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