Since I started receiving over a few hundred of them a day, I created a number of rules for handling e-mail. There is no perfect system, and while some of these self-imposed rules sound harsh, After experimenting a lot, I’ve found them to lead to my highest volume of e-mails answered in a qualitative way.

My main rule for handling e-mails: try to avoid writing e-mails longer than three sentences.

I have three rules for responding to e-mail:

  1. Don’t respond unless necessary. If it is important, people will follow up. No answer is better than a useless answer.
  2. If it takes more time to make a to-do entry out of an e-mail than to respond and complete the task, respond and complete the task. Otherwise, do not respond to e-mails until response is required or requested. Threads drag on too long with too much fluff.
  3. With the exception of urgent e-mails, prioritize ‘e-mails to which a response would really mean something to someone’ over ‘e-mails for work’.

I have three rules for writing e-mails:

  1. Don’t write an e-mail for something that isn’t absolutely necessarily an e-mail. E-mail is best for formalities, external communications that require archiving and communications that are not decidedly urgent. If you’re working with someone and things can be urgent, make sure you have another method of contact.
  2. Get to the point in the first line, and if pleasantries are expected, integrate them into the sentence with a comma or semi-column, regardless of the grammatical appropriateness. Nobody cares. (ie. Hope you’re doing well, I was writing to check in about [x])
  3. Set a reminder for a follow-up. Expect a response time of about a week, and follow-up after three to five days. If someone mentions a time-frame, set a follow-up reminder for 80% and 120% of that timeframe. People often need a reminder for communications through e-mail.

That leaves me curious: what are your rules for e-mail?

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