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I tried emailing like a CEO and it made my life better (buzzfeed.com)
309 points by ajoy on Dec 4, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 145 comments

I started to follow this approach [1] 6 month ago and it is amazing how much clearer my own thoughts in communication have become.

1. Subjects with keywords. The subject clearly states the purpose of the email, and specifically, what you want them to do with your note. Keywords: ACTION, SIGN, INFO, DECISION, REQUEST, COORD

2. Bottom Line Up Front (BLUF). Lead your emails with a short, staccato statement that declares the purpose of the email and action required. The BLUF should quickly answer the five W’s: who, what, where, when, and why. An effective BLUF distills the most important information for the reader.

3. Be economical. Short emails are more effective than long ones, so try to fit all content in one pane, so the recipient doesn’t have to scroll. use active voice, so it’s clear who is doing the action. If an email requires more explanation, you should list background information after the BLUF as bullet points so that recipients can quickly grasp your message. Link to attachments rather than attaching files. This will likely provide the most recent version of a file. Also, the site will verify that the recipient has the right security credentials to see the file, and you don’t inadvertently send a file to someone who isn’t permitted to view it.


[1] https://hbr.org/2016/11/how-to-write-email-with-military-pre...

> use active voice, so it’s clear who is doing the action.

Using the active voice is neither necessary nor sufficient for clarity as to "who is doing the action". Just make sure it is in fact clear, and write as understandably as you're able. It's true that sometimes people use the passive voice inappropriately, but that's no reason to mangle your writing to avoid it.

Of course these are just guidelines and you can make the passive voice work. However, I found the example given in the article pretty convincing:

> Instead of “The factory was bombed by an F18,” military professionals would say, “An F18 bombed the factory.”

That also rings true with (5) of George Orwells advice on good english writing [1]

(1) Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

(2) Never use a long word where a short one will do.

(3) If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

(4) Never use the passive where you can use the active.

(5) Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

(6) Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.


[1] George Orwell - Politics and the English Language


You're free to have your preference, but as pertains to clarity of agency neither of those is any better than the other.

In fact as agency goes, it was not bombed "by an F18", it was bombed by a person using an F18, probably on orders (or by mistake when attempting to follow different orders) given by other people.

I've certainly enjoyed Orwell's writing, but his recommendations mostly aren't very well thought out (and he doesn't follow them very closely himself, or probably his writing would be worse). See also: http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=992

so try to fit all content in one pane, so the recipient doesn’t have to scroll

Oh no, have we introduced "the fold" into emails too, after a decade of forlornly trying to persuade people it doesn't exist on the web?

If you look at heatmaps of user interaction with webpages, it absolutely does exist.

I especially like the Medium-like sites that force you to scroll over 50 cm of a huge image before some content appears...

The fold has existed in emails ever since people started top posting (I happen to think top posting is very often the best way to optimize your time spent in email).

Well it sounds like it does exist, in the sense that the whole article and the parent comment's experience suggest brevity has been working for them to maintain attention.

Unless you mean trying to pack as much in as possible without exceeding an arbitrary measurement of where the fold is, as opposed to just being very brief and to the point? If so, that does seem to defeat the point and would be inconsistent.

Emails always used to be written like memos though. There was even an etiquette that signatures shouldn't be more than 3 lines long.

I mean, it does exist, both on the web and in emails. And newspapers too!

BLUF. This works for forums too. Doing so in my digital point forums marketing push. https://forums.digitalpoint.com/threads/add-2fb-me-before-th...

That's very good advise. I wonder if the armed forces of other countries have the same emailing guidelines

BLUF is common to US military communication, so it probably preceded email


actually other countries also have similar regulations that are supposed to favor a compact style of official correspondence

Verwaltungssprache in German https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Verwaltungssprache

Официально-деловой стиль in Russian https://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D0%9E%D1%84%D0%B8%D1%86%D0%B8...

Rules for good emails

1. Keep the message as short as necessary but no shorter.

2. Put the most important information at the top of the message.

3. If it email is for an ask, call out from who you need the response and put it at the top of the message.

4. If you need to send a long email with many details, put the most important information at the top (ie. what the reader needs to know) and then fill in the body with details he/she can choose to indulge.


Hey Jane, I need your input on how to prioritize my current work. Can you provide guidance on where I should focus?

Bug XYZ was assigned to me and it's taking longer to complete because we have a dependency on Vendor ABC completing a change to their web service. This is impacting the commitment to my team on Feature 123 because we are near the end of our sprint.

