How to Get a Faster Response to Your E-mail

I often hear people complain about how long it takes to get a response to e-mail. Sometimes, to be sure, it is because the recipient is inept. The sender’s request languishes in the recipient’s overflowing inbox.

speedy email

But sometimes, the request itself is the problem. Here’s what you can do on your end to insure a faster response:

  1. Put the person’s name in the TO field. The CC field won’t cut it. If you expect someone to respond, make sure you have addressed the e-mail to them. I get so many e-mails now that I have set up an e-mail rule to filter out messages on which I am only CC’d. I automatically assume that these are “for information only.” This automated rule moves messages to my “CC” folder and marks them as read, so they don’t continue to distract me. I only go through this folder once a week or so.

  1. Limit your message to one subject. Good managers practice David Allen’s “two-minute rule” when it comes to processing e-mail. This rule says, “if you can do the action requested in the e-mail in two minutes or less, do it now. If not, put it on your task list for later.” The key then is to make it easy for the recipient to respond now. If you clutter up your e-mail message with several subjects, it makes it easier for the recipient to procrastinate. So it is preferable to send multiple e-mails, each with a discrete subject, than send one e-mail with multiple subjects.
  2. Tell them what you need in the first sentence. Don’t make the recipient wade through a long e-mail to get to the request. Put it at the top of the message and then let them decide if they need more information. For example, the other day, I got an interview request. The sender went on and on about their magazine—the company’s history, the market demographics, the circulation, etc. I had no idea why this information was relevant to me and almost deleted it. Then, after two pages of information, they asked me for the interview. Don’t make this mistake. Get to the point.
  3. Keep the message short. Again, remember the two-minute rule. If it takes longer than two minutes for the recipient to read your message, it will likely get set aside. In fact, they may never get back to it! So, keep it short. I like the advice some people are now giving: keep your message to five sentences or less. If it takes more than this, you should seriously consider another method of communication (e.g. a phone call, meeting, formal report, etc.)
  4. Tell them if your request is urgent or time-sensitive. People need help prioritizing. Most people want to be helpful. If you tell them it is urgent, they will try to comply. But—and be warned—if you do this too often, they will start ignoring you. If a request is time-sensitive but not urgent (e.g., I don’t need it now, but I do need it by the end of the week), I state exactly when I need it. I then track the request in my task management system, so I can be sure to follow-up.

These suggestions won’t work with people who are truly incompetent. But if you follow these recommendations, at least you will know you have done everything you can on your end.

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  • Leigh

    I second number three. I get many emails forwarded to me where the sender says something like “Can you support this?”, doesn’t provide any other information, and I have to wade through an email thread of ten emails to find out what they’re talking about.

  • Sandy B

    it is also very helpful if the subject line gives definite information about the purpose of the e-mail.

  • http://www.studiosmith.blogspot.com Barry A. Smith

    Wow. Fortunately I can’t think of any person within my organization who I could classify as truly incompetent. I assume you don’t either, and are just being facetious.

  • http://thetalkingtoaster.blogspot.com/ Lisa Rollins

    Bravo! Keep the good email pointers coming.

    I am (1) inspired by the example you set in the company, encouraging us all to follow your lead, and (2) hopeful that absorbing all your suggestions will one day turn me into an email processing machine. Not there yet, but it feels good to be optimistic.

  • Ben

    “…it is preferable to send multiple e-mails, each with a discreet subject…”

    I hope it’s not indiscreet of me to point this out in public, but you mean “discrete”.

    I like the tips. Thanks.

  • Andrew Nelson

    Err, I disagree with #3 slightly.. I’d phrase it differently.
    It does sound efficient to have the request first, but I found that when I put the reason after the request, response was much slower because eyes glaze over in the middle and people forget how the email began. But they always pay attention to how it ends (looking for the “bottom line” maybe?). And I suppose we remember the last thing first!

    Now, I put the summary first, supporting arguments in the middle and “what I expect of you now” last. Try it!

    (and yes, i just used that technique on you :) )

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    How to Get a Faster Response to Your E-mail by Michael S. Hyatt [via lifehack.org]
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  • http://www.rachelhauck.com Rachel Hauck

    Short emails. Please. Great day, some people are wordy. ;)

    I love emails that get to the point, but as a writer and subject to certain “I work all day by myself” insecurities, a one-liner “hope you’re well” or “thanks for this idea” (whatever) really boosts my day. :)

    Rachel

  • http://ideamatt.blogspot.com/ Matthew Cornell

    Thanks for the tips, Michael. I’d modify 5. to be specific, e.g., “I have a deadline on this, so please respond by Fri.”

    There’s a great, comprehensive set of email tips here, FYI: Hacking Email: 99 tips to make you more secure and productive – http://www.itsecurity.com/features/99-email-security-tips-112006/

  • Anne Lang Bundy

    Great info! I’m enjoying wading through your archives.

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  • http://www.simonfrasercondos.com Robert Crowe

    Good idea. I also find short to the point e-mails are effective. I'm a real estate agent, and instead of trying to call time and time again hoping to catch someone home for follow-up, I'll send a quick line, offering to send them something useful – it works.

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  • Jkingery

    Those are excellent comments. As CEO you are most likely inundated with vendors looking to provide you with their services. I’m curious what the email has to say to get you to respond?

    Thank you

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      It all depends on the service offered. To cite Seth Godin’s principles in Permission Marketing: It has to be personal, relevant, and anticipated.