A Low-Fi Solution to E-Mail Overload: Sentenc.es

I’ve written about e-mail overload issues in the past, and today I’m presenting what I believe is a simple, low-fi solution: sentenc.es.

In a nutshell, I have two issues with e-mail:

  • More than any other medium in the world, the time commitment difference between sender and receiver is huge. For instance, if you call me on the phone and we chat for 10 minutes, that’s 10 minutes of your time and 10 minutes of my time. If you write me a handwritten letter and I write you one back, that’s maybe 30 minutes of your time and 30 minutes of my time. If we exchange text messages, that’s 10 seconds from you and 10 seconds from me. But with email, often times the sender will ask two or three open-ended one sentence questions which elicit multi-paragraph answers. In these cases, the sender spends one minute and the receiver is asked, implicitly, to spend maybe an hour.
  • When faced with an inbox of 100-400 messages, I usually find myself replying to the messages which are quickest to reply to, rather than which are most important to reply to. The end result is a continual paring down of my inbox until I have 50 really important messages to reply to which are then too old to take care of.

In thinking about how to reduce this problem for me personally, I came up with a technology solution which, while cool, would require way too much buy-in from OS makers, mail application providers, and individuals. Essentially, whenever you send me an e-mail, I’d like to be able to instantly pop up a Toast or Growl message on your desktop for a few seconds with a status message of my choice. Something like “Current response time estimate: 7 days” or something more personable. I don’t like auto-responder e-mails because I’m not trying to clog up your inbox, but the ability to send you a quick, fleeting status message would be excellent. Perhaps even when you just hover over my name in the To: field before you even send the mail.

Annnnnnnyways… that solution is a bit too hi-fi and it doesn’t really solve the core problem, so instead I’m enacting a new policy today which seems potentially much more effective:

Every e-mail I send to anyone, regardless of subject or recipient, will be five sentences or less. Like a cinquain. Ideally, it would be a 160 character count like an SMS message, but since that would require an actual e-mail plug-in (viz. “work”), we’ll go with the much-easier-to-count concept of sentences instead.

In order to politely explain the systematic brevity with a similar amount of brevity, I will link to a new site I just set up called five.sentenc.es in my signature line. By ensuring that all e-mails I send out take the same amount of time to send (viz. “not a lot”), I am evening the playing field between emails and attending to many more of them in the end.

Observe the difference:

Incoming Email:

From: Joe Student
To: Mike Davidson

Hi Mike. I’m a design student at PCU and I was wondering what your top ten tips for getting a great design job out of college are?

Old Policy:

From: Mike Davidson
To: Joe Student

Hi Joe. Thanks so much for the email. Here is what I’d recommend:

1. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit. Duis velit arcu, pretium faucibus, dictum a, nonummy ac, augue. In hac habitasse platea dictumst. Donec dignissim. Duis gravida mollis tortor. Quisque convallis sagittis elit. Curabitur laoreet tempor enim. Nunc imperdiet. Phasellus convallis consectetuer nibh. Aliquam non tortor. Maecenas a ante quis purus euismod rutrum. Praesent gravida, orci vel placerat adipiscing, nulla velit eleifend nisl, eget elementum erat lacus vitae ligula. Proin eget elit id augue pretium lacinia. In nec libero nec purus fermentum semper. Phasellus mollis cursus dolor. Nunc felis turpis, tristique et, elementum non, iaculis ut, urna. Nullam eu velit. Aliquam dapibus gravida felis. Morbi tortor. Sed egestas nonummy neque. Nulla nec nunc.

2. Duis velit arcu, pretium faucibus, dictum a, nonummy ac, augue. In hac habitasse platea dictumst. Donec dignissim. Duis gravida mollis tortor. Quisque convallis sagittis elit. Curabitur laoreet tempor enim. Nunc imperdiet. Phasellus convallis consectetuer nibh. Aliquam non tortor. Maecenas a ante quis purus euismod rutrum. Praesent gravida, orci vel placerat adipiscing, nulla velit eleifend nisl, eget elementum erat lacus vitae ligula. Proin eget elit id augue pretium lacinia. In nec libero nec purus fermentum semper. Phasellus mollis cursus dolor. Nunc felis turpis, tristique et, elementum non, iaculis ut, urna. Nullam eu velit. Aliquam dapibus gravida felis. Morbi tortor. Sed egestas nonummy neque. Nulla nec nunc. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit.

3. In hac habitasse platea dictumst. Donec dignissim. Duis gravida mollis tortor. Quisque convallis sagittis elit. Curabitur laoreet tempor enim. Nunc imperdiet. Phasellus convallis consectetuer nibh. Aliquam non tortor. Maecenas a ante quis purus euismod rutrum. Praesent gravida, orci vel placerat adipiscing, nulla velit eleifend nisl, eget elementum erat lacus vitae ligula. Proin eget elit id augue pretium lacinia. In nec libero nec purus fermentum semper. Phasellus mollis cursus dolor. Nunc felis turpis, tristique et, elementum non, iaculis ut, urna. Nullam eu velit. Aliquam dapibus gravida felis. Morbi tortor. Sed egestas nonummy neque. Nulla nec nunc. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit. Duis velit arcu, pretium faucibus, dictum a, nonummy ac, augue.

4. Donec dignissim. Duis gravida mollis tortor. Quisque convallis sagittis elit. Curabitur laoreet tempor enim. Nunc imperdiet. Phasellus convallis consectetuer nibh. Aliquam non tortor. Maecenas a ante quis purus euismod rutrum. Praesent gravida, orci vel placerat adipiscing, nulla velit eleifend nisl, eget elementum erat lacus vitae ligula. Proin eget elit id augue pretium lacinia. In nec libero nec purus fermentum semper. Phasellus mollis cursus dolor. Nunc felis turpis, tristique et, elementum non, iaculis ut, urna. Nullam eu velit. Aliquam dapibus gravida felis. Morbi tortor. Sed egestas nonummy neque. Nulla nec nunc. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit. Duis velit arcu, pretium faucibus, dictum a, nonummy ac, augue. In hac habitasse platea dictumst.

5. Quisque convallis sagittis elit. Curabitur laoreet tempor enim. Nunc imperdiet. Phasellus convallis consectetuer nibh. Aliquam non tortor. Maecenas a ante quis purus euismod rutrum. Praesent gravida, orci vel placerat adipiscing, nulla velit eleifend nisl, eget elementum erat lacus vitae ligula. Proin eget elit id augue pretium lacinia. In nec libero nec purus fermentum semper. Phasellus mollis cursus dolor. Nunc felis turpis, tristique et, elementum non, iaculis ut, urna. Nullam eu velit. Aliquam dapibus gravida felis. Morbi tortor. Sed egestas nonummy neque. Nulla nec nunc. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit. Duis velit arcu, pretium faucibus, dictum a, nonummy ac, augue. In hac habitasse platea dictumst. Donec dignissim. Duis gravida mollis tortor.

6. Curabitur laoreet tempor enim. Nunc imperdiet. Phasellus convallis consectetuer nibh. Aliquam non tortor. Maecenas a ante quis purus euismod rutrum. Praesent gravida, orci vel placerat adipiscing, nulla velit eleifend nisl, eget elementum erat lacus vitae ligula. Proin eget elit id augue pretium lacinia. In nec libero nec purus fermentum semper. Phasellus mollis cursus dolor. Nunc felis turpis, tristique et, elementum non, iaculis ut, urna. Nullam eu velit. Aliquam dapibus gravida felis. Morbi tortor. Sed egestas nonummy neque. Nulla nec nunc. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit. Duis velit arcu, pretium faucibus, dictum a, nonummy ac, augue. In hac habitasse platea dictumst. Donec dignissim. Duis gravida mollis tortor. Quisque convallis sagittis elit.

