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Mastering the Short Email

Mastering the Short Email

Mastering the Short Email

    “I apologize that this letter is so long. I did not have the time to make it short”

    — BLAISE PASCAL

    Good writers know that lean, vibrant language is almost always preferable to verbose, rambling writing. There is virtually no writing in the world so good that it can’t be made better by making it shorter. There are exceptions, of course – a contract needs to cover every possible potentiality, as does the text of an international treaty, but these documents are not really meant to be read, they’re meant to be enacted.

    When you send email, though, you most definitely mean for it to be read. By a person, even. With everyone’s inboxes bulging at the seams with unwanted come-ons, weekly newsletters, Amazon notices telling them about the latest product that people who bought whatever they bought also bought, status updates, listserv posts, and who knows what else, you face an awful lot of competition in your recipient’s inbox for their attention.Getting read is no small feat in and of itself; getting your reader to take action even a greater accomplishment.

    Writing well is one key – good prose is engaging and persuasive, no matter what the aim. And writing concisely is a big part of writing well. But writing concisely offers benefits on its own – the short email, particularly the email whose contents fit into the preview pane without any scrolling, has a much higher chance of gaining a reader’s attention than one that starts off with three pages about trivia.

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    This is what Mike Davidson figured out – if his recipients were half as slammed as he was, he figured they could use some relief from long-winded emails that ramble on and on in the guise of pleasantries. Instead, he committed himself to writing emails that were five sentences or less, every single time. To explain his decision, and to encourage others to follow suit, he created the site five.sentenc.es, which explains:

    The Problem

    E-mail takes too long to respond to, resulting in continuous inbox overflow for those who receive a lot of it.

    The Solution

    Treat all email responses like SMS text messages, using a set number of letters per response. Since it’s too hard to count letters, we count sentences instead.

    five.sentenc.es is a personal policy that all email responses regardless of recipient or subject will be five sentences or less. It’s that simple.

    You add the link to your email signature, dash off your five-sentence response, and let your recipient know that you are looking out for his or her time. (For the really daring, Davidson set up domains with even fewer sentences, down to two.sentence.es.)

    That’s all well and good, of course, but how can you make sure you say what you need to say if you limit yourself to five sentences? (Or even if you make the less-radical commitment to just write as short an email as possible?) You don’t want to leave anything out, right?

    Unfortunately, concision isn’t really taught or, to be honest, valued sufficiently. The huge novel is seen as more significant than the slim novella, the fat envelope more important than the thin one, the 10-page essay as more A-worthy than the 5-page essay. Teachers actually encourage wordiness, giving students instructions to write papers “at least” 500 words long, or 6 pages, instead of encouraging the shortest possible length in which you can fully express your thoughts.

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    Fortunately, super-entrepreneur Guy Kawasaki has offered a good guide to the five-sentence email (scroll down to point #9). He says,

    Whether UR young or old, the point is that the optimal length of an email message is five sentences. All you should do is explain who you are, what you want, why you should get it, and when you need it by.

    (Don’t ask me what purpose the seemingly out-of-place IM-speak serves there – let’s just chalk it up to 5 saved keystrokes.)

    If we take Kawasaki’s advice to heart, a good outline for a five-sentence email might look something like this:

    1. Who are you? This might be skipped if you already have a relationship with the recipient; otherwise, in as little space as possible, explain the relevant facts about yourself.
    2. What do you want? Explain why you’re writing the email, what you expect your recipient to do about it, and any relevant information they need to respond with the appropriate action.
    3. Why should you get it? Or, more to the point, why should they bother? Explain why your request is important, and if relevant, what’s in it for them.
    4. When do you need them to act? Open-ended requests get open-ended responses – that is, they get responded to whenever the recipient gets around to it. Be as specific as possible, so that your recipient a) has a sense of urgency, b) feels that their response is important to you, and c) feels inspired to act.

    So, for example, emailing a professor to ask for an extension on an essay (that must be at least 10 pages long…) might look something like this:

    Professor Wax,

    I’m a student in your Thursday afternoon anthropology class, and I’m having some trouble finding enough references for my term paper. Could you please give me an extra week to complete the assignment? I realize this might affect my grade, but I really want to give you the best paper I can, not just 10 pages of filler to make up for the missing information. Please get back to me by tomorrow morning so I can plan my writing schedule.

