Staying out of the inbox void

Susan Snipes / Posted 9.6.2011

Write an email so a busy person will read it and reply

Is your important email languishing away in someone’s inbox? Do you wonder if it’s possible to receive a timely reply (or a response at all) from that busy person you know? It can be so frustrating, especially if you are waiting for input to move forward.

As project manager and client liaison for many projects, I’ve developed some techniques that help get my emails answered faster. While not sure-fire, they do keep email correspondence organized and save time for everyone involved.

Even if an email is time-sensitive and only requires a simple reply, your email may not be as targeted as it could be. Don’t worry though, it is possible to make your emails more effective.

I’ve got six tips to help you streamline and organize your emails and get those replies coming back!

1. Keep it concise
When emailing a busy person, keep the email as short as possible. Skip the background and thoughtful comments if you can. And if you must include commentary, keep it short and sweet.

2. Use numbers or bullets
If you need to include background information, a timeline or other steps, turn said items into numbers or bullets. If there is a lot of information, I suggest grouping items into bullet lists with their own headings.

3. Make action items obvious
Make it exceedingly clear what actions need to be taken. I typically break this section out from the rest if the email. Sometimes it’s best at the end of the email. If it’s a very substantial email, I’ll put it at the top AND bottom.

4. Add names next to action items
Calling out a person’s name can be especially helpful if there is more than one action item. I may put a name in bold or all caps to be sure it’s noticed.

5. Judiciously use CC
This is one tip to use sparingly. Once in a while, I will add an additional person to a message if I want the main recipient to be held more accountable. I am definitely not into babysitting, but sometimes having another person receive the message can prompt more timely action.

6. Provide a timed default decision
While it may not always be possible in every situation, I like to include a default action in my emails. A default action is how I/my team will proceed if we don’t receive a reply or don’t receive a reply by a certain day. For example, if I don’t hear back about additional design changes by the designated day, I will move on to the next phase of the design process. This works great for small approvals to keep a project moving.

To demonstrate all of these techniques in action, consider the following two emails.

A candidate for the permanent inbox:

Dear Joe and Jack,

We spent some time working on the revisions to the home page discussed last Friday during the executive board meeting. Our changes are in the attached design.

We tried to incorporate the fuchsia Jane suggested into the header, but it didn’t show up on the gray. However, we converted all other instances of melon into fuchsia. We made the font size 13px instead of 12px. We updated the tagline to the company’s new one.

When you have a moment, will you please review the design options and give us your feedback? We’d like to get your feedback by Tuesday (the 4th), so that we can stay on track with our timeline. If you can get us feedback before then, that’s great. If it’s after the 4th, we’ll need to adjust the schedule accordingly.

Thank you,

A message begging for a quick reply:

Dear Joe and Jack, please find the attached home page design updates.

Design updates:

  • Updated melon to fuchsia
  • Larger font size
  • New tagline

What’s next?

  • Joe: Let us know if we have your approval by Tuesday (5/4)

If we don’t hear from you by Tuesday, we will consider the design approved and move on to the interior page design.

Thank you,

I hope these tips will keep your projects moving forward and keep your email replies coming in!

Do you have a tried and true tip for speeding up email replies? Share it below!

Susan Snipes

Susan Snipes

President and Founder

Susan Snipes is the founder and president of Q Digital Studio. As a community-minded web entrepreneur, developer, and ExpressionEngine expert, Susan’s innovative approach to the web has benefited well-known companies and organizations ranging from technology, healthcare, education, nonprofits, local and regional governments, and more.  For more thoughts on entrepreneurship, leadership, and inclusivity in technology, follow her on twitter @SusanSnipes.