Lemme know.

>>Hey Jane, I need your input on how to prioritize my current work. Can you provide guidance on where I should focus?

>>Bug XYZ was assigned to me and it's taking longer to complete because we have a dependency on Vendor ABC completing a change to their web service. This is impacting the commitment to my team on Feature 123 because we are near the end of our sprint.

>>Lemme know.


> Can you provide guidance on where I should focus?

Should be the call to action/last sentence instead of "Lemme know" (I read that as passive-aggressively asking for a follow up?

> because we have a dependency on Vendor ABC completing a change to their web service. This is impacting the commitment to my team on Feature 123 because we are near the end of our sprint.

Too many words. Saying that vendor ABC is completing a web service won't affect your CTA. Also, that last sentence is implied.

Here is how I would send it:

SUBJECT: Bug XYZ blocking sprint. Help?


Hey, Jane. I'm assigned to bug XYZ. We're held up waiting for something from Vendor ABC; this might make us blow our sprint. Can you help me re-prioritize this?

Now, if Jane is one that prefers having everything upfront and is diligent about getting to her emails, then a longer, more detailed message makes sense. However, I usually send my emails with the intent of illiciting a follow-up response; too much information == TL;DR

"lemme know" isn't passive-agressive, it's a clear request. you've got to sandwich the information you are providing inbetween two copies of the request:

- start with the request, so the recipient knows why they are reading the main content of the email before they start

- give them all the information that you can to help them respond

- and then end with the request again so it's clear what you actually need and they don't have to scroll back up to read it.

the request shouldn't be more than a sentence, so it's not significantly adding to the length to repeat it.

don't be shy about asking for a response - the whole point of an email should be to get a response, and being clear about what you need in the response is just helping your recipient. And if you don't need a response, be clear about that too - but if you're sending email that doesn't require a response, reconsider whether you need to be sending the email.

It's not a (sufficiently) clear request because it doesn't contain your recommendation. If you're asking them to provide their opinion, provide yours as well.

That e-mail should have been written in a style where "yes" could be a sufficient answer to the "lemme know" if the supervisor agrees, and currently it's not.

>Hey Jane, I need your input on how to prioritize my current work. Can you provide guidance on where I should focus?

>Bug XYZ was assigned to me and it's taking longer to complete because we have a dependency on Vendor ABC completing a change to their web service. This is impacting the commitment to my team on Feature 123 because we are near the end of our sprint.

>Lemme know.

Pss, amateur. That's way too many words.

Hi Jane,

should I keep fixing bug XYZ or focus on feature 123? Vendor ABC is taking longer than we thought to fix their stuff.


And sometimes add a smiley so they know you're not made of circuits yourself too.

Use this as an opportunity to 'manage up'. Frame your email to recommend the decision you'd make. In the example below, you know what I would do with no executive decision, and the response I do get can be a one word yes/no reply.

Jane, should I keep fixing bug XYZ? Im blocked by Vendor ABC.

I can work on Feature 123.

I feel like this only works if you already have a good manager. A bad one will just say 'both' and then keep complaining that they aren't both done.

Better to ask for forgiveness than permission:

Hi Jane,

I'm focusing on feature 123 since XYZ is blocked by ABC.


even better:

    Jane, I'm focusing on feature 123 since XYZ is blocked by ABC.
or since email already has the address header:

    TO: Jane Janeson <jane.janeson@initech.com>
    SUBJECT: APPROVE: I'm focusing on feature 123 since XYZ is blocked by ABC. EOM

Even Worf doesn't go that far https://twitter.com/WorfEmail

Nailed it.

> And sometimes add a smiley so they know you're not made of circuits yourself too.

That's where I always forget to do :) :( :)

We usually have a lot of CC's. So we use the @ system.

Eg. @stacey - can you get me the numbers on whatever?

I just bold the names, which has a similar effect.

Not as much of a problem today given the richness of mobile devices and rich text formatting but manipulating fonts (bold, italic, etc) to draw attention was problematic because people/devices would drop down to plain text formatting so the recipient does not get what the sender thinks they will see.

I try to avoid any formatting beyond ascii. It just makes life harder when people are trying to cut and paste.

I use *s surrounding, just like here. Outlook automatically bolds it, but they're still present for unformatted views.

I think you missed a key point in your example which you demonstrated but didn’t explain. The last sentence of the email should be an action for the reader. Don’t make them scroll back up.

