How Long Should An Email Be?

Tips to keep emails efficient and effective since they are part of business workflows and are key elements to get things done!


Photo of a mobile screen Mail App
Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

My first mid year performance review straight out of the automotive industry was in the banking sector. Coming straight from Manufacturing, Yazaki Japan to be specific, a company where a process is measured in seconds, where being one minute early or one minute late is considered waste, let's just say my mindset was driven to NEVER waste anyone's’ time and to do everything in my power to continuously improve the customer experience.

Now, in the banking sector, I was challenged to slow down, to think in minutes and to pace myself not to scare people off! True story!


A culture measured through email practices

During that first performance review, my then manager was trying to illustrate that my pace was a bit too fast for the bank culture and used the way I handled an email as an example.


My emails were dry, with very sharp words that could be seen as offensive to some people. I needed to soften my approach.

When I heard that, a million thoughts came rushing in:

  • I was hired to improve culture efficiency. If I start using email as a way to communicate (knowing that it is a passive form of communication and doesn’t often translate emotion), wouldn’t that defeat the purpose I was assigned to achieve?

  • My efficiency training included eliminating the need of email when designing a process flow so why was this a topic?

  • If you MUST use an email, it should be as short and summarized as possible not to interrupt anyone’s productivity and day. So why was he asking me to become less efficient to fit in?


So, I left promising I would try to think of ways to soften my approach, especially using email. I didn’t want to offend anyone!

Truth is, for a while, I struggled with self knowing I was adding WASTE in my day and other manager’s day by adding non value added content to an email.


My emails went from:


“Hi Richard,
Can you send me the report by EOD pls?
Cheers,
M

To


“Hi Richard,
How was your weekend? I hope this email finds you well.
Could you be so kind as to send me the report you mentioned earlier? 
Hope that doesn’t trouble you. 
Best regards,
Marta”


This did the trick and I learnt then that many manufacturing background engineers would find it hard to change sectors!


Some useful tips


Now, after many first performance reviews and specializing and behavior management in a transformation project I can now say there are things to consider when deciding to use email at work.


One is length. If email is used within a business, to manage workflow, of any kind, than you will for sure have waiting times and queueing. However, if it is the only way to manage workflow within your business, here are some hints to consider when deciding the length of an email:

  1. SORT - How many words do you really need to transmit a message? If asking for someone's time on an email, be respectful and make that short and sweet!

  2. SYSTEMIZE - Visually people read faster if the information is structured and displayed, not as an philosophy essay but as a business document. Use bullet points and bold key messages to help the reader to get to the point faster;

  3. Be EFFECTIVE - Think that different types of emails serve different purposes. So the length should change accordingly. If you know it is a newsletter, people tend to read in their spare time so you can expand. But if it is part of a workflow, think time is money and follow suggestion 1!


 
"I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time", Blaise Pascal "Provincial Letters: Letter XVI", 1656
 

Disclaimer: Apologies if some interpretations may offend a reader. I do rely on literal translation at times since English is a second language. My intention with this article is to spread awareness. I welcome your feedback to ensure I will not be constantly making the same errors in translation.


I also write about my own life ,professional experience and learning curve. I am a continuous improvement learner so I welcome you to share extra information and spread awareness with me if you have other ways of analyzing the same issues or you have value-added information to the readers of this article. Thank you for reading.