7. Nunc imperdiet. Phasellus convallis consectetuer nibh. Aliquam non tortor. Maecenas a ante quis purus euismod rutrum. Praesent gravida, orci vel placerat adipiscing, nulla velit eleifend nisl, eget elementum erat lacus vitae ligula. Proin eget elit id augue pretium lacinia. In nec libero nec purus fermentum semper. Phasellus mollis cursus dolor. Nunc felis turpis, tristique et, elementum non, iaculis ut, urna. Nullam eu velit. Aliquam dapibus gravida felis. Morbi tortor. Sed egestas nonummy neque. Nulla nec nunc. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit. Duis velit arcu, pretium faucibus, dictum a, nonummy ac, augue. In hac habitasse platea dictumst. Donec dignissim. Duis gravida mollis tortor. Quisque convallis sagittis elit. Curabitur laoreet tempor enim.

8. Phasellus convallis consectetuer nibh. Aliquam non tortor. Maecenas a ante quis purus euismod rutrum. Praesent gravida, orci vel placerat adipiscing, nulla velit eleifend nisl, eget elementum erat lacus vitae ligula. Proin eget elit id augue pretium lacinia. In nec libero nec purus fermentum semper. Phasellus mollis cursus dolor. Nunc felis turpis, tristique et, elementum non, iaculis ut, urna. Nullam eu velit. Aliquam dapibus gravida felis. Morbi tortor. Sed egestas nonummy neque. Nulla nec nunc. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit. Duis velit arcu, pretium faucibus, dictum a, nonummy ac, augue. In hac habitasse platea dictumst. Donec dignissim. Duis gravida mollis tortor. Quisque convallis sagittis elit. Curabitur laoreet tempor enim. Nunc imperdiet.

9. Praesent gravida, orci vel placerat adipiscing, nulla velit eleifend nisl, eget elementum erat lacus vitae ligula. Proin eget elit id augue pretium lacinia. In nec libero nec purus fermentum semper. Phasellus mollis cursus dolor. Nunc felis turpis, tristique et, elementum non, iaculis ut, urna. Nullam eu velit. Aliquam dapibus gravida felis. Morbi tortor. Sed egestas nonummy neque. Nulla nec nunc. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit. Duis velit arcu, pretium faucibus, dictum a, nonummy ac, augue. In hac habitasse platea dictumst. Donec dignissim. Duis gravida mollis tortor. Quisque convallis sagittis elit. Curabitur laoreet tempor enim. Nunc imperdiet. Phasellus convallis consectetuer nibh. Aliquam non tortor. Maecenas a ante quis purus euismod rutrum.

10. Proin eget elit id augue pretium lacinia. In nec libero nec purus fermentum semper. Phasellus mollis cursus dolor. Nunc felis turpis, tristique et, elementum non, iaculis ut, urna. Nullam eu velit. Aliquam dapibus gravida felis. Morbi tortor. Sed egestas nonummy neque. Nulla nec nunc. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit. Duis velit arcu, pretium faucibus, dictum a, nonummy ac, augue. In hac habitasse platea dictumst. Donec dignissim. Duis gravida mollis tortor. Quisque convallis sagittis elit. Curabitur laoreet tempor enim. Nunc imperdiet. Phasellus convallis consectetuer nibh. Aliquam non tortor. Maecenas a ante quis purus euismod rutrum. Praesent gravida, orci vel placerat adipiscing, nulla velit eleifend nisl, eget elementum erat lacus vitae ligula.

Best of luck, Joe!

Mike

New Policy:

From: Mike Davidson
To: Joe Student

Thanks very much for the e-mail, Joe.
Concentrate on your networking, your portfolio, and your friendliness.
In this business, it’s mainly about who you know and how good your stuff looks.
Take care of those two things, be a cool guy, and the rest will fall into place.
Don’t worry about how big your clients are, because nobody cares about that stuff.

All the best,

Mike

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

Huge difference. What makes it all the more easy is that before I even give my response, I already know it’s going to be five sentences max, so there is little reason to procrastinate about it. And on top of that, if the occasion is right, you can even start rhyming and turn it into a legitimate cinquain.

So that’s it. The super low-fi, systematic solution to e-mail overload. It’s in beta now, but you feel free to link to five.sentenc.es in your own e-mails, or any of the sister sites at two.sentenc.es, three.sentenc.es, or four.sentenc.es depending on your desired level of brevity. Special thanks to the government of Spain for making this possible.

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174 Responses:

  1. Rex says:

    Let it be known: I think Mike is nuts.

    And oh yeah: FIRST!

  2. Nice.
    I’m on board.

  3. Brilliant.
    -
    Q: Why is this response 2 sentences or less?
    A: http://two.sentenc.es

  4. Interesting idea and would definitely work well for a lot of email. I don’t think it would help those of us who handle a lot of support email though.

    I used to try and keep my responses as short as possible but later found that spending the extra few sentences (and minutes) saved me three or four follow up emails down the line.

  5. Really effing good idea. I just might give it a whirl.

  6. M. Capito says:

    Why not just answer with a short response. Do you really think that knowing why changes the effect on the reader?

  7. web says:

    Simple and Elegant.

    Talk about GTD too .. no more 4 hour battles with the email monster.

  8. Mike D. says:

    Brad: Yep, probably not recommended for customer service use. :)

    M. Capito: I actually do think it matters. I don’t want people to think I’m being curt with them. Rather that I just have a blanket policy of brevity over e-mail.

  9. Bravo

  10. Dave S. says:

    So trying this. The challenge of writing what I want to say in 5 sentences is going to make replying to email a bit more interesting in the short term, though we’ll see how this helps those action item emails I leave sitting in the inbox, desperate for attention…

  11. I am lazy.. so this wouldn’t come as a big shock to all the people who email me anyway. :D

  12. Dave says:

    I am so disappointed that six.sentenc.es doesn’t have some rude remark about being too long a response.

  13. Ethan says:

    Nice.

    Personally, I’ve always loved this quote by Samuel Johnson: Read over your compositions, and wherever you meet with a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out. Same principle, different approach.

    Definitely trying this.

  14. Lee says:

    Fantastic! I will be using this as until now I too have replied only to the emails that require quick responses. Seeing my inbox shrink dramatically after only a few minutes made me feel productive, but I always knew that tackling those last few will take a while, as a result – I have 30 important, but overdue emails in my inbox… damn.

    Thanks Mike!

  15. Oxa Koba says:

    I do not receive 100-400 e-mails a day. As such, the following opinion does not count. So if you do not want to read my whole comment, then read the following quote on brevity from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, chuckle, then move on to the next comment.

    Lord Polonius:
    This business is well ended.
    My liege, and madam, to expostulate
    What majesty should be, what duty is,
    Why day is day, night night, and time is time,
    Were nothing but to waste night, day and time.
    Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit,
    And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes,
    I will be brief: your noble son is mad:
    Mad call I it; for, to define true madness,
    What is’t but to be nothing else but mad?
    But let that go.

    Brevity for the sake of brevity, is an offense to clarity and no savings in the end.

    Pet Peeve: People who do not read e-mail for comprehension. I put in extra effort to be concise but clear when writing e-mail. A first draft may take two minutes and editing another eight.

    A grammatically correct, spell checked and refined message that has been attentively edited to avoid miscommunication is better than an abrupt message that requires an e-mail thread of context and clarification.

    However, I have worked with a few people who demonstrate a complete disregard for communication—their responses including questions that where directly answered in my original e-mail. Their “responses” are often cryptic in themselves and as a result waste even more time.

    At best, sentenc.es will demand too much compression of the writer. Clarity and completeness will suffer. At worst, it will provide an excuse to the lazy reader. Skimming e-mail and smashing out five sentences with the camouflage of the signature: “See my five.sentenc.es” policy.

    For the well intentioned, sentenc.es will demand as much or more time of a respondent if they strive to reply in total to the concept(s) of the original message.

