How easy is it to sit at your computer, banging out reports, drafting emails or surfing the internet, but come 6 o’clock you wonder what you’ve actually achieved? If you feel like you never have enough time in your workday, there are a few changes and habits you can make that will help.

In an earlier article I outlined my Five-Minute Principle  – Never spending more than five minutes reading or responding to written communication like email. Here, I have another idea to help you become more productive and get more time back in your day. These aren’t massive changes that will revolutionise your workday, but don’t underestimate how a number of smaller changes can make a big impact.

Here’s a useful mental challenge. How many different forms of written communication do you use most days? I generally use between 4-5 with email and work processes constituting 90% of the work. Technology has changed the way we communicate. Instead of writing long, flowing letters that might take days or weeks to arrive through the postal system, we can communicate in almost real time.

The Five Sentence Principle

Some people might complain about the lost art of penmanship, but when you’re in a job where you receive upwards of 100 written communications a day, who has the time?

To give me more time back in my day, I treat 95% of email responses like SMS text messages. In this sense all emails regardless of recipient or subject will be five sentences or less. It’s that simple.

Get to the point

Cut out the long “hope this finds you well” intro that the person will skip over anyway. Cut out the waffle in the middle where you build up to your point. Cut off the conclusion where you “hope to catch up sometime soon” when you have no real intention of making plans.

Get straight to the point. Give direction. Answer their questions. Send.

When you combine this 5 Sentence Principle with my 5 Minute Principle , you’ll create more time to do the work that’s important to you.

Make better use of your time

Some cases do call for a longer response. So ask yourself:

  • is sitting down to write an email the best use of your time?
  • Could this problem be solved by simply picking up the phone and talking to them?
  • Could you use your 5 sentences to schedule a meeting?

It may well be that their issue requires some thought, in which case it’s become its own project or agenda item that you need to tackle. That’s ok! Acknowledge the email, block out the time in your calendar, and move on.

What’s more, you’ll find when you start telling people you’re using this approach, people will tend to use it when emailing you – Concise emails are easier to digest and respond to. Go to to for a simple email signature.

Use your common sense

There’s a very good reason I call these guiding principles, and not rules. They should not dictate your life. Instead, principles like this should free you from unwritten obligations that make you feel you have to spend 30 minutes crafting the perfect email response.

You might also find it’s more appropriate to apply these techniques based on recipient or email type. For example, if you’re often communicating with a new client who needs unique feedback, you might need those five minutes  and ten lines. If you’re mostly communicating with your staff or colleagues you should probably spend 30 seconds and five lines or less per email.

Stop playing email tennis

Sure, we can marvel at being able to type out messages as long as we’d like, and send as many as we’d like, including photo and video attachments, straight to someone’s smart device. You just have to ask yourself if that’s the smartest use of your time.

If you’re ready to stop playing message tennis and start being more productive, you need to communicate like it’s 1999. Keep messages to the essentials. Five sentences or fewer.

Are you struggling to find the time to keep on top of your emails, and get your actual work done too? If you want to become more productive and achieve the rewards you deserve, get in touch with me or your local Prime Strategies business advisor.