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My Short Email Experiment

Email is a necessary part of my law practice, but it takes up a lot of time. I decided that one way to cut that time is to cut the length of my emails.

My email signature now contains this line at the end:

Why is this email 5 sentences or less? http://five.sentenc.es/

My goal is to limit every email to no more than five sentences. The results have been mixed.

The limit is hard. It’s been difficult to limit every email to five sentences. Some emails just need more than that. Or maybe I should pick up the phone and call the person. There’s an idea…

I broke it. In some instances, I’ve found myself running way over five sentences with no hope of trimming my email. What’s a guy to do?

Remove the signature. Yep, I cheated. I have taken on the nasty habit of deleting the five.sentenc.es line from my email signature when I need more room. That defeats the whole point of the exercise.

Or forget. But the worst thing is when I clearly write more than five sentences to someone and forget to remove the signature line. Nobody has called me out for that yet, but I know I’ve done it several times. And I’m sure people have looked at it thinking that I’m a buffoon.

The funny thing I’ve realized through this experiment is that writing less in an email actually takes more time. That’s no surprise to most people, but it does seem counter-intuitive. My brain likes to ramble, and I type pretty fast. So I can write a lengthy email pretty quick and click “send.” But to pare everything down to five sentences takes some serious thought.

However, once we develop better writing habits to communicate in a concise manner, the writing flow will quicken again. That’s my theory with short emails. I have already noticed a quicker thinking and writing process when trying to cram my message into five sentences.

All in all, I am going to continue this experiment. I believe it will help me to be a better communicator, and it should help me to be more productive with email. Hopefully.

This post was 33 sentences (by my quick count). What if I had just written five instead?

I am conducting an experiment where I limit my emails to five sentences. The results have been mixed so far since some emails are difficult or impossible to make that short. I’ve also found that it initially takes more time to write less. But I think my writing will improve over time, and I should pick up more speed. I’m going to keep this up in the hope that my email becomes more productive.

What about you? Have you ever tried to limit your communication like this?

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8 Responses to “My Short Email Experiment”

  1. MargieW
    April 5th, 2009

    As a h.s. English teacher, I am always telling students never to use more words when less will communicate their meaning. Every composition text and every writer has pronouncements on how hard it is to be concise. I’m sure you’re right: that brevity will come more easily as you practice it more. Being a lawyer, you have to be aware of language, but I am glad to see you caring and writing about this aspect of it. Most of my e-mail is personal, not professional, but even some of my correspondents would rather I be briefer! I may just try your experiment. (6 [long] sentences!}