    The example you provided, “…list 10 tips…” is an unusual example, in that it does not represent most e-mail. Does the average e-mail user really receive that much fan mail?

    In the end, isn’t the best advice to transfer communication that requires lengthy response to verbal exchange or IM rather than e-mail? And when verbal exchange is inappropriate, as in the case of fan mail where you have little personal investment, it would be better to write a blog post or FAQ and redirect the sender? Or, at worst, author a polite form message that can be sent to correspondents not in your address book.

    In the end, sentenc.es will work well in the context of a tight team of coworkers who all agree to the policy and can choose to walk across the office or switch to chat when the five sentence limit is inappropriately brief.

  16. As someone in the same boat (just not to the same degree), I sincerely hope this is an idea which catches on. Keep us posted!

  17. Jesse C. says:

    I don’t know, Mike. It’s sometimes tougher to distill the message I’m trying to convey. Mark Twain said it best:

    “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”

  18. Robert C. says:

    Mike, you have a good idea here.

    One request: the sentenc.es subdomains (e.g. five.sentenc.es) could be worded in a way that’s friendlier for the email recipient. You can assume that anyone going to the subdomains is following a link from an email signature, so you can direct the message at them. As an example, Merlin Mann’s Thanks No site is pretty good.

    The general sentenc.es domain should explain what the site is about; the subdomains are free to be directed at email recipients rather than sentenc.es users themselves.

  19. Brilliant.

    I’m putting that in my email for 7 days as an experiment to see what other’s responses are.

  20. Lee says:

    Oxa Koba, I run a few sites and the mail you refer to as ‘fan mail’ is very frequent. It isn’t always positive ‘fan mail’ as such, but what Mike is getting at is that generally it is a question that took a whole 30 seconds for the sender to write, yet the response might take half an hour or more to write.

    As you say, the average email user might not have these issues, but I think that nearly anyone that runs a web site will come across this problem with varying degrees of frequency.

    The problem arises because most site owners, myself included, encourage feedback. At first it isn’t a problem and its a bit of an ego boost to see people using your sites. After a while though, its an avalanche. However, you don’t want to discourage this beneficial dialogue between your site (you) and your users.

    Jesse C has a good point too, sometimes it takes longer to write something succinct and its easier to babel on a bit in the hopes that your point will come across somehow :)

  21. Brandon says:

    Great idea. One thing caught my eye, though. Shouldn’t your signature be “five sentences or fewer” to be proper grammar? Meh, it doesn’t matter.

  22. Matt says:

    I actually have a different problem where people at my office will need to send me a lot of information to give them a short response, and because they dont want to take the time to type it out, they will call or IM me. Therefore I have to stop what I am doing. Its great when they IM a hey and just say nothing else until I reply. The benefit of email is that is there for me to deal with whenever I can focus on it. Unlike an IM which can be closed without realizing something important is there or a phone call where you may not remember the details an hour later because you were in the middle of working something out. I think everybody needs to just be better at communicating exactly what they need in email and it will save everybodys time. IM has become the major disruption to my work.

  23. Mike D. says:

    Oxa Koba: Interesting thoughts. The example I provided is quite common actually. And if it’s not that, it’s something else. I do agree that “just being brief” isn’t good enough and you have to be clear as well, but so far I haven’t had a problem.

    Robert C.: Good idea. I’ll work on that.

    Brandon: Thanks for pointing that out. I researched the grammar issue and you do appear to be correct. But there’s a big “but”: Common usage swings the other way 8-to-1. A search on Google for “sentences or less” yields 43,200 results, while a search for “sentences or fewer” yields only 544! What do you do in a situation where common usage is so overwhelming more popular than “correct” usage?

  24. What do you do in a situation where common usage is so overwhelming more popular than “correct” usage?

    You keep doing web layouts with tables, of course!

    :)

  25. ~bc says:

    Whereas I generally agree that email can go on and on – and for most instances this rule would be very useful – I hope that it is used in moderation. I can see a lot of people flaking out on really important things because they were trying to stay under a sentence limit.

    So let’s apply this responsibly.

  26. I think some people are mising the point. This point is not meant to insult the other person; the point is for you to save time.
    This, of course, would be an inappropriate rule in response to “what do I do if the baby has an allergic reaction?” or “how do I shut down the reactor?”

    I see it as an effort to be more concise, to reduce rambling, and to avoid unnecessary narative emails. I have been revising my emails for years to follow those same rules but this puts a hard limit, when appropriate, on disproportionate responses.

  27. Here is a tip to all of you who left long comments: I didn’t read them. For example: Didn’t read #15, did read Jeff Croft’s. Get it?

  28. Krissy says:

    Great idea Mike. I’m all for anything that reduces time spent writing emails!

  29. Dan Ridley says:

    http://seventy-four.sentenc.es doesn’t go anywhere, so I am unable to jump on board yet. :-)

  30. BobC says:

    >Shouldn’t your signature be “five sentences or fewer” to be proper grammar?

    It depends on what & how you’re measuring. If you’re treating sentences simply as discrete objects (“five cups”), you’d use “fewer” since they’re count nouns. If you’re treating them as containers of textual substance (“five cups of milk”), as Mike’s goal seems to be to keep a lid on the amount of text he sends, you can use “less” since text is a mass noun measured (vaguely) in sentences. A linguistic rationalization, sure, but it beats surrendering to the tide of people who could (grr!) care less about good usage. The five-sentence limit looks like a great idea. I’m going to try to use – oops!

  31. Here is a tip to all of you who left long comments: I didn’t read them. For example: Didn’t read #15, did read Jeff Croft’s. Get it?

    Then you just missed out on probably the most insightful and thoughtful comment on this thread so far.

  32. Rob L. says:

    Definitely an idea worth trying out.

    Oh, and Croft has totally hit the nail on the head on the “less vs. fewer” issue. If widely-read folks like you lead by example, more people will start to use those words properly. Then maybe you can do something about “its vs. it’s” issue, which way too many otherwise smart people get wrong all the time. ;^)

  33. AndrewK says:

    I’m on the same page as comment #27. I find too often emails and comments ramble on for the sake of the writer. I think it’s good practice to keep emails short and concise. If the recipient needs more information they’ll be more specific about the information they need. The end effect is stating 3 useful points instead of rambling on and making 15.

  34. Mike D. says:

    BobC: Thank you, thank you, thank you. That was exactly the sort of grammatical rationalization I had in my head but couldn’t quite put into words. You’re not really measuring the sentences, per se… you’re measuring the overall mass of the email. Thus, “less” could seem to work. I’m on board.

    Viva la resistance!

  35. Paul says:

    I agree with you 100% for most cases. I think this kind of communication is better suited for IM conversations, or as you point out, a phone call.

    However, I have the opposite problem, in the way I write email. I purposely spend so much time writing emails, so that they are totally clear and complete, that sometimes I probably overwhelm people with too much detail. However, because I realize my emails take longer to write, I ask for short answer replies inline.

    Reason is, I find when I fall into the trap that you describe here, and I begin and email conversation this way, both sides end up sending fragments back and forth that require a cat and mouse question and answer chase, in which nothing is accomplished.

    I think it’s the responsibility of the person initiating the conversation to get all the info out in the open up front, so that the respondent can reply quickly and efficiently, bringing the correspondence to a quick, productive end.

    Otherwise, use IM, which is better suited to this illiterate type of correspondence. I mean it’s called eMAIL.

  36. Stephen says:

    Nice idea overall.

    What do you do in a situation where common usage is so overwhelming more popular than “correct” usage?

    You are not common. You are a good writer. So you champion correct usage. You wouldn’t start flipping your apostrophes or saying anyways just because it’s popular.