I'm abominable with conclusions in emails and personally feel like they are a waste (majority of the time). I know it's something I should probably be better at, but often I just finish my thought(s) and hit send.

This is too often the case. However, what it does is leaves the ask unasked. When a specific ask isn't made, with everyone's high workloads, it allows everyone just to shrug and say "Okay, not my problem." If you allow someone to interpret that nothing was actually asked of them, that's exactly how it will be interpreted more often than you would like.

If you need someone to take up the cause you have identified, you need to specifically ask them so they have to say "No, I'm not going to do that" if they're not going to pick it up. This is as much for their benefit as yours. When someone must say "Yes, I will do that" or "No, I will not do that" it helps them draw a black and white line around what they are willing or not willing to take on as part of their job. In a world where boundaries are grey, life itself is grey, it's hard to have a feeling of completion in anything. When you have no sense of completion, it leaves you feeling like you never really accomplish anything and being pushed with the current, not in charge of your own destiny.

Help people to say "Yes, that is mine" and "No, that is not mine" it is not only helpful for you to know who is in charge of something, it is helpful for them as well. It will help them to say "Actually, I've got too much on my plate already, I don't have any more capacity to take on any more just now. It would be really helpful if you could ask someone else to take this on."

For #1, what I have found works best is to nix the huge amount of text you'd otherwise write in the email and put it in a link. A document maybe, or better yet a beautiful portal that works on desktop and mobile.

That way the email is short AND the link can be reshared!

You lose the ability to search though. And then you've to worry about whether document was on Dropbox, Google Drive or just a link somewhere.

I had a problem where we did exactly that, "please read the document at this link because <list of reasons>". Check the logs, person had not even clicked on it. Asked them about why they had not read the document mentioned in email, and proceeded to show their phone's email app, said "Yes, I read it, see here, the message is marked read in my email."

That doesn't work when your recipients are frequent business travellers who have only intermittent Internet connectivity and the link is behind a corporate firewall. For those people I usually include the document as an attachment. Not ideal but it keeps the discussion moving.

That's a terrific idea, if that kind of CMS-ish system is available to you or within your organization. Unfortunately I've never been exposed to or have much experience with something like that : (

> CMS-ish system

That's Google Docs or Office 365.

Office 365 is the closest I've experienced. I actually kinda like it. My biggest use-case is wider spread documentation that is inappropriate to distribute as an attachment.

I dunno, dude, I'm kinda looking the two-word reply style in the article. My suggested Verizon of the message here would be

"Hey Jane; let's 1:1."

Or, if you think face to face communication is a waste of time,

"Hey Jane; pick one for Friday: feature 123 or bug xyz?"

Why "Hey Jane" at all. Can be cut

Are we playing code golf with email?

TO: Jane

SUBJECT: Bug XYZ blocked. Feature ABC?



Vendor ABC is blocking Bug XYZ. This gates Feature 123.

How do we prioritize?

Subject: Reprioritization

XYZ is blocked by Vendor ABC. Feature 123 is affected.

Also, for #3, put in the when you need a response by so people know the urgency.

As a manager or senior <anything> a huge part of your job is communication and distributing information, and email is one of, if not, THE core method of doing this.

The author has decided to provide poor communication because she can’t handle her inbox. One word replies can be extremely misleading and will cost her more time overall than reading and replying to her emails properly. I would be fuming if I was her boss or worked for her.

> The author has decided to provide poor communication

On the contrary! The author has decided to provide efficient, immediate, communication, instead of vaguely planning to send a more detailed reply later if she maybe gets around to it.

If everybody treated email this way it would be 100x more efficient. If her reply doesn't contain the info you need, just reply back asking for the info you need, and she'll reply within minutes.

But what if you don't know the information you need to know? Or if you're worried about looking incompetent by asking because she always sends such curt replies? Or maybe you're just hacked off that you crafted an email to try to convey a point in a clear, concise manner and she just responded with a one word reply and you have no idea whether she read it and understood it at all

They all sound like your problems, not hers.

They’ll be hers when she’s fired

You just wrote a concise reply as advocated by the linked article.

Isn't this what instant messaging is for?

I'm a big fan of the "executive summary" approach. Give a one or two sentence overview, followed by the details if anyones interested.

I once worked with a senior engineer who would write incredibly long, detailed emails to the point that his manager would ask, how do you have time to write these and not complete this (underspecified, unrealistic) task? He ended up getting PIP'ed and fired. I counseled him many times to keep his emails to 4-5 sentences tops. He just couldn't do it.

