I’m an over-thinker.
It takes me 45 minutes to figure out what TV show to watch in the background when I’m making dinner.
It takes me an hour to decide what I want to make for dinner.
And it takes me another hour to debate if I should use an ingredient that expired yesterday or just give up entirely and order pizza.
(Pizza always wins.)
So, it’s not a surprise to me that I manage to turn responding to an email with just a few sentences into a time-intensive project.
And because I know I’m not the only out there who suffers from this “turn a mole hole into a mountain with no clear path over or through it” problem, I thought I’d break down where I struggle most and share my best tips for getting over it.
1. The Greeting Line
The first word you use sets the tone for the entire email. Or so you can lead yourself to believe. I mean, sure, if you start with “Dear Beloved Colleague…” then yes. But, as long as you stick to the standard list of socially-acceptable greetings, you really can’t go wrong.
But you can avoid ever struggling with this again by just committing to “Hi” forever. Anytime your brain starts to be like, “But would ‘Heya’ make me sound chill?” don’t. “Hi” is all you use now.
2. The Friendly Work-Life Balance Line
Hope your week’s going well!
Hope you’ve been able to enjoy this nice weather
Hope your morning breakfast Instagram post got as many likes as you wanted and you haven’t been incessantly checking it at your desk feeling increasingly insecure as the time passes.
So many hopes we express for people we hardly know! To quote Muse writer Kat Boogaard in an article titled 40 Email Opening Lines That Are So Much Better Than Happy Monday, “Has anyone ever been full of more hope than me?”
And while I get the appeal of this line—“I’m about to ask you for something and want to remind you of my humanity first”—it’s OK to skip it if you can’t think of anything within 30 seconds. Especially if it’s someone you speak to all the time. Trust that they know deep in their hearts that you want the (generic) best for them and jump right into the next line…
3. The “I Need Something From You” Line
Just a quick little favor…
Do you mind…
I know you’re busy, but…
Wouldn’t it be super convenient if everyone you needed something from would just read your mind, figure it out, and get it to you before the deadline?
Before you answer yes to that, don’t—if your mind’s anything like mine, no need for it to be readable (and I don’t mean that in a juicy secrets way, more like you’d have to sort through hours of me having arguments with people in my head over the most trivial matters to get to the good stuff).
This is my hardest advice because there’s no secret here. You just need to be straight-forward. Because the more you surround your ask with other stuff, the less clear it’ll be.
Try this formula: Can you get [the assignment/asset] to [the person who needs it] by [deadline] and keep in mind [any guidelines about format, requirements, client specifications, or neuroses].
4. The “Sign-off” Line
Love, in the professional way
You know what helped me realize what a waste of time it was to spend any time thinking about this? When I couldn’t recall how any of my co-workers sign off on their emails.
Like my first tip from all those paragraphs ago, I’m going to tell you that the best choice here is to pick a few options you like and stick with those forever. For me, that’s “best” when I’m feeling formal, “thanks” when I’m making an ask, and “have a great night” when I’m sharing an update. Or if none of those sound right to you—whatever.
Kidding, we have this amazing list of 70 options. Pick five. Write them on a sticky note. Put that sticky note on your computer, and never spend more than 10 seconds questioning your decision ever again.
If you’re thinking, “Um, Jenni, this isn’t four lines...you just summed up the entire email”—you’re right! It is indeed an entire email. And that means that by just conquering one of these challenging elements, you’d improve your email writing response time by 25%. Or so I think, my math skills stop and end with sending Venmos.
But what I do know for sure is that you’ll be able to use your brain for much more important decisions, like should I get two toppings on that pizza or just stick to one?
Any other tips I should try to dial down on the over-thinking? Strong thoughts on pepperoni? Tell me on Twitter.
Photo of phone courtesy of Manuel Breva Colmeiro/Getty Images.
Jenni Maier is the Editor-in-Chief of The Muse. She wrote her first book at the age of five. While it didn't quite take off, she's continued to write and edit whenever possible. She feels very lucky to have a career that allows her to do just that. Her work's been featured in Fast Company, TIME , Inc., her mother's Facebook statuses, and more. When she's not Musing and daydreaming about being a dog owner, she's either working through her Netflix queue or baking. Or, ideally, a combination of both. Say hi on Twitter.More from this Author