    Thanks,

    Ace Tuden

    Or an email to a colleague asking for data you need to finish a report might look like this:

    Dustin,

    I’m working on the report for our proposal to Acme, Inc. and really need the figures from the marketing analysis you ran. Could you get those to me by the end of the day so I can wrap this up? As you know, this report is crucial if we want to land that co-branding deal with Acme!

    Best,

    Emma Ployee

    Notice that both of those examples are less than five sentences – the point isn’t to shoehorn your work into a particular format but to write as little as you need to get the point across.

    Sometimes, of course, that means writing more than five sentences. Kawasaki’s advice presupposes that most email is requesting some kind of information, but that’s not always the case. But if you force yourself to think in terms of a five sentence email, and you go over a sentence or two, you will be far more effective than if you dash off a 2,000-word treatise.

    While emails are technically just text, just writing, and therefore could theoretically be as long as you care to make them, in reality longer emails are more likely to go unread , and less likely to be read carefully, as short ones. If more information is needed, a formal report, a webpage, a memo, or some other form of document is probably going to be better-suited to presenting it than an email. Send an attachment, send a link, or schedule a face-to-face meeting if necessary; don’t blast off a giant email that takes you hours to write in the vain hope that it will be read.

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    Last Updated on July 13, 2020

    9 Simple Ways to Always Stay Positive

    9 Simple Ways to Always Stay Positive

    It’s common to be struck with a bout of pessimism, or to naturally be more towards the pessimistic end of the perspective spectrum. It’s hard to see the positives in life and become an optimist when you’re lost in the murky waters of negative thinking.

    However, Henrik Edberg, the founder of The Positivity Blog is here to share nine ways we can create a more optimistic outlook and positive perspective:

    “Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.” — Maria Robinson

    When I was younger — in my teens and early 20s — I was trapped. Not physically, but mentally: by the destructive thought pattern called pessimism. This negative thinking poisoned what might have been a pretty good and opportunity-filled childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood. This pessimism created ceilings and walls where there really were none.

    Throughout the period when I was ridden by pessimism, my life and I mostly stood still. Looking back, it was a terrible waste. If you are in pessimistic place, you don’t have to stay there for the rest of your life. I didn’t, for I learned to replace my negative thinking with optimism.

    In this article I’ll explore nine positivity habits that have helped me to go from someone who was pessimistic most of the time to someone who is now optimistic almost all the time. I recommend to not try to add all the habits at one go but to choose one habit and to practice it for 30 days so it becomes a habit, before adding the next.

    1. Ask Yourself the Right Questions

    This is the simplest but perhaps also the most important habit I have discovered in adopting an optimistic mindset. The questions we ask ourselves day in and day out when we wind up in negative, difficult or uncertain situations make all the difference in our life.

    A pessimist might ask him/herself questions like:

    • “Why did this happen to me?”
    • “Why do bad things happen to me all the time?”

    But an optimist asks him/herself the questions that open up the mind to new viewpoints and possibilities. A few of my favorite questions for finding the optimistic perspective are:

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    • “What is one good thing about this situation?”
    • “What can I learn from this situation?”
    • “What is one small step I can take today to start solving this situation?”

    2. Create a Positive Environment to Live In

    The people you spend your time with and the information you let influence your mind will have a huge effect on your attitude and how you think about things.

    Watch this YouTube video and learn the power of a positive environment:

    So choose to:

    • Spend more time with the people who lift you up. And less time – or no time – with people who just bring you down by being negative and critical. Read: You are the Average of the 5 People You Spend the Most Time With
    • Let in the information that supports you. Spend less time on negative and self-esteem damaging media sources and spend more time reading positive and constructive blogs and books, watching motivating movies, listening to inspirational songs, and listening to audio books and podcasts created by optimistic people. Check out 12 Inspirational Movies With Important Life Lessons To Learn and 25 Most Inspirational Songs of All Time.

    3. Be Grateful for What You Have (Don’t Forget About Yourself Too)

    A very simple and quick way to boost the positive energy in your life is to tap into gratitude.

    I usually do it by asking one or more of these questions:

    1. What can I be grateful for in my life today?
    2. Who are 3 people that I can be grateful to have in my life and why?
    3. What are 3 things I can be grateful for about myself?

