I’ve long hated email. As someone with upwards of 5,000 unread messages at any given time, taking a quick moment to check email is like pushing hot pokers into my eyes. It makes me feel irresponsible and rude every time I see that massive number in bold, yet if I were to diligently read through each email I’m sent, I would write zero TechCrunch articles per day. I would complete nothing but the communication and coordination for future, real tasks.
This is thanks in large part to the actual content of messages. Sure, some startups are really great at the concise pitch, sending over three or four lines on their company and perhaps a screengrab, and asking if I want to know more. But most pitches, and most emails in general, are much longer than that. And the reason they’re longer? Courtesy.
Email has replaced the old postal system in almost every case. Realtors and lawyers still send messengers with important documents to their clients, but most business communication is done over email. Yet still, most emails are filled with hi’s, how are you’s, and other general forms of courtesy. This is unnecessary. We’re moving into a world where the fewer buttons you push, the better.
And this isn’t just about me and my inbox full of pitches. I simply use pitches as an example because most emails I get are pitches, but the same rules follow in almost all of my emails, whether they’re with major corporations about review loaner devices, or with some TechCrunch staffers that I speak with less regularly. And I’d bet good money that the majority of your emails consist of the same courteous small-talk.
A 2011 study shows that most employees spend half of their time at work on email. Half! And I’d venture to say that half of that time (so 25 percent of your work time) is spent filtering the real information out of a sea of kind words and courtesy.
Now, as a reporter I receive an excessive amount of emails, but I think that overstuffed inboxes are a more ubiquitous problem. Just think about your daily emails: there are Facebook and Twitter notifications, the usual spam/newsletter rubbish, Mom and Dad, friends and family, random forwards, and what I like to call personal/business (stuff like banking emails, communication with realtors, doctors offices, etc.) And that’s just personal email. Now throw in your work email.
It’s a lot of content to juggle, especially when those useful nuggets of necessary information are drowned by small talk and common courtesy.
Maybe wining and dining a client or an in-person meeting is the right time for schmoozing. Hell – a conference call may even be an appropriate place for the occasional “Hiya, how’s the wife?” But when it involves my computer, a place where work is to be done, I need email (and all forms of online communication for that matter) to be as concise as possible. I mean, studies show that people stoned off their booties do better on an IQ test than those distracted by ringing phones and incoming emails. In fact, it takes 45 minutes for the mind to regain focus on a task after being interrupted by a distraction, and most emails (and most of the content within emails) is a distraction.
That’s why people would rather send or receive a 160-character text message than make a phone call or send an email. Time is saved, and time is precious.
Here’s an example of a pitch I’d receive on email:
Hi Jordan, how are you?
I have been reading your past few articles and absolutely love TechCrunch. I noticed you cover a lot of wedding apps, and was wondering what you think of the space? Isn’t it exciting, how tech is disrupting such a valuable and huge industry?
Speaking of, we have a new wedding startup called Wedding Startup. The service lets brides and grooms consult with real wedding planners online for a much cheaper price, cutting out the time and work of meeting in person and checking out real-life items like cakes, china, etc. It’s sort of like the Warby Parker for wedding coordination. (I saw on your author picture on TechCrunch that you’re a Warby Parker fan! Me too!)
Since the wedding planners can simply send over ideas and bundle certain options for the bride
Let me know if any of this sounds interesting to you. Our CEO, Bob Marriage, is available to chat on the phone today and tomorrow. He also loves TechCrunch. I can also send you screen grabs and more detailed information if you’d like.
Again, thank you so much for considering. We can’t express how excited we are to potentially be featured on the site.
PS. Where did you eat last night? The pictures you tweeted look like you had some delicious food!
Instead, an SMS version of this pitch would be:
Hey Jordan. Here’s our new wedding startup launching today. Link: http://www.theconcisepitch.com. It puts real wedding planners online to save time and cut costs. Like the Warby Parker of wedding planning. LMK if you want anything further.
Sure, the first one makes me feel warm and fuzzy and super important. But the second saves me time, which is what I really appreciate in an email. SMS doesn’t offer space for courtesy or ass kissing, and thus, communication is streamlined to save time for actually writing the article, or completing whatever task is associated with the email. (That’s the thing with email — there’s always an action associated with each one, ranging from a simple reply to the completion of a huge assignment.)
SMS, the newer form of communication, is more efficient than email. In matters of personal relationships, this is seen as a negative progression, as kids are growing up feeling more comfortable communicating in a digital world than a real one. But in professional matters, the quicker, more concise, and ultimately more efficient form of communication should be preferred. Time is money.
Which brings me to Twitter.
Twitter lops a full 20 characters off of the message. This usually gets rid of any introduction, “Hi, my name is…” In fact, we only @mention people because that’s the only way to alert them directly, and if you could tweet to someone without using up characters on their handle, you would.
Granted, with a tweet, you have even fewer characters to hook the receiver, but the receiver also has no excuse to not check out the link, or startup, or assignment, or whatever.
I don’t get too many pitches via Twitter, and every single one I do has little to no information on the company. It looks like this:
@jordanrcrook Check out our new wedding startup: it’s the Warby Parker of wedding planning. http://bit.ly/X7Livg
But you know what? I click on every single link pitched my way on Twitter. I can’t rightfully not. I know nothing about the company — how can I judge it without taking a look? The company didn’t waste any of my time tweeting this to me, and clicking to look around can’t take more than a minute.
Now imagine if this tweet could be sent out to multiple users at once, without wasting characters with their @handles. This magical technology exists, dear friends, and it has for decades. It’s called email. We’re just ruining it.
The idea isn’t to get rid of email, though some have tried (and enjoyed it). We can’t kill it — the idea makes too much sense for the way we live and work and correspond.
Do I hope that someone will fix it? That’s not even a question. I truly believe that someone, somewhere out there is creating an algorithm and designing an interface that completely organizes and prioritizes email automatically. (If that’s you, we at TechCrunch are awaiting your arrival like the three kings in Bethlehem.)
And until that fateful day, when some startup completely fixes email, we’ll probably still be distracted by each and every message we get, spending 45 minutes getting back on track. Our brains are and will continue to get better at multitasking and become more ADD, whether or not that’s a good or bad thing.
But until then, it’s our responsibility to stop wasting our own time and each other’s time and get up to date. Why say “Hi Jordan” at the beginning of an email? You know you’re writing to me; I know you’re writing to me. Why ask about personal stuff (if we’ve met), or kiss my ass (if we haven’t)? Let’s save that for when we meet up in-person, so we actually have something to talk about. Plus, you won’t have to waste time thinking up all kinds of nice, interesting things to include in the email, and I won’t waste time looking for what I actually need in the wall of useless text you sent.
I know. I know. If everyone were to cut out all the niceties, everyone would be a bitch. But if everyone did it, no one would be a bitch. And right now, everyone is a bitch. Email’s bitch.