The Single Sentence Email Project

In my desperation of finding a solution to my guilt-inducing-email-problem I am considering The Single Sentence Email Project:

“Respond to emails with as few words as possible. Aim for a sentence, but if just a word will do, use it.* It will take practice, and some might dislike it. I argue that this is a fair trade for getting more time to work (and live) productively.”

But I of course fear that my short reply will come across as rude. What is better: Getting a brief reply or none at all? Maybe Five Sentences is a good middle ground.

16 Comments leave a comment below

  1. interesting. i’d love to see some examples of one-sentence (or one word!) replies to long emails that don’t come off as sounding cold, indifferent, brusque, smug, or pretentious.

  2. Me too. Examples, please!

  3. Me too! – Although, off the top of my head, my solution to perceived rudeness would be a disclaimer in the email signature. If you’re already using email a lot, you probably have a few different signatures for different kinds of correspondence already, and I’d just add a sentence explaining the “as short as possible” approach. :)

  4. As someone who relies heavily on email, a too short email isn’t about being kurt or mean, it’s about misinterpretation. My emails are long and tedious so that there is no confusion on what I mean. Rarely will a 1 sentance email be replied to with anything but anger, confusion, or a response on a completely different topic.

  5. I’m still a big fan of five sentences. I think it’s a great compromise, easy to link to in your signature, but it’s hard to stick to. You could avoid the problem entirely and try the Knuth way:

  6. A brief email is definitely better than none at all. As a soon to be graduate, I’m hoping the prospective employers that I sent my portfolio to will reply with atleast a thankyou but no thankyou.

  7. Try !

    1) Greeting
    2) Restate their email in one sentence
    3) State your response.
    4) Closing

    As in:

    Hi Tina!
    I understand you want to save time on sending emails.
    Instead of 5 sentences, try 4
    Cheers! Bernie

  8. Tina, I think you may have reached that point in your life where you need to start living/operating/thinking like the master of a much larger enterprise. Your situation is very typical for someone who’s smart, passionate, and diversely talented like you. You don’t want to give up all of the things that sustain you, but your calendar is saturated.

    You only have two choices.

    1) Shut down projects you don’t have time for.

    2) Delegate everything that sits outside a fixed list of responsibilities. I call it TrustThrust. You have to cross over into a world of conducting instead of violin playing. You need to build a team so phenomenal that you feel like you’re participation in anything outside your core talents would hold the team back.

    It’s hard to see how necessary this is, because your are just starting to press up against the line between your world and the one on the other side. But, if you want to keep working on all the great stuff you’ve got on your plate, you have to cross over.

    Everyone who succeeds at a certain scale makes that move into having a team that truly works not just with you, but for you. You’ve got to build that pyramid. It doesn’t need to be more than two stones tall, but you have to build it.

    Think about people with personal brands that have long ago crossed over the line: Martha Stewart, Danny Meyer, Dale Chihuly, Diane von Furstenberg, Quincy Jones. They have pyramids.

  9. Ted Pearlman – A smart, wise and, in my view, right comment. The discussion so far has been about this as an ‘administrative problem’. But that is the smallest part of it. It is really a problem of ‘agency’, what Ted has called ‘scale’. Who and what we want to be in the world? Where and for whom, do our energies lie?

    An administrative solution alone won’t work unless it is congruent with ‘the problem’.

    And, selfishly, the last thing I would like to see you give up is Swiss Miss – I value it deeply and thank you for it.

  10. Swiss-Miss OmniMedia!

  11. I think this whole phenomenon speaks to how often we use words unnecessarily — as silence-fillers, space-fillers — how so many of our words are filler. And it makes me wonder if the cause is, with all of the intentional and unintentional noises that surround us, because we’re not very good at listening anymore.
    I think a response should be as long as it needs to be and no longer — think about how often you scan through fluff to get to the meat of what is being said in emails to you. Get rid of the fluff.

  12. I do that and people think I am mad at them or hate them. When in doubt, it might be good form to add a smiley face. I have introduced this practice and have seen positive results.

  13. Agree with April: I really hate emoticons, especially in business communication, but if it allows me to type a short answer (when appropriate) I will use one. People need to learn that email has evolved from an electronic replacement for the formal business letter or memo. A short answer is not rude; it is respectful of the reader’s time as well as the writer’s.

  14. There’s a great rule that I read in the book Enchantment or Making Ideas Happen:

    A Good Email. (6 Sentences)

    1. Why you’re contacting them

    2. Who you are

    3. What your cause is

    4. What you want

    5. Why they should help you

    6. What the next step is.

    I’ve used this for a few years now and find it super effective.