3 ways to contribute to greater good via email

For a recent research project I did for HRSDC, I reached out to a wide range of innovators, entrepreneurs, and social change agents from across the country. I emailed a lot of people as a starting point, and often times didn’t get a response.

A CEO of sustainability company, a potential interviewee for the research, respond quickly, and by the end of the work day we had scheduled an upcoming interview. I thanked her for getting back to me so quickly…this was rare.

Her response was something like…

We’re all contributing to a movement. There’s no excuse to hold each other up.

She didn’t mean to say yes to everything that comes across your inbox. She just meant dealing with it (whether ourselves or via delegation) in a timely manner. Our colleagues in the “greater good” movement need forward momentum – let’s help each other out and not leave each other hanging.

1. Get to the point

Make your emails short. This is probably the tip that I follow the least well, but I try. It depends on the audience – I know some people prefer direct emails (me!) while others needs a warm-up before the email gets down to business. For those of you who like direct, short, emails, you might be interested in the sentenc.es personal policy.

2. Reduce back and forths

Provide all the information needed for the recipient to provide an effective response the first time around. For example, in my work I schedule a lot of meetings and interviews. I try to keep the back and forth to a minimum by not putting out a vague “Are you available to chat?” requests, but instead provide the details required to actually schedule a meeting: a link to my calendar (I use Doodle, which links to Google Calendar), an invitation to choose a time that works for them, and where I’ll be travelling from so they have context for a good location to suggest. The ideal response to a meeting request is a time and location; the worst is “all those times work for me, so whatever is good for you” because it requires a further email.

3. Reply

The possible responses to any email can be whittled down to one of five options:

  • Yes (I’d like to talk, I agree with you, Let’s move ahead, etc.)
  • No (I don’t want to, I’m too busy, I’m unable to, I don’t think we should, etc.)
  • Here is your response
  • I will respond, but I can’t right now (I have to think about it, I don’t have all the required information, I’m waiting for someone else first, etc.)
  • Someone else will respond to that for you (and I’ve cc:d them so that they take the ball from here).

Pick an answer and fire the response back. Not necessarily as the email comes in – getting to your inbox once a day will do it.

I personally attempt to respond to every email request that I get, usually within a day (though I don’t usually reply to product/advertising pitches). Because I don’t have a day job, it’s easy for me to reply to emails regarding my volunteer commitments or personal life at anytime I’m at my computer. A 24-hour reply schedule doesn’t work for everyone, but 2 business days seems reasonable.

Are these expectations too high?

Am I unrealistic? Or can we all do better with email and help each other carry the greater good forward?