I like it. As an employee, it also takes the pressure off for me to be verbose and match the formality of my managers emails. And a simple explanation like "I use short emails because they are quick and easy. Please don't read too much into the tone" the first time around would allay an employees concerns.

It leaves some things unsaid, but better to say them once. Like I sometimes reply "OK" or "got it" to a long request by a manager when I have nothing further to say, but if i DO have questions/concerns, they know I will say more. With that shared understanding, receiving an "ok" saves us both time and energy. Its really great.

Came here to say this. It's great if you're the boss, but did you notice that in the article he says "I just assumed I understood what Mark Cuban meant in the one word reply"

If that assumption is wrong and involves millions of dollars or hundreds of person-hours, what happens to your company? This is only good if the response CAN be brief and still be adequate.

Yea I can see this backfiring over the long term.

A counter example is Nintendo, where Sakurai was literally recorded, so people wouldn't be confused about the project status and what he told them to do.


micromanagement at its extreme?

> email is one of, if not, THE core method of doing this.

I've found this to be less and less true these past years with the rise of Slack.

These days, most of my email inbox searches come up empty because what I'm looking for actually happened in Slack.

Proprietary, closed software will never replace open source software with standars protocols. This sounds like wishful thinking but it's more of a statement of fact. Not only because all long-lived protocols we use have open standards, but also because for many companies it does matter whether they can host their own server or not.

I agree in general, single word emails either are or run the risk of being ambiguous and in many cases end up requiring followup to extract the necessary information. However in some cases they're all that's needed;

"Hey boss, here's a quote for the thing we buy, can I please get your approval for the spend?"


That's perfectly sufficient, and it's a single word.

Also I've found single word replies are a nice way of telling if it's actually the big boss that's replying to you, or their PA :)

> provide poor communication

I see that as efficient communication. No BS

It's only efficient if it answers everything that's needed by the other party. Otherwise you've started an unnecessary back-and-forth when you could you have been short but thorough the first time.

Brevity is the soul of wit.

This doesn't work. I've gotten many bad reviews, because people thought I was being "curt" or "mean" because I was replying to their question with short replies.

None, of my emails were intended to be mean, I just didn't see the point in fluffing up my emails, and only responded with the required information, but I guess people require the fluff or they get their feelings hurt.

You're right, only the most high-powered people in an organization can get away with terse responses that leave recipients guessing at what their precise intent was.

"Fluff" is a highly subjective term. What may be fluff for you could be critical signalling for others. Stripping everything down to the bare-bones of what you (or I) may think answers the request sounds intentionally flippant and dismissive. If we fail to address the recipient in a context they understand and share with us that is taken as an offense.

With a little effort, however, it is totally possible to be cogent, compact, AND polite.

Alternately, your definition of "fluff" was everyone else's definition of "required communication." A short reply can still be ambiguous, which requires clarification, which then wastes time.

Given your many bad reviews, do you think it might be worthwhile to revisit your data?

Problem is humans are multiplexing both data and job security signals across the single channel of email. For the boss, the latter doesn't matter (much) so they can focus on data. For peers and underlings, it is unwise to ignore clues that let you know when your job might be at risk because you pissed off your boss or peers, so getting a clear signal is important.

I think I'm fairly clean and direct in my emails, but that doesn't mean you can't pay attention to how your communication comes off. A friendly opening, ("Hey bob"), and closing ("Cheers, {initials}") should be sufficient to make you not sound like a monster. Maybe throw in a smily face once in a while to remind them you're human.

It works, but as a general rule, you need to include more fluff than the person above you in the hierarchy unless you know they're fine with you being shorter. The trick is figuring out just how much more fluff is ok.

But what will come across as "curt" or "mean" is if your e-mails are substantially less fluffy than those of your boss or your co-workers. You need to adapt to the style in use in the business, not because it is objectively curt or mean, but because people judge whether or not you're being curt or mean subjectively based on their base of comparison, and that is your co-workers.

> But what will come across as "curt" or "mean" is if your e-mails are substantially less fluffy than those of your boss or your co-workers.

You have to be especially careful to not treat people who don't report to you as if they're your subordinates. It's bad to do that to people on your own team, and it's worse to do that to people on another team. A good way to build a bad relationship with someone is to treat them like your lackey when they're not even in the same reporting chain as you.