  37. Kunal says:

    -
    Q: Where is the comment?!
    A: http://no.sentenc.es

    (Perfect for when one has nothing to add on the subject, or say, when someone’s asking for a loan over email. Please add the subdomain, Mike ;-)

  38. Mike D. says:

    Stephen: Thanks. See BobC’s comment though (#30). It’s entirely possible that the “common” usage can be rationalized as the correct usage in this case.

    Also, I find myself, in certain rare instances, bucking grammatical rules when I like other rules better. It’s not laziness or anything… it’s more being a conscientious objector. The prime example of this, for me, is the placement of punctuation at the ends of quotations. I simply don’t agree with the (grammatically correct) policy of placing punctuation inside of quotes, even when the punctuation is not part of the quote. For example:

    This is correct (I don’t do this) –

    Jim said “I don’t eat breakfast,” and then he got up and walked away.

    This is incorrect (I do this) –

    Jim said “I don’t eat breakfast”, and then he got up and walked away.

    I don’t view the comma as part of Jim’s quotation but rather as a delimiter for the two actions he performs in the sentence, and thus, I place it as such.

    Weird, I know… but I do it with pride. :)

  39. Stephen says:

    I do that too! I agree it makes much more sense. But in that case we don’t have to start a resistance movement, we can simply chalk it up to European style.

  40. Mike D. says:

    Stephen: Wow, I already loved Erik Spiekermann. Now I really, really love him. Great pointer. Glad to know I’m not breaking any rules then… just using better ones.

  41. It seems that some of the readers here don’t understand the heart of the principle at work here. We actually practice similar techniques and using instant messaging as well, wherever we can. For us this type of approach helps conversation participants get on the same more quickly and move on to problem solving or execution more quickly.

  42. Kunal says:

    @Frederick
    I don’t think anyone’s doubting the utility of this. Who said we can’t have a bit of fun along the way ;-)

  43. JBagley says:

    Mike, you are a legend.

  44. Matt says:

    I have decided I am on board simply for the fact that it may stop people starting a conversation with “I have a question”.

  45. Nic says:

    Then maybe you can do something about “its vs. it’s” issue, which way too many otherwise smart people get wrong all the time.

    And while you are at it, you can try to cure the world of the “your / you’re” problem

  46. I personally
    Much prefer the haiku form
    When answering fans.

  47. Lyle says:

    That’s brilliant – I’m definitely coming on board with it! (It’s also being sent round some of my prolifically e-verbose colleagues…)

  48. 80% of e-mail my e-mail is internal, my colleagues use it as a messaging system. We are trying to get them to use the intranet, and I will try this strategy to as another way of encouraging that.

    My point is the old journalists joke: “3000 words – no problem, by lunch, 300 words, harder, give me a couple of days, 30 words? Next month”.

  49. Telegram from publisher to Mark Twain: NEED TWO PAGE SHORT STORY TWO DAYS

    Response from Mark Twain to publisher: NO CAN DO TWO PAGES TWO DAYS STOP CAN DO THIRTY PAGES TWO DAYS STOP NEED THIRTY DAYS TO DO TWO PAGES

    That about sums up my thoughts on the matter.

    And even that isn’t quite the whole truth. I have mail which has been languishing for almost two years in my inbox (and yes, I do intend to reply!) — the problem isn’t mail which requires me to write a lot, it’s mail (or a thread of mail) that requires me to read a lot, carefully, and ponder it for a while, before I can reply.

  50. Oh yeah — concerning “fan mail”:

    If it’s a worthwhile question, don’t fob it off with a token three-sentence reply that provides no insight. You might as well just say “sorry too much work” and move on — that isn’t any less helpful.

    Rather, I’d say, if you feel compelled to say something about it, then write your response on your weblog. Send a link to the post as the reply. Email is ephemeral; weblog posts can be pointed to again and again, so your investment in them pays dividends.

    If you receive similar-ish questions a lot and you do this consistently, you will soon have a body of posts that you can point to in response to a large variety of questions. This conserves as much of your time as a policy of being brief and provides people who mail you with a much more in-depth and insightful treatment of their question(s).

    And if it’s really too much work to reply at length, then say so. Possibly throw in a bone à la “but I find your question(s) interesting and may write about it on the weblog when I find the time” — it’s true at that point, after all.

  51. Ryan says:

    I’ve always hated getting tiny e-mails that take forever to answer. I’ve almost started doing this without even thinking about it, cutting this email short here, not writing enough there. I think I like this new idea, though.

    I’m in.

  52. Russ says:

    Quicker and potentially less confusing solution: Add this to the bottom of all your emails (even ones from your PC):

    —-
    Sent from my BlackBerry

    (or iPhone, Nokia, etc.) Pretty much everyone knows that most people don’t write long on mobile devices. It gives the added advantage of making it seem like you live a life of mystery and adventure, always on the go.

    Okay, so maybe it’s lying… meh. ;-)

    -Russ

  53. Matthom says:

    Very good idea. Plausible and effective.

    Email should be concise and direct. I don’t even read the “shared emails,” ie: “Photos from the BBQ!” or “Check out this link.”

    If you’re just sharing something with a bunch of recipients, post it on your blog, and we’ll catch it via RSS. These days its so easy to start a link or photo blog.

  54. Ted says:

    Sorry, but while reading your post, I was reminded of the skit from Spinal Tap… (I’m paraphrasing of course)

    Nigel: “You see, most blokes will be playing at 10. You’re on 10, all the way up, all the way up…Where can you go from there? Nowhere. What we do, is if we need that extra push over the cliff…Eleven. One louder”

    Filmmaker: “Why don’t you just make 10 louder and make 10 be the top number, and make that a little louder?”

    Nigel: “These go to 11.”

    So, if email is a problem for you, why not just reply with the least amount of text that is possible? Why 5 sentences? Why not 4? Or 6? Heck, if the email requires a response that would be longer than a couple of sentences, why not – **gasp** – pick up the phone?

  55. Alastair Stuart says:

    Perhaps if you didn’t spend all day blogging about how little time you have to deal with e-mails, you’d have more time to reply to e-mails.

  56. genius. Sign me up …

  57. No time to respond to e-mails, but:

    * Has set up a website (and web 2.0 domain!) to explain personal e-mail policy (like anyone gives a toss?)
    * Has blogged about personal e-mail policy (like anyone gives a toss?)

    Damn – i think this article has reached new levels of self-importance and pretentiousness! Congratulations! :-D

  58. It’s a good idea, but I echo the points above about still being courteous to the sender, and not forcing brevity for brevity’s own sake. Know when to break your own rules.

    On that subject! As a European (a Brit, in fact, we invented the damn language, etc etc), I do not agree with always leaving punctuation out from the quotation (incidentally, that’s another nit-picking point; “quote” is a verb, not a noun). Even in the FontFeed article:

    “If the quote has a point after it, like a complete sentence, it’s included in the quote.”

    As a rule of thumb, if your sentence would make sense without the quotation marks no internal punctuation is needed. However, if your sentence revolves around what is in the quotation marks (for example, direct speech or an extended quotation), it requires punctuation at the end.

    Maybe this seems petty, but precise language is very important; not so much in these particular cases, but there are plenty of examples where slippage of usage leads to serious misunderstanding – so precision is a desirable general policy. Just think of the myriad managers in the world who actually believe ‘actionable’ is an intellectual-sounding synonym for ‘doable’.

    Apologies for the length. http://five.paragrap.hs/

  59. Tayster says:

    MS Word has a little known built-in feature that will save you even more time in crafting your five sentence responses. Type

    =rand(1)

    and press Enter. Hope this helps!

  60. Adam Rice says:

    I am reminded of the quote (variously attributed to Samuel Johnson, Mark Twain, and George Bernard Shaw, but apparently originating with Pascal) “I did not have time to write you a short letter, so I wrote you a long one instead.”

  61. Mike D. says:

    Matthew: Yes, I would love to do this with haiku instead, but that level of precision requires too much thinking, revision, and time.