    Just spend 60 seconds or a few minutes during your day with answering one of these questions to reap the wonderful benefits.

    4. Don’t Forget About Your Physical Self

    Being an optimist isn’t just about thinking in a different way. It is also about caring for the physical part of ourselves.

    I have found that working out a couple of times a week, enough quality sleep each night and eating healthy food has a huge effect on my mindset.

    If I mismanage those very basic things then negative thoughts pop up far more often and I become more pessimistic and shut down about the possibilities in my life.

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    So don’t neglect these basic fundamentals. Just caring for your physical self the right way can minimize a whole bunch of problems in life.

    5. Start Your Day in an Optimistic Way

    The way you start your morning can set the tone for the rest of your day. For example, a stress-free morning often leads to less stress during the rest of the day.

    So how can you set an optimistic tone for your day?

    A three-step combination that has worked very well for me is to ask myself a gratitude question during breakfast, read some positive information online or in a book very early in the morning and then follow that up with exercising.

    This sets my mind on the right path and fills me up with energy for my day.

    6. Focus on Solutions

    A sure way to feel more negative about a situation is to sit around and do nothing about it. Instead, use the questions I shared in step one and open up your mind to the possibilities of the situation you are in.

    If you have trouble to get started with taking action, ask yourself:

    What is one small step I can take today to get the ball rolling?

    Then take that small step forward. However small this step is, it can have a big effect in your mood and thoughts. If the step feels too big or it just makes you procrastinate, then ask yourself:

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    What is an even smaller step I can take to move forward today?

    The most important thing is to move forward, even if it’s a tiny baby step.

    7. Reduce Your Worries

    The worrying habit is a powerful and destructive one and can take over anyone’s thinking. It used to be one of my biggest obstacles to optimism and to moving forward in life.

    Two effective steps that have helped me and still help me to this day to minimize the worries are:

    1. Ask yourself: how many of my worries ever happened in reality? If you are like me you will find that the answer is: very few. Most of the things you fear throughout your life will never happen. They are just nightmares or monsters in your own mind. This question can help you to do a reality check, to calm down and to realize that you have most likely just been building another imaginary nightmare.
    2. Focus on solutions and the action you can take. The worries grow stronger in a foggy mind and an inactive body. So use the questions in Steps 1 and 6 to move out of your worries and into resolution.

    8. Don’t Let Ideals Ruin Things

    A common mistake people make when making a shift in their attitudes is that they think that they have be perfect and do things perfectly all the time. This traps them from being positive.

    Changing to a positive attitude can be gradual. While you may slip and stumble, continuing this way over time will strengthen your positive viewpoint more and more.

    But if you set an inhuman standard for yourself and think you have to go from being a pessimist to always being an optimist, then you may find it hard to live up to that. And so you may feel like a failure. You get angry with yourself. And you may even give up on changing this habit and fall back into negative thinking.

    So instead, focus on gradual change. If you are optimistic 40% of the time right now, try to improve this to being optimistic 60% of the time. Then, increase that to 80% when you are used to the new standard, then subsequently 100% if you can.

    This focus on gradual improvement is far more sustainable and likely to bring long-term success than trying to reach an inhuman standard grounded in perfection.

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    9. Finally, a Reminder to Help You to Not Give Up

    I would like to end this article with a simple but powerful and timeless thought that comforted and encouraged me to continue on when things looked bleak.

    That thought is: It is always darkest before the dawn.

    This thought has helped me to hold on and keep going when my social skills and dating life was just plain bad. It has helped me to continue on in my online business when things looked like they would never pick up. It has helped me to put one foot over another even when things looked dark.

    I have found this thought to be very true. Why? Because when things seemed to be at the lowest for my blog, business, dating life or life in general, something positive would always happened. That’s probably because being at a low point forced me to change how I did things.

    But maybe also because life has a way of evening itself out when I go on. By taking action rather than give up, something good will always happens.

    Seeing this thought live itself out has strengthened my belief in staying optimistic, in taking action and to keep going even when going through rough patches.

    Re-syndicated 9 Simple Habits to Stay Positive in Life | Personal Excellence

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    Featured photo credit: Allie Smith via unsplash.com

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