine* how you respond to yours. I am genuinely surprised every time your respond to one of mine. :)

    Totally agree with you on the “if I can help you in anyway, just let me know.” lines. Great sentiment, but impossible to respond to.

  • http://twitter.com/consultantlaunc Peter Osborne

    Make sure your subject line is succinct and eye-catching — start with Direct and Obvious there and tell me what you’re looking for without ambiguity (Catching Up probably moves you down the response list).

    You talk about “one need, one subject, one topic.” Let me add One Target. If I see that I’m one of 5-10 people on the To: line or I’m one of countless peoiple on the CC: line, I’m much less likely to respond because I figure someone else will.

    Great post, as always, and I’ll take this advice to heart.

    Peter

  • http://www.riseabovethestatic.com/web-presence-development-blog Steve Birkett

    Good insight into managing what must be a quite fearsome inbox, Chris.

    I’d agree with Warren and say tailor the e-mail style to the individual you’re writing to. Some can only deal with short, sharp requests, sure, but others can get frustrated with a lack of information to aid what’s being asked.

    Following on from that, do as much of the work for the recipient as possible. Put yourself in their position and understand what action(s) they’ll need to take, then remove as many as you possibly can yourself or make them easier.

  • http://www.DesertMountainHomesOnline.com CarmenBrodeur

    I agree that short emails with a single request or question will get answered much faster than a multiple part long drawn out email. There are a few of those sitting in my in box right now :)

  • http://twitter.com/ShaunaCausey Shauna Causey

    I also love a thoughtful, witty or interesting subject line. That makes an email stand out from the rest more than anything for me. I always reply to those first and look forward to reading them.

  • Ty

    I work virtually as a contractor. I am usually one of many on a team.

    Many of the men and women I am communicating with are business owners or entrepreneurs.

    I am guilty of “If I can help you in any way, just let me know.”… and I do want a more effective response. What should I say if what I mean is… “you’re taking too long to do this thing and I don’t mind helping you get it done.” Or what if I am simply trying to communicate that I am a team player… sometimes I feel guilty for asking for stuff when clients or team members are so busy. But I need my stuff.

    I don’t work with lazy people, so it is unlikely anyone is being a slacker. They will complete the task when they can… so maybe I just answered my own question. Any thoughts?

  • http://twitter.com/TheGirlPie GirlPie

    My Get-Opened TIP:
    I prefix the subject lines of reply emails or forwards with smart info.
    If you send me:
    “When can we talk?”
    I reply with ” ~Confirm Call on Wed/noon?~ RE: When can we talk?”

    Then the body goes into “If you want to talk on Wed. 12/22 at noon PT, please confirm by tonight, or email next desired date/time with the main point to cover. Thanks.”

    Getting my clients to do the same helps everyone quickly see new replies, new info, in the list of subject lines.

  • Bernice

    I am a huge fan of the single use email, it is the only way I can stay accountable and get things done. Great article!

  • Vangile

    I have spent a whole year learning about the value of follow up because not all people ignore you on purpose, most times they forget so I completely agree with the idea of sending an email without making people feel guilty.

  • Vangile

    I have spent a whole year learning about the value of follow up because not all people ignore you on purpose, most times they forget so I completely agree with the idea of sending an email without making people feel guilty.

  • Vangile

    I have spent a whole year learning about the value of follow up because not all people ignore you on purpose, most times they forget so I completely agree with the idea of sending an email without making people feel guilty.

  • Oneononeproductions

    I wonder how this would translate into a sales type of arena. Alot of marketing is done via email B2B. Would the same apply there as far as the single use email, bullet point approach? (Assuming it’s not dropped in the spam folder).

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