If you ask modern salespeople to identify their single greatest productivity drain, ten-to-one they'll say, "Email." This double-edged sword has made it almost too easy to communicate, resulting in inboxes stuffed with unread messages. I know of people who have literally thousands of emails in their inboxes, because who has time to read them all? Even legitimate communications often get ignored for far too long, and when you do get around to handling them, most end up being longer than necessary.

Customers don’t want to wade through your two-page email. Here is where brevity becomes the soul of productivity, to repurpose Shakespeare.

I find you can effectively answer most questions with all the necessary information within three to five sentences. We’ve even encouraged everyone in our office to ignore the opening and closing email salutations and just type out the message. For clients, you can add more social niceties than you do internally, but not many.

If your signature contains your name, you don’t have to type it again. If several replies are in the string, you don’t have to continue typing someone’s name in the beginning. Especially when dealing with co-workers, vendors, and employees, you can even pare down answers to, “Yes,” “I’ll get back to you on Tuesday,” or “Sounds good.”

Let me give a few examples using some actual emails I’ve sent to my clients recently:

1.     When I received an email from a customer with a signed contract for a speaking engagement and request for an invoice, I simply replied:

Got it! Looking forward to seeing you again — it’s been too long! ☺ As requested, here’s the invoice for the deposit. Thank you, Andrea.

2.     When sending a handout to a client:

I’ve also attached the handout to upload to the WebEx event, as well as an introduction you can use (feel free to modify as you wish).

Please let me know if there’s anything else you need at this point! I’ll watch for the login information. Thank you.

3.     When reviewing a final version of a contract draft:

Looks great to me! I’ll watch for the P.O. number and will send the invoice.

Thanks, everyone. I’m already looking forward to the event!

4.     When a client needed to reschedule a webinar:

Sorry! Our schedules are moving targets.

How about Thursday 7/28 at 9:00 mountain/11:00 eastern?

5.     When approving a detailed agenda for a meeting:

Okay, great, it’s a plan! They can always leave early, or hang out and work or chat with you. ☺

Don’t forget everyone will need a print copy of the attached handout, as well as internet access. Thanks and chat soon.

Why say more?

Notice you can still demonstrate passion for your work and have a fun side (I use smileys and don’t care). You can be friendly and direct at the same time. Don’t overthink it. If there’s additional history, legal matters, or technical data to be reviewed, attach it in a document or spreadsheet, or better yet, provide a link on a webpage.

If five sentences aren't enough, bump it up to seven: The 3-to-5 sentence rule  serves as a guideline, not an unbreakable law. The point is that you should challenge yourself to boil your emails down to a few sentences without losing important information, stripping them of the irrelevant. This helps you organize your thoughts in the most direct, orderly way possible. You could easily save an hour a day by not overthinking, overwriting, and over-replying your emails.

Of course, don’t use this rule when it isn't appropriate. For example, you might appear insensitive if you use this method for personal emails or for commenting on a major event in someone's life. If you're planning to comfort someone over the death of a spouse in 20 words or fewer, you may as well not email them at all. You may find this an absurd example, but it happens.

With the 3-to-5 sentence rule, you can cut email overflow down to size, leaving you with more time for selling and boosting your productivity. When I get to the point, customers appreciate it, and I find I’m much more likely to get a response.

We’ve even encouraged everyone in our office to ignore the opening and closing email salutations and just type out the message.”

Laura Stack | President & CEO, Productivity Keynote Speaker and Author, The Productivity Pro, Inc.
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