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Advice

7 Tips to Email Like an Executive

July 18, 2016

Communicate more effectively in less time

Courtesy Everyvowel.com
Courtesy Everyvowel.com

I’m embarrassed to say this cartoon is based on a real experience from my first months working at Google. After I sent that lengthy email, my boss took me aside and said, “You sound like you’re fresh out of college.” To which I replied, “But I am fresh out of college!”

“Right,” he said, “but that doesn’t mean you should sound like it.”

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I’ll never forget that. In my time working with him I learned how to be less apologetic, to be concise, to take control of my inbox and to be more efficient. These tips can help you do the same:

  1. Stop Apologizing So Much — Try this Gmail extension called “Just Not Sorry,” which underlines words that undermine your emails. It’s like spellcheck for passive phrases.
  2. Automate Your Follow Ups — Have you ever promised to follow up with someone then forgot? It happened to me too many times. Then I learned about FollowUp.cc. Before you hit send, all you have to do is write a time-specific email address (such as tomorrow@followup.ccor mon-3pm@followup.cc), BCC it, and that email will pop back into your inbox at that time. It’s as simple as that. You can also use FollowUp.cc to remember key moments like for bill payments and birthdays.
  3. Type Faster — We spend too long writing each email. To save time, use TextExpander (PhraseExpress for Windows) and create shortcuts for common phrases. Type a few letters (“ty”) to generate phrases (“thank you”) and save seconds on each email.
  4. Use Bullet Points If You’re Writing More Than A Paragraph — Make your emails digestible. If you find you’re writing more than four sentences, consider using a numerical list or bullet points. Lists also make it easier for the person you’re emailing to respond to each point individually.
  5. Clarify Your Intention Upfront — Tell your recipient what kind of email they’re reading. The three main criteria are Update Emails (“Hey, no action needed but wanted to update you that…”) Input Emails (“Hey, would love your thoughts on…”) or Action Emails (“Hey, please fill out this form…”). Think about the purpose of your email and tell your recipient so it’s clear what you need from him or her.
  6. Learn Keyboard Shortcuts Everyone focuses on Excel shortcuts (hello bankers!), but the real time-saver comes with Gmail shortcuts. To activate, click the gear icon in the upper right, select Settings, and turn on “Keyboard Shortcuts.” To learn quickly, try a Chrome extension called KeyRocket, which displays a small pop-up when you take an action that could’ve been done via shortcut.g
  7. Know When Not To Email — I’ve seen associates spend hours wordsmithing emails when they’re better off making their point in a meeting. There are certain conversations where tone and body language make a difference. Recognize those moments and set up a call or meeting instead.

Jon Youshaei is the writer & cartoonist behind Every Vowel, where he posts new career-related comics every Monday.