Close up of Gmail on a laptop

In his book, Deep Work, author and professor Cal Newport suggests that we should stop emails taking over our lives by changing the way we write them.

He calls this using a ‘process-centric method’ to email writing which goes like this:

  1. Understand what the goal of the email is
  2. Find a process to get to the goal with the least back-and-forth
  3. Explain the process in your email

As an example, say a friend has emailed you asking for a coffee. Instead of replying with ‘This would be great, when are you free?’ you should nominate some dates, times and places.

Newport’s own example is slightly stale and formal, but the above steps will see you through. For example ‘Hi Nicky, this is great. Are you free next Tuesday or Wednesday between 12-2pm for lunch? If not, let me know a better time, I’ve got Tuesday morning or Thursday afternoon currently free. 

Regardless, let’s meet at they’ve got good coffee and vegetarian options and it’s an ideal halfway house. Anyway let me know what works best. I’m looking forward to seeing you!’

Newport also argues that the main productivity cost of email is not the time spent reading and replying to messages, but that we are not good at switching our attention between tasks, and that we cannot refocus and process more information for between 10 to 20 minutes. This implies that it’s better to stay on a task for a longer period of time. 

In the case of email, it’s better to check your emails less, say once in the morning and once in the afternoon, and to spend time writing longer, better constructed emails that are going to move the conversation forward and keep you from having to write a multitude of back-and-forths.

However, before you write that essay, research from email tool Boomerang shows you may be less likely to receive a response. 75-100 words seemed to be the sweet spot for getting the most replies, so keep this number in mind. 

Next time you write an email, give these tips a go and see where the process takes you!