I've been treated like this before, by someone on another team who sent me a number feature requests that involve significant new work, and by "requests", I mean "demands", without any fluff or niceties or anything. He did this without opening a new ticket (in a company where anything requiring new work needs one), without CCing my boss, and only rarely CCing his boss. This has always resulted in me switching into full-on form letter mode: "Please make your feature request by opening a JIRA ticket in the [redacted] project, and management will choose how to prioritize it.", with my boss and my skip level CC'd on the email.

Absolutely agree. Even when in the same reporting chain, I'd consider it quite bad form because it leaves the people in between with reduced visibility, and often they might have information that makes them prioritize differently or assign different people.

You can get away with some reduced formality when addressing people reporting in to a layer below you but on another team, but "get away with" being the operative part. You will not get away with bypassing managers - even if you manage to sneak it past them now, it'll make people look out for future attempts.

Sometimes if you know everyone well it may be ok to e-mail someone direct and cc their manager and address it to both and suggest the person you're sending it to would be a good person to carry out the work, but I'd take care to make it clear it's up to said manager unless I have very strong reasons to ask for a specific person and then too the manager should at least be informed..

I've been on both ends of this, and more than once told off my managers for bypassing me because of the disruption caused.

I use short responses only for people I work with regularly every day (direct team members).

For everyone else I throw in the fluff to keep things amicable. When I do that - sometimes I feel like I'm wasting time - but in the end I believe it protects you from people thinking you are a jerk - or worse introducing bias into decisions that might be made that could go against you or your team.

What about putting something in your email signature like, "Please do not mistake the brevity of my reply for hostility. I'm just trying to save us all time."?

Because that's kind of lame and assumes so much about the value of your time and the reader's time, not to mention feelings and values.

My experience has been that a lot of people are surprisingly uncomfortable writing. This includes people who have gone to the best universities --- people with excellent educations. They can write well enough to get through school, but they don't enjoy it, and they don't feel they are really expressing themselves in writing.

Personally, I feel like my writing skills are better than my verbal skills, so I default to email, because email plays to my strengths. But over the years I've been taught that I'm in the minority on this. Many managers and co-workers greatly prefer to have a conversation. Often, they feel like they are not getting the facts when they engage in written communications. Apparently they need to see my face and read my body language. Apparently this is true even when the subject is deeply technical, like talking about the APIs our microservices use to talk to each other.

I feel the same way. Recruiters are also bad about this. With email, I have time to think through my response and (maybe more importantly) think of a nice way to say no. On the phone, faced with a salesy fast-talking recruiter, I am definitely at a disadvantage. I'm more likely to be talked into further calls and whatnot. I'm pretty sure they know this.

I think the author suffers from a perfectionism problem. She wants to sent the perfect reply. When asked for advice, she sets a bar that’s much higher in her own head for what the reply should be than what the person asking likely intended. Bosses and CEOs don’t seem to suffer from these anxieties, and have no problem sending back short, decisive, and sometimes imperfect replies.

The key is:

1. Reply now

2. Do the best you can in the time you can spare

It's email. If people need more they can ask for it.

At least now they know you'll reply.

I have always disliked the massive over-use of e-mail, and when I first heard "Email is where keystrokes go to die" [0] it really resonated with me. E-mail is temporal, but far too often used for things of long lasting significance. Though it's somewhat of a necessary evil for communicating externally, I don't use it internally for anything more than I have to.

Here's my take:

Anything long-lived belongs on wiki, ticket system or other shared storage location. E-mail a notification to say there's an update, but the official version doesn't belong archived forever in everyone's inboxes -- well, everyone other than employees who happened to start after it was sent, of course.

Quick questions are better done over chat, if for no other reason than the single-line interface tends to encourage single-line questions.

Long conversations are better had in person or by video chat. How many times have you been on an e-mail thread that included several angry paragraphs written back and forth because of an incorrect assumption or simple misunderstanding?

My ideal interactions start with a chat message or ticket, switch to in-person/video if needed, and document the result (if relevant) in a ticket or wiki page. No e-mail involved.

[0] https://jamesclear.com/keystrokes

I think author is missing the point of "emailing like a CEO." It's not about being terse, it's about clarity. Yes, emails with clarity are often short, but not all short emails are clear. I wrote about this just yesterday: https://www.gkogan.co/blog/clarity/

When I see the phrase "emailing like a CEO" I imagine mainly not asking for opinions or decisions rather making statements of fact or decisions. For example, I got into the habit of not asking for vacation, rather I say "I am taking time off from day X to day Y", or declaring my design decisions instead of asking for opinions.