    Everyone quoting Mark Twain: I just don’t seem to have that problem with e-mail. If I’m required to write an article for a publication or something like that, then yes, it’s sometimes hard to be brief. But with e-mail, I have no problem at all keeping things short. As someone else said, if it requires more than several sentences, perhaps it is best done over the phone or the web or another medium.

    Aristotle: I already write blog posts which answer e-mails and then point people to them when it makes sense. This, in fact, is one of them, in a way. :)

    Russ: Totally. The Blackberry line is a great idea as well. If someone calls you on it, you can always plead technological ignorance.

    Ted: That is exactly the idea. It’s not to reply with 5 sentences. It’s to reply with as few words as possible, with a CAP of five sentences. And of course, you’re going to break that rule once or twice a week, but the point is to have a fairly disciplined guideline to work with.

    Alastair and Steven Woods: You guys are morons. Amount of time I (used to) spend replying to e-mails per week: about 15-20 hours. Amount of time it took to set up this domain, design the page, and write this blog post: about 2 hours. Do the math. And aside from that, almost everything I write on this blog is designed to help other people. Roll up the aggregate amount of time this post may save everyone who reads it and then tell me what that number is.

    Andy: Yep, I’m all for conditional punctuation placement, based on usage. I think that’s at the heart of the european style, yes? Also, this isn’t brevity for brevity’s sake. It’s brevity for GTD sake. It’s brevity for necessity, really.

  62. .sara says:

    Reminds me rather strongly of Strunk & White’s direction to omit needless words.

    This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.

    Good stuff, Mike. (:

    (Lastly, Hee! @ Croft.)

  63. I would suggest that those that can’t stand the kitchen get out of the heat. Glad to see I am not the only one who sometimes forgets to answer.

    The Old Fogey Rides Again.

  64. Dan says:

    I think this is a great idea, and I think I could keep most responses under 5 sentences, but what about when you’re copying and pasting content into an email?

    I often send error messages, or code snippets through email, but I suppose that is fair game in this system because they do not require a response.

  65. josh says:

    So what about cases (however rare they may be) where someone sends you an email that took them an hour to write? Perhaps you asked someone a question and they, having not read this post, sent you a well-thought, and thorough reply?

    Would you then show them the courtesy of a lengthly reply? Do those situations arise infrequently enough to make this viable, or would you still defer to your 5-sentence rule in hopes of spreading the word? Or perhaps those types of email only come from personal friends or family for which a phone conversation would alleviate the need to respond?

  66. @ Jeff Junatas: Maybe…but maybe not? For your sake, I went back and read the comment I initially skipped over and still stand by my point and the point I think Mike is trying to make here: brevity and context can (and should) co-exist harmoniously.

    All good design (and writing is a form of communication design) functions expertly within imposed constraints. Sure, there are exceptions but when are there not? The point I was trying to make with my initial comment is that this method simply works for the most obvious and logical reasons.

  67. Mike, absolutely; context is everything. Probably the example you gave earlier was simply not the best choice – according to accepted rules (I believe in any English-speaking country), as direct speech that would definitely have required internal punctuation.

    I’ll be interested to hear how your experiment goes, particularly regarding the reactions of people you correspond with. Looking forward to a follow-up post!

  68. Rob says:

    Excellent Idea, mike. I like your thinking.

  69. John the Revelator says:

    However practical this solution is, basically you are “under-responding” to your email and adding an “I am overloaded/lazy” disclaimer at the end…

    On the other hand, if it works…

  70. Greg says:

    Didn’t Oscar Wilde say something like, “I apologize for the length of this letter. I didn’t have time to make it shorter.”

    I think he’s right. Writing concisely is a lot harder than doing the initial brain dump.

    So I wonder how much time this really saves for the sender?

    But it’s nice for the recipient. I’d rather not read the version 1 brain dump. I want version 2+. Where they edited it down to the few points they really want to make, and make economically.

  71. You have solved my email problem.
    I’m on board completely.
    Thanks a lot Mike.
    I’m going to tell all my friends.
    Yay.

  72. Bjorn Nitmo says:

    “Je n’ai fait celle-ci plus longue que parceque je n’ai pas eu le loisir de la faire plus courte.”
    -Blaise Pascal

    (Translation: “I have only made this letter rather long because I have not had time to make it shorter.”)

    Your new found brevity will require far more of your time than you realize. That’s not to say that your plan isn’t without merit. It’s just naive.

  73. Rob says:

    Writing less takes sooo long, if you are serious about it :-)

    “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I’ve written a long one instead.” — Mark Twain

    A bit like designing a good interface, taking away stuff until there is nothing left to remove without losing functionality.

    Quite hard!

  74. Mike D. says:

    Wow. Who knew this blog had so many Mark Twain claqueurs!?

  75. Bjorn Nitmo says:

    Mike wrote:

    > Who knew this blog had so many Mark Twain claqueurs!?

    The problem being that Twain didn’t say or write it nor did Oscar Wilde or the other half dozen people to whom this quote is often attributed. They were all paraphrasing Pascal.

    This is where separate the pseudo-intellectual from the literate.

  76. Maybe we could all benefit from a nerdy web policy on meetings too:

    fifteen.minut.es

    The Problem
    Meetings are long and sometimes it takes lots of mental work to concentrate and try to contribute to a discussion for long periods of time.

    The Solution
    Leave the meeting after 15 minutes no matter what.

    fifteen.minut.es is a personal policy that all meetings will be left after 15 minutes regardless of importance, topic, or who else is attending. I’ll be at the meeting for 15 minutes. It’s that simple

    Just drop this card on the table as you walk out the door.

  77. Greg (pseudo-intellectual) says:

    Yeah but the Twain quote is shorter. Therefore Pascal should apologize for writing such a long apology for writing such a long letter. Hypocrite.

    Anyway, I think we all hate when people write junk like “at this point in time” instead of “now”. A five sentence limit is a good start but we also need intra-sentence brevity.

  78. Apologies, but this strikes me as incredibly rude. I would be a bit bothered to have my friends and associates take up this policy, and I would feel quite rude to implement it myself. I’m not sure why, but that’s my impression.

    However, you do have me thinking of implementing (without explicitly telling anyone) a similar policy.

    I think the problem I have with this idea is that it treats everyone, and all email, equally, and real conversation doesn’t work like that. So I’m thinking I should assign each message an “importance” (mentally, most likely) to decide how much of a response it deserves.

    In other words, A message from a good friend asking how to set up their new computer might merit a long response, but a “Hi, any advice for new writers?” from someone I don’t know would get five sentences or less.

    I realize this may seem rude too, but it’s less rude than my current policy (“This looks like it would take an hour to write a response, so I won’t respond at all.”)

    P. S. The Twain quote may be shorter, but Twain never said it. He and Wilde get credit for many quotations for which the original source is hard to find or hard to translate.

  79. Matthew R says:

    If I got an e-mail like that (complete with the Q&A), I’d probably think you’re an asshole.

  80. Mike D. says:

    Matthew R: Cool, and then you’d never e-mail me again. :)

  81. I think it’s totally valid… Life is short and while you want to share as much as you can there is only so much time in a day. I’ve tended to just not even respond which is worse. But it’s not fair if the “easy ones” come before the “important ones”. I’m guilty.

  82. Andria says:

    2 Sentences
    As a fan of Virginia Woolfe, I am all for this as it could help revive the neglected art of writing longer sentences with full ideas and logical connectors.
    Mike, in terms of responding to acquaintances and routine inquiries, a policy like this may also help to you think through what you really need to say to this person and what might be better for an article or blog entry.

  83. Roger Purves says:

    To Mike, or others who have commented here:

    Does anyone know of an email program that provides
    a view of all the emails in the inbox just like the
    view of all the comments here. That is, the view
    would permit the user to scroll through the complete
    text of all the emails in the inbox—or, if that is
    too big a scroll, say 50 emails at a time. Even better,
    in this view, each email would have its own delete
    button.

