I remember when the email first entered the scene. Wait, I can send this message, will my friends get it right away? It’s like writing a letter, but there is no lag time!
Fast forward to the present, very few pastors, including myself, do not manage emails to prevent it from controlling our lives.
Think about it, except that we can reply to emails a few hours a day, we can do anything. It can deprive us of our preaching time, our staff training time, and all productivity. When I return an email, two to three (literally) come in and replace it before I push “send” – I need to take some action. Or, if they don’t “need” it, it is often “expected” because of its nature as a pastor.
A few years ago, I met a website that required strict handling of email. I accepted the challenge. The idea is simple: keep the email replies in five sentences or less. A short reply is the way to keep up with the emails we receive in a day. While some emails require more than five sentences, most can be kept short and sweet to save senders and receivers time. I have implemented this system for a while, but I have left it since then, only to find that my previous email was overwhelmed and I will be back soon, so I will reapply this system to my life and encourage it. Give it a try!
I realized that sometimes it seems that there is no human touch for a short time, nor is it a rustic style. If the response asks for a more personalized (longer) conversation, I will try to stay sensitive. However, I know that if I stay in my email all day, I will ignore the main requirements of my Bible with people and taking the initiative to learn.
Here are some reasons why I recommend a short response to most pastor emails:
1. Short emails allow you to quickly provide people with a “bottom line.” Most of the time, people only need a quick advice or some form of approval. In order to keep the momentum moving, reach the bottom line and let you and the recipient move on.
2. A short email will not make the reader feel incomprehensible. When you see more than 200 actionable emails in your inbox (usually within a week), you’ll be able to sit down and type in an email in an hour or so.
3. Short emails can help you get to “Inbox Zero” quickly. Personally, my goal is to clean up my inbox every day. This does not mean that every email will be replied, but it is properly archived (I have a “24-hour response” and a “25-72 hour response folder I mainly use”). I am trying to respond to emails that I can process with five or fewer sentences in two minutes and never submit them for future replies.
4. Short emails will keep you away from your inbox. You need to be proactive in dealing with things, not just responding to things in a reactive way. If you keep your email short, you will spend less time in your inbox and spend more time leading, pasturing and preparing to preach.
In order to stick to these ideas, you may have to get rid of some psychological barriers, just like I have to do. When I finally accepted that “five or less” would become my new standard, I encountered several psychological barriers:
Your reply does not have to match the length of the original email you received. Sometimes I get a long email. I used to think that my reply must match the length of the original email. I don’t think so anymore. This may be a satisfactory expectation for myself. I have never said, “Your reply is shorter than my original email.” As long as they get what they want, they will be happy.
You can’t think that “short” is harsh or mean. I make sure to say “I don’t want to be simple but efficient…” in the automatic signature of my “five or fewer” responses. In order to avoid sharpness, I had to release personal pressure to make it fluffy and long-lasting. I can be kind and fast at the same time (this is a good discipline and challenge). I am playing a few thousand words of fluff, just to say something I need to say in a few words; this needs to stop. So this is how my email signature looks like “five or less.