Long emails and why they are unproductive!

Have you ever received a long email and sat on it for a few days before you answered it? I bet you have, just like millions of other professional office dwellers. We accept emails as a ubiquitous feature of life in the workplace. A 2016 research by Pew Internet shows that 61% of professionals rank email as their most important tool. Understandably, we can accomplish very little without them.

However, just because email is the king of the workplace does not make its use always productive. If you allow yourself, you will become completely unproductive if answering emails is the only task you do all day. I want to discuss one aspect of emails that most of us have had to deal with regularly: The long email. For example, when people send lengthy emails, they may legitimate reasons for sending them. However, the net effect of these long emails is much farther from the desired outcome thank one would expect. Long emails, generally speaking, are unproductive. I’ll give you three reasons why you should think twice before you send them.

1. They are hard to read

Regardless of how excellent of a writer/reader you are, long emails are difficult to handle. They contain, usually, a high number of ideas. They take longer to go through and even longer to process.  They require the receiver to set aside a good stretch of uninterrupted time to address the concerns expressed. For this reason, most recipients will put long email at the end of their email cues. The sender experiences this as a long response time. While research suggests the average email response time varies from a few minutes to a few days, I contend that long emails see an even longer time response. This all makes sense when you look at the average workload of working professionals and how most they are continuously chasing productivity by trying to accomplish more in an eight-hour day. This push signifies that your long email will have to wait for at least a few days. In addition to causing reading difficulty, Long emails also tend to prove difficult to parse.

2. Difficult to parse

Typically, a long email contains more than one action item.  Between the beginning of the email and the end, the reader may lose track of all the items that require action. Frequently, I hear people complain about how often email responders forget to include all items of concern in their responses. With competing priorities and needs, overlooking one or two items in a long email comes easily.

3. Invite incomplete responses

The incomplete response results directly from the difficulty most people experience in parsing long email. Email responders have to keep track of every issue included in the received email and formulate an answer which sometime may requires fact-checking the information presented. I find it reasonable to postponed the responses to these types of emails until I know all the facts. In the best case scenario, most people will provide a response to the items they deem most important. When the email feels like a blog post, people can’t help but turn selective in their reply. So if you receive a reply that leaves out a couple of responses that you think are capital to the task-at-hand, the culprit is most likely the long email.

The three above reasons are strong enough to warrant a think-over when it comes to long emails. You can send long emails if absolutely necessary, but I recommend asking yourself what goal you wish to achieve by sending the email. The best emails I have ever encountered have three things in common. They are short, they go to the point, and they are easy to answer. They have the added bonus of making both the sender and the receiver productive. So before you hit send on your next 500-word email, ask yourself how quickly you wish to see the reply. If the answer is as soon as possible, consider refactoring as my programmer friends say.