    Suppose I want to pare down my inbox. For a typical
    email, I won’t be able to decide whether to toss it until
    I at least glance at it. That means I have to open
    the email. For only one email, this is fine. But for going
    through many, the repeated opens are too slow.
    That is why I am looking for a view like the one above.

    (For all I know, it may be in Apple’s Mail application,
    but I don’t think so.)

    Thank you,

    Roger Purves

  84. Tim Duffin says:

    A social networking type one might be an idea:

    five.sentence.rep.ly

    For myspace/bebo etc.

  85. Ian Lloyd says:

    Some people seem to think that this is a manifesto that you will have to live the rest of your emailing life by. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer, but this is a good option to draw on *when needed*.

    Use common sense, if it’s a choice between:

    “I’ll get around to this when I have 25 minutes” (and never will)

    or

    “I’ll fire off a quick note so that they know I’m not ignoring them but I’ll apologies and explain my brevity”

    … well, the latter is surely preferable?

    Here’s what I’m doing: I’m adding it to my list of signatures that I can use on Apple Mail. It is not the default signature for any of the accounts, but for any mail account I can, if I wish, change to that signature footer. It might mean replying to those emails that would otherwise languish/fester.

  86. Robert says:

    well… I really have to say that you cought me with the idea. I will give it a shot. Though I think if you’d have given me that short reply you used in your example I’d have thought “what a jerk” :)

    thank you!
    Robert

  87. Snip says:

    I’m certainly liking the idea. Frankly, it works for both ends of the equation: as an email reader, my eyes start to glaze the moment my “smart scrollbar’ indicates a tome rather than something pithy. All-in-all, a great idea.

    Mind, I have a cynical suspicion this whole gig is just so you could use sentenc.es as a domain name ;-)

  88. Tony says:

    Mike,
    You must be on to something good, given the intensity of the few negative comments. If you aren’t pissing somebody off then you aren’t doing anything interesting.

  89. adam says:

    Great idea.

    But considering your reason for this is the time commitment, here’s another: replying by email with a voice mail attachment.

    http://www.hawkwings.net/2006/01/04/ivoicemail-audio-clips-in-mailapp/

  90. Anne O'Neimaus says:

    A very interesting idea. As some have noted, it is not really feasible for people whose terms of employment require longer emails. However, I think a compromise approach might work (and am going to try it myself):

    For all “non-critical” email, use the Five-Sentences approach. For those emails that simply require a more-comprehensive solution, craft the response in a word-processor, and attach it to a Five-Sentences reply.

    In almost all cases where a more-comprehensive reply is required, there are good business reasons for retaining a file-copy, anyway: It is the skeleton of a design-document, or a probably-reusable set of customer-support instructions, or some such. A response that you simply must invest significant time in should look as “good” and professional as possible, anyway. The presentation tools, including both spell-checking and grammar-suggestions, are generally more-mature in word-processors than in email clients, anyway.

  91. Andria says:

    Roger Purvee, I don’t know of a system that will allow you to scroll through all unread messages, but Pine/Alpine with IMAP and a fast connection is pretty comparable, using keyboard shortcuts to move back and forward between messages.

  92. Hi ,
    I’m researcher at INSEAD working recently on the problem of information overload and specially the communication overload problem.

    1) there is a lot of research about information overload (decreasing interuption/solicitation), see the work of Eric Horvitz at Microsoft Research

    2) http://www.seriosity.com/ is a company providing an attention money , the sender have to pay (in a virtual money) to get the attention of the receiver.. The more you pay the more you’ re sure to get the attention , but you have less power after to attract his or her attention.

    3) I published a paper about using a visual attention model in a communication context (the signal are not visual , but are communicaiton (e.g. emails )

    if some are interested check my blog: http://nico.maisonneuve.free.fr

  93. Adam Fisher says:

    Equally important, if not more so, is ensuring that your message can be easily digested by the reader. Some ideas to support his include:

    * – Short sentences
    * – Good use of white space
    * – Logical thought progression
    * – Sticking to standard english
    * – Using lists
    * – Drafting for use as future reference material
    * – Beginning with a summary followed by needed details, background
    * – Anticipating likely questions from the recipient

  94. Harvard Irving says:

    What you are doing is evil, disgusting and wrong.

    This is worse than those damn kids on my lawn with their SMS abbreviations and “leet speak.” You see, they don’t know any better, because they are just kids. They grew up in the shoddily constructed world of mobile phone communications.

    However, you are a grown man, and you are making a deliberate effort to destroy one of the few remaining avenues of artful interpersonal communication. As if top-posting (bottom quoting) wasn’t a bad enough epidemic – now you want to spread the cancer of ridiculous short emails that waste more time than they save. To add insult to injury, you are adding a .sig to the bottom of your email! That’s nearly as awful as sending HTML mail with remote image links. I bet you do that, too. How uncouth!

    Why don’t you stop using email if you don’t like it, and find it a chore?

    With regards to “fewer” versus “less,” your choice here indicates the diseased mentality you are perpetuating. Oh, let’s all do something simply because it’s “common.” In times past, it was common for men to beat their wives. It was common to keep slaves. If everybody started using poor grammar while jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge, would you follow?

  95. Mike D. says:

    Hi Harvard. Thanks for that stirring speech. You’re right, I should just stop using e-mail since nobody in this industry uses it anyway. You are, in the words of Intern Rob, a genius.

  96. Robert C. says:

    For what it’s worth—that is, very little—if I sent off a message to a stranger asking for career advice, like the one above, I’d be gratified by any meaningful response. Yours is fine, with or without the disclaimer in the signature; an out-of-the-blue email should not oblige the recipient to give an informational interview–although for common questions, a templated reply is even faster than writing five sentences.

    I find it amusing to read people posting the equivalent of “Stop posting on your blog and go back to answering emails from strangers!” :)

    I’m thinking, though, that I’d still rather internalize this five-sentence guideline than put it into my emails. Then again, my inbox has 947 messages in it.

  97. BobC says:

    >I simply don’t agree with the (grammatically correct) policy of placing punctuation inside of quotes, even when the punctuation is not part of the quote.

    Nor do I. I punctuate from the outside in. I never thought of it as European or American, just logical about which operators/delimiters go with which objects. The same conscientious objection (yup!) keeps me using serial commas. Guess it depends on whether you got the punctuation bug from your math teacher or your English teacher.

  98. Harvard Irving says:

    Broken snarkiness/sarcasm detector today, Mike?

  99. Steve says:

    For the more invovled discussions, the time is not taken up in the reply itself, but in reading the original email and deciding what to put in the reply.

    For example, “Give me a job” requires a simple Yes/No answer. The problem is not in composing the response, but in making an employment decision.

  100. Mrs S says:

    What a great idea – just getting on the GTD train and this might be on my to do @Computer list :D

  101. Roberto says:

    Fabulous idea – especially when used in the context of being a remedy for assymetrical communication.

    It also addresses the passive-aggressive use of email – people use email all the time to avoid decisions, to kick the can down the road, as a CYA tool or to crush a person or idea. A few questions, coupled with a “reply all” or including a workgroup, forces the recipient to give thoughtful, detailed answers to innane questions. It is the evil side of email.

    I’m liking the 5 sentence rule!

  102. “Me and Joey is goin to the game to see the boys play good.”

    Fewer.

    Please.

  103. Hinch says:

    I do not think it is helpful to self impose artificial limits on how you communicate. Restricting email to 5 sentences is a little like deciding to speak without using words of more than 3 syllables; there may be a time when that’s exactly what’s required to get your message across.

    Email should be tailored in light of the message, the audience, and the medium; one model does not fit all situations.

