What Churchill Can Teach You About E-mail Efficiency

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Daniel Senter



I recently was reminded of great advice offered over 70 years ago, but still relevant today:

"To do our work, we all have to read a mass of papers. Nearly all of them are far too long. This wastes time, while energy has to be spent in looking for the essential points."

Any idea where it’s from? You can read the original memo here.

The memo was issued during a time of considerable change and activity by none other than Winston Churchill, British Prime Minister during the second World War!  What struck me was that regardless of the activity, pressures and distraction at that time there was a strong belief in having good and efficient process to disseminate information and reduce waste! Something I think still rings true...

Unfortunately, not much has changed in 70 years. We still face similar problems with communication, although e-mails have taken the place of memos. So what can we do about it?

Churchill’s memo sets out 4 broad principles to construct more concise and to the point memos. In this context the aim is to improve the messages we construct via email. We need to remove the ‘email dressing’. We need to make them more descriptive using short crisp paragraphs, remove the padding phrases / words and move detail out for discussion face to face. These are all great tips we can and should embrace today when we think of the emails we draft each day.

One step further I have adopted for myself for a number of years now is that of improving the way I title the notes I send. This is something I can’t admit to developing myself but saw an opportunity to put best practice into use; I hope you may find useful...

I attach the below details as part of my email signature and adopt the practice with all of the emails I write:

You may have noticed the prefix in the Subject line in my E-mail. To help manage email more effectively I have started using the following prefixes on my email subjects:
•          Action: please progress/resolve
•          Respond: please reply
•          Read Me: please read this ( “Need to know” )
•          FYI: for your information only ( “Nice to know” )
•          URGENT: please action today
These prefixes apply to the main recipients of the email. If you are on the Cc list, then this automatically implies FYI

The labels speak for themselves and the more of your friends, colleague and co-workers who adopt this, the more benefit you’ll get! Where the volumes of email we receive seems to increase by the day, even a small step like this can help to streamline and focus the attention. Then in parallel taking on board the reduction in ‘email dressing’ to construct more precise and to the point emails you’ll be really streamlining the process!

The next phase then is how to streamline the way you process the email you receive...and if you work that out….drop me a line!!