In the case of asking for time off, my rationale is to avoid making someone spend time evaluating if my request is acceptable.

Well CEO can do it because she is a CEO. If any employee would use this method it'd be considered poor communication and the person considered as lazy and incompetent.

You can as a general rule not be as informal as your superior (unless you know the person well enough), but need not be much more formal.

Put the most important bits first. Be as brief as possible while still being courteous. Recap at the end, including specifically calling out necessary next steps.

My experience is that people often tend to include detail that is only of interest to them, often because they're not certain their request will stand on its own.

Only spend time to add information you're certain is necessary (and I know I often err on this); if your manager needs more info to make a decision, they'll ask.

People will often be grateful if you spare them the details of things they don't need the details of, as long as you can show you've done your work if/when they do ask. The more they can trust you to have data to back up what you ask for, the less they'll actually ask.

What I have realized is some people are just naturally good at this. They are able to get to the nub of the issue, anticipate a pointless back and forth and get things done.

It's not simply an issue of length, its communication and I guess maturity, experience and savvy.

Of course if you already have authority then it's no longer a communication thing but a power thing, as things will anyway get done and some are inevitably waiting for opportunities to suck up to you. So no point aping a CEOs style if you are not a CEO.

Also when you're the boss you can reply however you want and people will make/take the time to figure out the missing details, because they have to.

Try those short replies to your boss for a while and see how it goes. ;-)

On the flip side, I take my time to write detailed replies with full explanations of issues. Usual reply: "can u hop on a call"

Being snarky I would ask you how is that working out for you?

I bet on the call your replies are short. So just reverse the order: make your emails short and to the point with the abstract of your reasoning behind it. End with you can discuss in detail on a conference call. I bet no one takes you up on it.

Sometimes when I write a lovely, thorough, well-crafted email and get a "can u hop on a call 2 discuss" response, I "hop" on that call and simply read out my email. Occasionally I add little pauses to make it sound like I'm not reading, if I can be bothered.

> I wanted to know, did you always email this way, or did you only start once you became the boss? His answer (over email): “Yes.” I’m going to assume the yes was to the first part of the question and he skimmed over part two.

This isn't something to emulate. People who only read the first few words of an email before replying make communication harder for everyone else. Sometimes things can't be accurately summed up in half a sentence.

And yet this is ubiquitous. Nearly nobody reads the whole thing, or if they do they respond to only the most interesting part. The rest is ignored.

I have a rule: Ask exactly one question in an email. Because asking more doesn't ever work.

The trick to asking more than one question is to number them.

Dear Ms. Busy Client,

In order to complete Project X on time, we need your decisions about the following by end of day Friday, please:

1) How many widgets will be required? 2) Do you prefer the red or the green? 3) If we order the widgets from China instead of Mexico, we can save $10 per widget, but delivery will take twice as long. We believe this trade-off is worthwhile because foo. Please confirm that this is acceptable to you. 4) etc.

Thanks, your humble vendor

Then if you still don't get an answer, you ask for a meeting or call like you would have to anyway, but at least you have a handy checklist to make it efficient.

The problem with your several questions are that you won’t get an answer to the easy ones before they have had time to think about the harder ones.

In this example it might not make a difference, but sometimes you can make some progress if you get to know if it should be red or green even before you know if they want to move production to China.

Most importantly, many questions make the email feel more overwhelming. Three short emails can each often get an immediate response. An email with three questions needs to be found time to answer.

That's a great rule - also, always ask the question in the first sentence.

Answering "yes" to "A or B" questions is a terrible approach - if I had to start defining communication anti-patterns it'd be one of the easiest examples. Saying "always" or "the first one" isn't hard, and actually answers the question.

> This isn't something to emulate. People who only read the first few words of an email before replying make communication harder for everyone else. Sometimes things can't be accurately summed up in half a sentence.

The point is not to write all the extra words in the first place.

We had external trainer here some weeks ago and at one point he mentioned(boasted) that he had inbox of 4000+ unread emails. On the last session he wrote his email on the board and said that we can just contact him for further questions and of course no one wrote it down.

I don’t understand why people flaunt their unread counts. To seem important? To me it just says you are indecisive or unorganized.

The flip side of that is what I sincerely have believed for many many years: I don't understand why people flaunt their read counts.

I read all the email from people on my team.

I also receive a lot of email from various sources in the organization as well as external sources - and sometimes all I'm looking for is the subject to decide if it's worth my time to open it and read it.