    A rigid writing policy has the potential to hinder the flow of communication and the development of rapport.

  104. Boo hoo says:

    Harvard got burned… took all that time to try and be funny, and Mr. Davidson lit him up.

    So basically, the answer is, “No” Harvard. Mike doesn’t know who you are, he didn’t recognize that you’re a regular reader of his blog, and he didn’t _get_ your lame attempt at humor.

    The follow up post where he tries to clarify his intent in a nonchalant way, referring to the author as Mike, like he knows him, is brilliant.

  105. Brevity is very important – I agree there – but sometimes e-mails should have some substance to them. The key question: is the message organized in a context-hook-structure pattern? (See the “creating bits” chapter in my book Bit Literacy for more…)

  106. bender says:

    I like the express-train mentality of some of the commenters, too.

    “Ooh, shiny! An article”.

    Reading…

    “I bet I can show off my useless-Twainisms here!”

    Immediately clicks on “Comment on This”, and mis- quotes/uses a pithy quote.

    “Sweet! My work is done! Now…back to Digg…..”

    Moral: a quick read of the comments to a given article will “learn ya” whether someone has already used the same, lame, quote.

  107. Mike D. says:

    Harvard: Well, snarkiness and sarcasm are different things in my book. I detected the former so I snarked back. :)

    Hinch: This isn’t a rigid policy. It’s a guideline that I intend to follow in all but the few circumstances where I need to use more words/sentences. I estimate that will occur a couple/few times a week maybe. Hopefully less.

  108. This email philosophy falls in line with the book Mr. Lincoln’s T-Mails | What Abraham Lincoln Taught Me about Email google search

    Basically he used telegraphs efficiently by keeping things short and to the point.

  109. Dan Rubin says:

    Mike, this is brilliant, and I wish I had found it right when you posted it, but I was too busy responding to a pile of email…

    Seriously, this will help my problem of procrastination to the point of insanity (like Larissa and others mentioned) — as an example, my personal Gmail inbox has 109 unread messages, because:

    1. That account has a lower priority than my other accounts;
    2. My other accounts are all IMAP in Apple Mail, which means I look at them more often since they are in one place;
    3. Those unread messages are the ones that would take the most time to reply to.

    I’ve already started spreading the word.

  110. Sarah says:

    Mike, I like your comment on the Lifehacker post, in which you state, “That’s half the point of this exercise. Much of the communication we send over email is simply not best suited for email… no matter the length.”

    This might exist already (I’m still looking), but I would benefit from a checklist by which to determine the best suited means of communication. (Not for myself, but for some individuals who continuously bombard me with passive aggressive emails about subjects much too serious for email.)

    P.S. I love the five sentence limit, and discovered that I was already writing three or four sentence emails most of the time! Knowing that I am capable of keeping it short makes the task of responding to email less daunting; and this awareness has reduced my procrastination. Thank you.

  111. @Harvard, @Mike,

    Total genius!

  112. Al says:

    Mike,

    While I love this post, I wonder if you should change your example. You say your goal is to make sure you reply to your “most important” emails. But would you call your example “most important”?

    To me, the most important ones are from friends/family that ask open-ended questions. Like “I’ve been thinking a lot about your problems at work. What’s happening with that and how are you feeling? Are you still looking for another job? How is that going?”

  113. Mike,
    with emails I have some very odd experiences.

    I have many email accounts and I forget to check some at times.

    Senders dont know which one i frequenlty check. So I miss important things also….

    Now i have to use ony one. :)

    Anyways, I enjoyed your writtng.

  114. katzenjammer says:

    I love Latin

  115. I believe in brevity, but it’s harder for me to cover a point in five sentences than it is to go on for paragraphs. Your strategy is good for eliminating wordiness from the world, but for most of us it won’t save time.

  116. Great idea. Would love to use it but have a lot of correspondants in French. Does anyone know if cinq.phras.es exists or would you mind if I host a French translation of your pages? Graham.

  117. Ben says:

    Isn’t this kinda like google mail where by emails are referred to as conversations with each new message being a thread thus helping de-clog your inbox and in my experience I seem to write less, but only when its with other people using gmail i guess…. Great idea though!

  118. Amanda says:

    So how’s this working out for you? It sure is an interesting concept!

  119. Mike D. says:

    Amanda: It’s working great so far. Inbox has been under 30 items every since!

  120. [...] sentence emails: I got this idea from Mike Davidson, whose article came at a perfect time as I was limiting other things in my life, and was also [...]

  121. [...] sentence emails: I got this idea from Mike Davidson, whose article came at a perfect time as I was limiting other things in my life, and was also [...]

  122. [...] This usually takes me 30-60 minutes at the end of the day. 5 sentence emails: I got this idea from Mike Davidson, whose article came at a perfect time as I was limiting other things in my life, and was also [...]

  123. You could spawn a whole line of quick-fix ideas for e-mail or even general communication.

    At any rate, interesting idea, and if nothing else, slightly humorous to hear (again) how stressed e-mail was making you :)

    Good post Mike.
    -
    Q: Why does this message contain 1 compliment or less?
    A: http://no.complimen.tz

  124. [...] sentence emails: I got this idea from Mike Davidson, whose article came at a perfect time as I was limiting other things in my life, and was also [...]

  125. Peter W says:

    1. Totally agree five sentences concept. Wrote to my local government council about something really important by email, but cos it was too long, the very essence that I wanted people to attend to was missed. So, great idea!

    2. Even if you know the recipient only gets say 10 emails a day, they often “miss” emails. Outside the formal work environment where emails often have to be responded to (else might get fired in extremis), emails just don’t have the weight that a letter has. The technology has got ahead of our ability to learn how to deal with it.

    3. 10 sentence email. Please choose which three to ignore! :) (ps put numbers by each para.)

  126. [...] Use the minimum amount of sentences. I’ve been using the 5-sentence rule, but you can use more if needed. The question is: how many sentences are needed to communicate what [...]

  127. Paul says:

    This is the best idea I’ve heard this week, by a mile! I’ve completely lost track of how long I’ve spent writing and tuning mail over the last few days. Plus, it’s an excellent way to keep things concise!
    Thank you!

  128. [...] Use the minimum number of sentences. I’ve been using the 5-sentence rule, but you can use more if needed. The question is: how many sentences are needed to communicate what [...]

  129. [...] Use the minimum amount of sentences. I’ve been using the 5-sentence rule, but you can use more if needed. The question is: how many sentences are needed to communicate what [...]

  130. [...] interessanter Ansatz ist five sentences. Mike Davidson beschreibt auf seinem Blog diese “LowFi Solution to E-Mail Overload“. Die Aussage ist, dass keine Email länger als 5 Sätze sein sollte. Also nicht [...]

  131. [...] mini-site spécialisé peut aider a écrire le pourquoi on donne une réponse si courte. Le site de Mike Industries donne un exemple intéressant sur comment une réponse répondue à la façon traditionnelle versus [...]

  132. [...] using a version of this for awhile, but Mike Davidson hit the nail on the head when he created the Five Sentences system: Limit all emails to five sentences or less, and you’ll spend much less time [...]

  133. [...] responde que estás trabajando en ello! – Responde lo más breve posible. Que tus mails sean de 5 oraciones o menos. – Mantiene tu bandeja de entrada limpia. – Ordena tu carpeta por grupos o contenido, por ejemplo, [...]

  134. [...] Davidson  on oma blogis välja käinud hea idee kuidas e-mailidele vastata. Kõikidele e-mailidele, olenemata sisust või adressaadist tuleks alati vastata viie või vähema [...]

  135. [...] Be concise. Emails aren’t novels, so limit what you type. Try the awesome 5 sentences method. Your communication will be quicker and more effective, [...]

  136. [...] finally, really off topic I know but a wonderful concept that I am going to be subscribing to. No longer will I be writing essay-esq responses to any emails [...]

