If-Then Statements: A Simple Way to Cut Email Chains Down to Size

You are, of course, wasting too much time checking your email. That’s a given. But there is a way to cut down on the wasteful back-and-forthing and prevent a simple scheduling email from turning into 20 emails just to set a time for drinks.

Lifehacker recommends cutting down on all that time-wasting by embedding if-then statements in your emails when you are trying to get something done:

Instead of just responding in order to clear your inbox, take a little extra time to think about the logical follow-up questions or steps. Try to anticipate any additional information the recipient might ask for. In other words, you want to not just clear but resolve. By doing this, you can eliminate many follow up emails and drastically reduce the amount of email ping pong require to close the issue.

One way to do this is to use “If… Then” statements. […] Start looking for places to use these “If…Then” statements in your own emails anywhere you ask a question (i.e. “Does 4pm work for you? If not, please propose a different time to meet”).

Think about how often you end up having lengthy exchanges about where and when to have lunch, and how you could probably do that with just a couple emails.

If you are available at 11:30 next Tuesday or Thursday, then how about lunch at [incredibly delicious restaurant] down the street from your office? If you aren’t available either of those days, then let me know your availability for lunch the following week.

This doesn’t just apply to scheduling. There are a ton of exchanges you could cut down to size just by being more clear about what should happen. For example, emailing opposing counsel:

If you will stipulate to these facts, then please sign and return the enclosed Stipulation of Facts. If you disagree with some of them, then please indicate which paragraphs you disagree with by circling the number. Once I receive that, I will call you to see if we can reach an acceptable revision. If I don’t hear back from you within ten days, then I will assume we can’t agree on the facts and go ahead without the stipulation.

It works with clients, too. Try this:

If this draft of your contract is acceptable, then please return a signed copy. If you have changes, then please get them to me by Friday.

This works too:

If you are available for deposition preparation (or mediation, or a negotiation session) on Tuesday the 7th at my office, then let my assistant know and they will confirm a time. If you are not, then please let me know if Thursday the 9th or Monday the 13th would work.

The key is that your “then” has to come with some level of specificity, rather than a simple “let me know what works for you.” This might seem a bit difficult is because it feels like you are being demanding: “if my thing doesn’t work, then you do this thing” is how it might come across. But it doesn’t need to. You can still open and close with a polite hello and thanks, and your email recipient will most likely be grateful that you laid out what you need in such a clear fashion. They are probably spending too much time with their email, too.

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