The Email You Might Actually Read

By Kate Young

“We’re living in an anything, anytime, anywhere world.”

That was Betsy Hubbard’s observation as she laid out the research to a roomful of bankers at the American Bankers Association’s recent Emerging Leaders Forum. President and co-founder of training firm Mindset Digital, Hubbard asked the audience to consider what they’re up against when they try to communicate by email:

  • Fifty percent of users check their phones before even getting out of bed in the morning.
  • On average, people tap, swipe or touch their mobile devices 2600 times each day.
  • People are interrupted by their devices every three minutes during the workday.
  • It takes about 23 minutes to get refocused after each interruption.

“We’re in a constant state of distraction,” Hubbard explains. “And so is everybody around us.” The result is that eight-second attention span we keep hearing about. That doesn’t mean we can’t or won’t focus for longer, Hubbard says. “We just aren’t willing to give up our time and attention before we decide whether it’s worth it.”

147 emails land in the average inbox on any given day. Is yours worth reading?

You know that 1500-word, block text email you’ve been drafting under the subject line “Meeting Follow-ups and Ancillary Topics”? Please don’t send it. At least, not until you’ve made some serious fixes.

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“Whether you think about it or not,” Hubbard says, “you have an email reputation.” We’ve all had that experience of seeing a certain sender’s name in our inbox, and immediately deciding that we don’t have the time to open that email. Hubbard knows executives who have banned some of their own team members from emailing them for that very reason. “You are creating an impression, even in your own professional career,” she emphasizes. And every email you write is an opportunity to earn trust and business—or damage your reputation.

So you need to get it right. How can you do that?

Respect the reader’s time.

Aim for less than 100 words. Mindset Digital recommends identifying the most essential takeaways—information that will drive a desired action—and strip away everything else.

Recognize that organization matters.

Everyone is in a rush, but it’s up to the writer—not the reader—to make sense of the message. That means taking a moment to structure your email thoughtfully.

Providing a clear, specific call-to-action up front greatly increases the odds that your reader will not only read but act on your email. Add a recommended course of action for your reader to react to, plus some helpful context, to help their decision-making. If you can make the next step clear—and as micro and manageable as possible—you can drive action.

Make it easy on the eyes.

Formatting is your friend. You may not be able to keep the word count low, but you can guide the reader by bulleting key takeaways or arranging details in an easy-to-read table. White space is your other friend—it helps separate complicated information into manageable chunks. Combine those two ingredients with your writing talent, and you’ve got a recipe for the kind of email that people will want to read.

In Hubbard’s reckoning, the ability to write strong emails is a superpower. It influences people. It makes things happen. It saves time—saving even 30 seconds per email can give you back hours in your week. But harnessing that power doesn’t happen overnight. “Aim for progress, not perfection,” she says. “None of us have the time to make every email a work of art. But we can make every single email a little bit better. And that matters.”

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About Author

Kate Young

Kate Young is a senior editor at the ABA Banking Journal and editor of ABA Bank Marketing.