Discover more from XO, MU by Melissa Urban
How to write better emails
Tips from a CEO and a bestselling author (<- I have street cred)
This issue features Superhuman, the email management tool that helps me get through email twice as fast, reminds me to write back at the right time, and keeps my inbox squeaky-clean.
As the Whole30 CEO, I get a lot of emails: podcast invitations, meeting requests, administrative tasks, project updates, and more unsolicited marketing pitches than I can count. I also write for a living, so I feel uniquely qualified to tackle this topic.
You want your emails to be effective and efficient. Before that, though, you need people to read them, not just open them, immediately feel overwhelmed, then close them for “later.” So before you push “send,” walk through these five checkpoints.
1. Ask nicely (but make it quick)
If your email is an ask, include only the high-level relevant details, clearly state the ask, and invite them to reply if they’d like to hear more. (This is preferable to forcing me to wade through every last detail just to discover I’m not interested.) Also, do your homework. I can’t tell you how many podcasts invitations use my old last name, refer to me as a “fitness instructor,” or make it otherwise clear this isn’t important enough to them to do even a basic Google search.
Give me only what I need to decide if I want to learn more: who you are, the specific ask, timing of the ask, a relevant link to you/your show/your business, and compensation if applicable.
This includes something that demonstrates you know who I am, what I do, and why it’s relevant to your ask. (“The chapter on self-boundaries was impactful for me, and it will resonate with my audience, most of whom are mothers and people-pleasers.”)
The only thing worse than a super-long email with the ask buried in the middle is a vague “I have a business idea I think you’d be interested in.” Those go straight into the trash.
2. Less is more
Nobody enjoys opening an email and being met with a brick wall of text. Yes, sometimes there is a lot to share, but email usually isn’t the right venue for a super-detailed breakdown of the project, a point-by-point discussion around the decision that needs to be made, or a place to air all of your grievances at the same time.
Keep your email high-level, but link to a Google or Notion doc where people can peruse all the fine points on their own time. This also keeps your inbox less cluttered. If people have questions or comments; instead of replying to your email, ask them to leave a comment in the doc.
If the details are better served in person, your email should include a high-level view of what you’ll be covering, not every point in excruciating detail. Feel free to draft your full talking points in a Google or Notion doc, take notes during your meeting, then link everyone back to the doc afterward as a shared record.
Your inbox is a hot mess. Mine was too.
I subscribed to Superhuman two years ago (with my own money), because my inbox had over 1,000 unread messages, I had hundreds of folders but still couldn’t find that important email, and I was wasting so much time but didn’t know how to do it differently. After just one day with Superhuman, I had a brand-new inbox.
Superhuman is so much more than just an email management tool. I now get through emails twice as fast. (Imagine that!) I never forget to respond to a note. I no longer waste time in folders, and I’ve established automations to make replies even easier. Their new Superhuman AI feature can even ensure the right tone, grammar, spelling, and clarity—perfect for anyone with ADHD, post-concussion syndrome (me!), or anyone writing a lot of emails every day.
Try Superhuman today and watch your email stress plummet. I’d be shocked if you didn’t pick up at least an hour a day using their system.
3. Less is more (still)
My third grade English teacher Mrs. Matuzas and her maniacal red pen taught me how to say the same thing with fewer words—a skill I employ today in everything I write, from emails to books. While you do want to maintain a tone of professionalism and cordiality, if there is anything else you can tighten up in your email, do that before you push “send.”
Review your email carefully and cut anything that is unnecessary or repetitive.
This includes “I look forward to hearing back from you” or “please reply at your earliest convenience” or “please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have questions.” We know how email works, you can leave this unsaid.
4. Scheduling meetings efficiently
If it’s clear that a call or meeting is the next step, share all the specifics succinctly. (Instead of, “I’d love to jump on a call to discuss,” prompting six more back-and-forths of “okay, when are you free” and “I’m not available that day.”)
Share your availability across a number of days and times. Include time zones the format of the meeting (phone call, Zoom). Include the length of the meeting, and who will schedule it. Try, “I’m available for a 30-minute Zoom call on Monday 9/4 any time between 10 AM and 1 PM MT; Tuesday 9/5 any time at or after 11 AM MT; or Thursday 9/7 between noon and 2 PM MT. Let me know what works best and Liilu will send you a Zoom invite.”
If you’re scheduling a phone call, make it clear who should do the dialing at the appointed time.
If you’re trying to schedule a bunch of people at your company with a bunch of people at a different company, huddle with your team first using internal comms (like Slack or chat). Find the common days/times when all of your people are available, then send those windows to the other team.
5. Tell people about you
You can shortcut a lot of the uncertainty, miscommunication, and conflict that can so easily stem from email by telling the people about yourself, and getting to know them. For example, there are a few of us on the Whole30 team who have to remind ourselves, “Say hi first.” We’re very direct, brief, and no-nonsense in our communications, and if you didn’t know that, you’d probably think we were mad, or jerks. So we’ve said this! Out loud! To everyone else on the team! I also know who values words of affirmation (so I can throw in a “great job” first), who thrives in the details (so I can add a bit more context up front), and who takes quiet time to process before replying (so I don’t penalize them for not replying promptly).
Share your communication style with your team, clients, and anyone else you talk to often. Ask them about their communication preferences too! The better you get to know the people you’re emailing with, the less likely anyone is take your email out of context, and vice-versa.
BONUS: Speak to people the way they want to be spoken to
A lesson I learned in my Organizational Behavior class in college: If I want to be a good communicator, I have to talk to people in their preferred style, not mine. I once had an employee who valued words of affirmation. It is not in my nature to tell someone “good job;” my style is, “If you don’t hear from me, you’re doing fantastic, keep it up.” Personally, I also don’t need to be told I’m doing a good job—I can decide that for myself.
But my communication style—bare, direct, to the point—would have left her feeling anxious, unmotivated, and unappreciated. So I made sure my emails pointed out the positives (even when giving constructive criticism), specifically included “great work” or “thanks for handling that” wherever applicable, and offered her more feedback (words) than I gave to anyone else.
That’s what she needed to be successful, and when she succeeds, my business succeeds. So rather than insisting that she needed to “toughen up” or “not take it personally” or just accept that I wasn’t a flowery email writer—I set my ego aside, flexed my communication style with her, and everybody won.
Did you discover a good tip today? What’s your best tactic for sending effective emails? Share them in comments (after you check out Superhuman).