Paul Burton’s 12 Tips to Make Email More Effective

Overall Objective

  • Reduce and improve time spent using email.
    • Reduce receiver-centric behaviors — Reduce the number of replies needed so you really do reduce email.
      • Weed out losers before reading:
        1. Delete!
        2. Mark as spam!
        3. Unsubscribe!
        4. Preview everything else.
    • To improve use and reduce volume of email, focus on “sender-centric” behaviors rather than “receiver-centric”.
Example of an Effective Email Communication

Example of an Effective Email Communication

Improve Your Mechanics

Figure out a better how!

  1. Please stop hiding behind email as the universal communication tool.  Ask, “is this the best way to communicate this message?”  It is good for sending static information (vs. discussion), not good for conversations.
  2. Love reply, Loathe Reply all – if all really need to hear your reply – ok, but 95% of the time reply to just those who need to hear.
  3. Avoid the collective “Thank You” strings – Bad habit and insincere.  Be sincere and write a separate email to express genuine thanks.  Better – call or go down the hall.  Avoid thank-you-fests.
  4. Be Jekyll & Hyde – shift from global “inbox” (overwhelming)  to multiple inboxes for each major part of your life to reduce the “Variable intermittent feedback loops” – constant (addictive) checking of email.  Create some separation of function so you can focus on 1) work, 2) family, 3) outside interests without all competing all the tie.   Don’t forward other email addresses to a single one. Check each – use smartphone. Have multiple inboxes for each major role in your life so you can better parse your time – focus on one thing at a  time.  Keeps work separate from family and outside interests. Better for work and for you.
  5. The 10 Second Rule – Change the 2 minute rule from David Allen “Getting Things Done” – i.e.,  if less than 2 min – Just do it now.  Shift to make that the 10-second rule – TIP  – If you have to think, move on.
  6. The Buck Stops Here – “Do I have a follow up system that allows us not to lose something?” If not , find one and use it.

Improve Your Messaging

Take responsibility for completing the communication.  Own the message until it’s actually received.

  1. Mind the Subject line — Make the most of every subject line.  Make it headline.  Use abbreviations (EOM, Reply Needed,  FYI,  NRN (no reply necessary) at the beginning of the Subject, and math symbols to quickly communicate (+, =, -) People read only 1st 2 paragraphs of any email.
    1. Change the subject line when the thread changes.
    2. If forwarding for FYI, point where to look in the message in a lead sentence.
    3. Own communications.
  2. Give Good signature block – add phone, email, website link, social media links, branding, etc. to every signature block.
  3. Follow the rules of the road.
    1. Always be professional.  They can all get forwarded.
    2. Use correct grammar and spelling – they indicate who you are – take the time.
    3. Attend to Pace, Clarity, Completeness – to enhance understandability – Pace – rate at which info is digestible, Clarity  – be concise and cogent, Complete – address all points, leaving nothing unanswered.
    4. No Yelling – avoid ALL CAPS, always.
    5. Brevity is beautiful.
      1. 25 words per sentence limit.
      2. Eliminate intensifiers – “really, very, clearly”.
      3. Consider swapping the word after “of” with the word before “of” –
    6. Read, Pause, Send – steps before sending any email.  Is this correct and professional?
  4. Deliver the goods first – Give the summary first = Use Bursts – give shortest amount of information to get to yes. People don’t read past he 2nd paragraph.
    1. Use an outline or memo style with conclusion, observation, request for action  first
    2. Use lists and bullets.
    3. Use short crisp sentences.
    4. Supporting information follows.
  5. Be Responsailicious –  reference prior email when replying.
    1. Answer all question.
    2. Categorize/Separate subjects with headings.
    3. Add an update to the subject line re your input – “revised”.
    4. If the subject doesn’t fit, start a new thread.
  6. Write a Screenplay  –  distinguish background from dialogue –   Guide people through the messages.  Topics, Start with names for specific tasks. State a directive .
    1. Start with information for all readers, and then follow by calling out people by name
    2. Use directives  to ID action required – include their name and new paragraph or bullet.

Bonus Thoughts

  • Email is forever – don’t forget it.
  • Pause when upset.  Don’t send an angry email.
  • Everyone uses it every day.
  • Activity is reading and receiving emails.
  • Productivity is the tool better through attention to 1) mechanics and 2) messaging .
  • Email is not a “conversation” tool.  When we treat it as one we lose time.

Paul Burton is a practicing attorney in Washington State. He is an expert in the areas of  business communication and time management.  These are some notes my dad took at a one-hour seminar with him.


About bryantanner

I'm obsessed with learning via the appropriate technology. My professional mission is to effectively deliver instruction to learners in a way that yields the greatest results for all stakeholders involved.
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