When are two emails better than one?

Contrary to what you might think, there is one case where it's better to send a series of emails to one person, rather than cram everything you have to say into one message.

Multiple, short emails can sometime create less overload than a single large email, and can be much more efficient. When is this the case? When you're delegating multiple unrelated tasks or asking multiple unrelated questions which require more than a one-sentence answer.

By writing separate emails, you can keep each message short and to the point, which makes it easy for the recipient to read and understand what you want. More importantly, each message gets its own subject line, which you can now optimize to fit the task at hand.

What's better? Compound messages such as these:

Subject: I need you to do a few things

Subject: Need your input

Or focused messages such as these:

Subject: Interview John Smith, shortlisted candidate for Support Manager

Subject: Finalize travel arrangements to next week's conference

Subject: Vista schedule slippage: Delay to 2007 or cut features?

Subject: Away next week: Can I review your draft proposal beforehand?

Many people use their inbox as a to-do list, and file or delete each message as they complete the related work. So if you're delegating tasks, make the subject sound like a task! If you're asking a question, phrase the subject as a question!

If you bury multiple tasks in the same message, you divide the attention given to each one. None of the tasks is clearly visible in the list of messages in the inbox, and the recipient will have to keep your message around and re-read it every time she scans her inbox to discover which tasks she has not yet completed. There's a good chance she'll miss something — you are setting her up for failure.

By using separate messages, you are ensuring that each task gets the attention it deserves.

Remember: this works only for unrelated tasks — people will not take kindly to this if the tasks are closely related.

P.S. This also helps the compulsive filers among us — we can file each message in a separate folder, instead of agonizing over which folder is the best one for the compound message! :-)

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7 responses to “When are two emails better than one?

  1. Itzy, where’s the old template? I used to feel calm, productive and organized on your site. Now I kind of feel, uh, not.

  2. I switched templates to one that gives more flexibility. Once WordPress.com starts allowing customizations, I will take full advantage of it. Meanwhile I have to use a canned template.

    What would you change?

  3. I liked the overall aesthetic of the last one. The picture was nice. It was a good complement to the subject matter.

  4. I, on the other hand, love the new look!
    The older one looked kind of amateurish.
    This design is much more up-to-date and meets the high standards some Web users have grown used to.
    Excellent job Itzy!

  5. Just wanted to share a half-baked thought I had this morning in the shower. I’m one of the folks who uses my e-mail to some extent as a to-do list. I was thinking that if I’m on the receiving end of a multiple-point e-mail, it might be useful to forward it to myself a few times with modified subject headers.

    If I can’t remember exactly what’s going on, I could re-read the message body. If I had some extra time while reviewing the message the first time, I might even be in a position to edit the text to include only the relevant information.

    This way I wouldn’t have to be so much at the whim of other people’s e-mail habits, and I’d resolve the “where do I file it?” problem. As I said, just a thought that I haven’t worked through all the way.

  6. Pingback: Singletasking » Blog Archive » Focussed emails

  7. Pingback: Comfortable Communications « Mashup of Mayhem

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