I feel that not all of that non-team based email is worth my time opening, reading/scanning, then archiving or deleting - time that adds up over the years: How many days of your life have you spent organizing your inbox so that your number is 0?

A stack is a beautiful thing :)

If I don't care about it, it goes away with minimal effort after a little time.

I don't want to be a slave to my email inbox - and at the same time I value the sources of the incoming emails that I don't always read - I read some just not all - and that's ok with me and I do that when it's socially acceptable (not trying to be a jerk about it).

> Like any good member of the proletariat who wants nothing more than to serve capitalism [...]

Never change, Buzzfeed.

I would say, do your best to imagine the receiver’s Inbox and help them.

I wish that E-mail clients didn’t give so much control to senders. (Oh, you picked a crappy Subject line so now I need to use that in my list forever? Oh, you rambled for the first 1-2 sentences so now my message preview is useless. Oh, you mark every E-mail “high priority” so now that sort column doesn’t really organize things usefully.)

Jeff Bezos is famous for forwarding emails with just a question mark to employees when he receives complaints from customers.


A senior editor at buzzfeed is not Jeff Bezos

Perhaps the problem is attempting to review emails at a time when you can't formulate proper responses, i.e. on the phone. If it comes by email, it's probably not urgent enough to justify looking at them at a time when you can't respond.

On the flip side, they probably deserve more than a casual glance and a two word response.

Yes - or you get an email about X, but you need to know more about Y to come to a decision on X, so that X email lingers while you wait for info on Y

I once heard a CEO's job is to make decisions and communicate them. This article seems to reinforce that. I'm not a CEO, but I try to be as concise as possible when I communicate by email. Two things I do are not mentioned in the article. I always address the recipient by name if possible. And, I always add my signature, which on my computer includes my address and phone number. Addressing the recipient by name gets their attention better. And, having my contact info in every email makes it easy if they want to communicate with me via another medium. Also, I always say Please and Thank you. In terms of email management, I use the Getting Things Done method, which works well for me.

Some people get anxiety when email piles up in their mailbox and may spend a considerable amount of time sorting and categorizing their emails, some go as far as making zero inbox a thing.

I would hazard to say most people don't care about their inbox. I for one don't mind at all if an email I didn't read festers in my inbox for years, after all if it's not urgent enough to call or physically reach out to me about it it's not that big a deal.

I currently have around 3k unread emails in the gmail box. Granted, most of them are highly unnecessary or don't need a reply. It doesn't bother me one bit. If I need to find a particular message, I'll search for it. If something is important and I missed it, I'll either get an auto-sent reminder or someone will reach out again or in another way.

I am not a slave to my email, just like I don't feel the need to pick up my phone every time it rings. Have I missed some time sensitive information? Occasionally. Has it blown my life up and caused a world of hurt? Not once.

some go as far as making zero inbox a thing.

That's me. I am very conscientious with emails. Nearly all get actioned or a reply and I often use it as a to-do list. But I also get both my work and personal inboxes to zero every weekend :-) It definitely makes me feel better as things sitting waiting to be done make me anxious (to the point of getting all the cooking stuff into the dishwasher before sitting and eating a meal :-D)

> it's not urgent enough to call or physically reach out to me about it it's not that big a deal

Exactly. If someone has a problem with me taking a couple of hours to get back to an e-mail I say, "you wouldn't send the fire brigade a postcard would you?"

"Thank you for saving my house from the fire last week. XOXO"

"Let’s call this “boss email.” It’s defined by nearly immediate — but short and terse — replies. The classic two-word email. For underlings, it can be inscrutable. Is that an angry “thanks” or a grateful “thanks”? Does “please update me” imply impatience with you? Boss email can be the workplace equivalent of getting a “k” text reply from a Tinder date. One of the features of this is that it would feel wholly inappropriate for an underling to reply to their boss using the same fast terseness. So is the boss email also a power move, a way of asserting dominance? I doubt many bosses sit staring at their employees’ emails trying to figure out what “ok” really meant.”"

Wow that's some deep social commentary - similar to Gogol's "overcoat"

Yes and No on this. One of Bezos' big things is "don't manage by proxy". This feels like a communication proxy. Be natural. If you write novels, learn how to be more direct. I have had a lot of terrible bosses who try to act/write/behave like CEOs.

Probably should be a disclaimer to articles like this.

Doing X like Person Y makes life Z really only works well when you are basically very similar to person Y.