  137. [...] … now don’t blow it by writing a novel-length response to each one. I limit myself to five sentences for each reply (at the maximum — many replies are even shorter). That forces me to be [...]

  138. [...] theory of the five-sentence reply has been floating around the internet for some time now, but e-mail inboxes have not gotten any [...]

  139. [...] to … now don’t blow it by writing a novel-length response to each one. I limit myself to five sentences for each reply (at the maximum — many replies are even shorter). That forces me to be concise, to [...]

  140. You would not believe the amount of email I receive. It is literally impossible (and I am a guy that does not use the word “impossible” lightly) to handle all of the requests that I get in a day – if i take the time for a lengthly, reasoned response. Some – a very few – messages are worth the effort. For the most part, I intend to append my future messages with five.sentanc.es for the next month, and see what happens.

    Thanks for the suggestion. A guy in my office thinks I am insane for trying this. I think I am insane if I don’t try it.

    Take care. mjl

    P.s. at the bottom of your “Leave a Comment” fields, there is a checkbox for “Notify me of followup comments VIA EMAIL”. I laughed, and ignored it…

  141. You would not believe the amount of email I receive. It is literally impossible (and I am a guy that does not use the word “impossible” lightly) to handle all of the requests that I get in a day – if i take the time for a lengthly, reasoned response. Some – a very few – messages are worth the effort. For the most part, I intend to append my future messages with five.sentanc.es for the next month, and see what happens.

    Thanks for the suggestion. A guy in my office thinks I am insane for trying this. I think I am insane if I don’t try it.

    Take care. mjl

    P.s. at the bottom of your “Leave a Comment” fields, there is a checkbox for “Notify me of followup comments VIA EMAIL”. I laughed, and ignored it… :-)

  142. [...] … now don’t blow it by writing a novel-length response to each one. I limit myself to five sentences for each reply (at the maximum — many replies are even shorter). That forces me to be [...]

  143. I heard about http://five.sentenc.es while watching a Google Tech Talk on Inbox Zero. I’m sold. What a refreshing solution! And, a great underlying message — our mutual time is valuable, so let’s not waste it. Thanks, Mike!
    -Brian

  144. [...] Mike Davidson: 5 Sentence Emails [...]

  145. [...] July I read an article of Mike Davidson on email overload where he stated that one of his main concerns is the asynchronus communication in email: […] [...]

  146. [...] Diese Idee habe ich von Mike Davidson, dessen Artikel gerade zur perfekten Zeit kam, als ich nämlich bereits dabei war, meine Dinge im [...]

  147. Adam says:

    I already do this… I don’t think being brief is a new concept…

  148. Adam Hubert says:

    I tell ya what everyone NEEDS. Add to your signature that requests the reply to be BRIEF.

  149. Adam Hubert says:

    As a reminder : )

  150. [...] Mike Davidson: A Low-Fi Solution to E-Mail Overload: Sentenc.es On setting up a personal email policy: Every e-mail I send to anyone, regardless of subject or recipient, will be five sentences or less. Like a cinquain. (tags: communication email article lifehacks GTD) [...]

  151. [...] certainly isn’t the first to write about the the problems with email – Mike Davidson’s solution last year was to reduce the length and detail of replies to a specific number of sentences, but [...]

  152. [...] 5 sentence emails. Limit your responses to 5 sentences. It’ll force you to just write the essential stuff, and limit the time you spend [...]

  153. [...] 5 sentence emails. Limit your responses to 5 sentences. It’ll force you to just write the essential stuff, and limit the time you spend [...]

  154. [...] (Mike Davidson [here is the original post]) [...]

  155. [...] (Mike Davidson [here is the original post]) [...]

  156. [...] Mike Davidson: A Low-Fi Solution to E-Mail Overload: Sentenc.es – how do reduce the inbox choke without being rude [...]

  157. [...] me suis vue lire des blogs d’américains à minuit expliquant comment on pouvait être plus efficace pour répondre à ses mails: je vous [...]

  158. [...] sentenc.es, a method for dealing with email overload in a simple and lo-fi way. I could relate to Mike’s thoughts on email when he said: When faced with an inbox of 100-400 messages, I usually find myself replying to the messages which [...]

  159. [...] overload got you down? Mike Davidson suggests sentenc.es — i.e. five.sentenc.es — a quick, polite way to explain to people why your emails are [...]

  160. [...] Mike D: The Five-Sentence Email Rule [...]

  161. [...] phrase : J’ai eu cette idée de Mike Davidson , dont l’article est venu avec un timing parfait car je limitais d’autres choses dans [...]

  162. [...] emails. This works well if you spend too much time writing emails. I got the idea from Mike Davidson, who advocates limiting each email to five sentences or fewer. This forces you to keep your emails [...]

  163. [...] Davidson wrote a great post, titled  “A Low-Fi Solution To Email Overload: Sentenc.es”, where he explains his idea in detail: “Every e-mail I send to anyone, regardless of subject [...]

  164. [...] Here’s an interesting idea: sentenc.es. [...]

  165. Just read about this in the Lifehacker book “Upgrade Your Life.” Excellent idea that has helped me save some time at work.

  166. [...] Mike D: The Five-Sentence Email Rule [...]

  167. While I understand that keeping mails short may save some time, I can;t understand how people can castrate themself by making this a general rule. Especially since the efforts to fit all the to-be-transmitted information in such constraints (like e.g. the 160 characters of a short message) takes more time than just write it the way you want to write it.

    So here’s my answer to http://two.sentenc.es/: http://e-mail.is-not-s.ms/

    See also my blog post at http://noone.org/blog/English/Computer/Mail/e-mail.is-not-s.ms.futile

    P.S.: No offense, just had to oppose something to this movement. :-)

  168. Mike D. says:

    Hi Axel: Be my guest, but I think you’re missing the point a bit. The point isn’t to sacrifice grammar, spelling, or writing prowess. It’s simply brevity for the sake of courtesy and efficiency. One’s appetite for this philosophy is directly proportional to the daily quantity of e-mail one is expected to respond to. If it’s less than 5, it’s unnecessary. If it’s 5-20, it can be helpful. If it’s more than 20, it has undeniable utility.

  169. [...] since it’s a minimal week, what could be more minimal than Mike Davidson’s Five-Sentence Email solution. It’s simple: every single email you send must be five sentences or [...]

  170. Regis says:

    Mike – this is a fantastic idea! I frequently talk about “matching the message to the medium” (for example, how email is right for certain communications but not others).

    Your idea about a 5 sentence limit goes will with this approach, and has made email fun again for me!

    Now I have a challenge – get my point across in 5 sentences or less.

    This goes really well with other “mindful limitation” techniques like paring down email to only the essential, processing my inbox to empty, and not having an elaborate email filing system to have to maintain.

    Thanks for the great idea!

  171. Mark says:

    @Axel – The problem that you described is not the same as the solution that Mike is recommending. While you like to think your site is a parody of Mike’s, I think this is really your way of deflecting direct criticism. All in all, it appears to me that you’re trying to create something controversial to ride on the success of Mike’s idea.

    @Mike – Today, I’ve inserted your site into my signature. I’m only going to put it into replies for now (not NEW messages) since I still need to keep my contact info intact when sending out new emails.

  172. Lara Mae says:

    Have you tried Nubli.com yet? Nubli prioritize your inbox to high, medium and low priority, this way you can read what is important first.
    They have an iphone app too..

  173. Chris says:

    The signature should read “five sentences or fewer”, not “five sentences or less”. To do otherwise is “incorrect in standard English”, according to the New Oxford American Dictionary.

    This is not a question of common usage — “less” is just wrong in this situation. It actually does matter.

  174. Mike D. says:

    Chris: As has been debated above, “less” appears to either be correct or at the very least acceptable in this case. Reason being, I’m using “sentences” as a measurement.

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