Emailing like a CEO works best when you are a CEO, and are above office politics.

Probably shouldn't email like a CEO if you aren't one.

Since moving to Slack, my email has been reduced drastically (both in length and also in quantity), and also writing long emails were limited for sake of archiving or recording as part of formality. Slack, or similar platform, allows workers to write shorter messages, as well. However, one downside is that Slack is more chatter-prone, so the message has been shortened, but now there's a lot more chatter/messages going around.

Not only that, but if I see a snippet of a request or chat in my Slack phone notifications, I can't read the whole thing without removing it from my notification queue.

Often I get things that I need to get to a desktop to properly respond to.

At least with email I can "Mark Unread" or label/put in a folder. I wish Slack had a way to snooze notifications while still letting you read the whole thing.

Good read. I cut about 10k emails from my longstanding primary email address. This got me down around 90k emails. I am still trying to unsubscribe from stuff, keep up with deletions, yadda. It seems completely hopeless.

I find myself moving to a different email address. Deleting around 9.5k emails there got me down below 500 emails. It is making it increasingly difficult to bother to log back into my old address.

So this article is kind of timely for me.

The way to deal with this email style (in my experience) is to read absolutely nothing into any aspect of the communication and respond succinctly to exactly what they said. But that would probably only work if your boss is writing that way because he's actually trying to manage many things and communicate efficiently. If he's doing it as a way to look cool or whatever, he might just get mad at you.

Here's the next rule for you:


Seriously, posting inline is easier to write and read and makes your email more clear. You don't have to wrangle your words to make it clear what part of their email you're replying to. If you don't need to refer to anything they said, delete the whole email and just put in a couple of words alone.

Stop top posting!

I've worked at four companies over ten years. Everyone at all four companies top posts exclusively.

Bottom posting is a good way to be branded "that weirdo who can't follow standard procedure". In the business world, this old Japanese proverb applies: "The nail that sticks up gets hammered down."

This article is already about changing your email habits. You think the bottom poster is getting stranger looks than the guy who only writes 2 word replies?

It seems like dumb. Everyone has their owns style. Don't copy anyone's and make your own character and style.

I emailed Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks and star of TV’s Shark Tank, because he is known for responding right away to anyone who emails him, and because now I can give this story the headline

Really? What's his email? I think I direct-emailed him before at blogmaverick and didn't get a response.

I would like to add this bit to anyone attempting this:

If you are the CEO you can ask your IT team to check on emails and they jump on it pretty quick. If you don't have that ability then remember the following.

Subjects of emails trigger anti-spam. So be choice, sparse, and unique if possible with email subjects.

carry on.

I don't wanna email like a CEO.

I want Inbox Zero for Life: https://xph.us/2013/01/22/inbox-zero-for-life.html

The issue with standardizing on two word replies is that people will eventually stop writing you in the first place. This can feel good, but it's usually a bad sign, whether you're an IC or a manager.

She's not saying "don't tell people what they need to know", she's saying "don't agonise over sending the perfect email, just give them the information they need".

I am thinking seriously about Yishan-style CEOs at this point. I wonder how many professional (as opposed to founder) Yishan-style CEOs even exist at this point. Yishan is not a founder-CEO BTW.

What is being a Yishan-style CEO except for the fact that you're not a founder/co-founder? I'm not sure how this is relevant to the article above?

Look up "yishan dehrmann"

I have a strong urge to keep unread emails at a minimum. Mark all as read is very handy.

Ok thx

It sounds like what the author really needs is a chatroom.

email, still very much the original internet killer app, is mostly crap these days not because it has changed, but because people are so so so bad at it

This article desperately needs a TL;DR.

She started writing shorter and more concise emails (but, alas, not shorter and more concise articles) and liked it.

Spend your time where the money is. Journalists aren't paid at the end of the day for their email word counts... And, probably, neither are you.

Short emails make you sound like a dick. I wish there was a solution.


Because this specific article is worth a read. You're complaint can be expanded to include the whole internet: Why would you use the internet, the same place that brings you those quizzes like "Answer these food questions and we'll tell you which Power Ranger you are."

>Answer these food questions and we'll tell you which Power Ranger you are.

You just reminded me how glad I am that I aggressively hid every upworthy, clickify, clickhole, and buzzfeed from Facebook. It's somewhat tolerable that way.

I would not blanket-dismiss BuzzFeed. Sure, they publish mostly clickbait, but it's not all crappy quizzes and listicles. They employ some good writers and journalists.

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