The 2009 Email Brevity Challenge


Are you on Twitter? Have you perfected the art of communicating a lot in a few characters? Well how about putting that talent to good use, making the lives of your co-workers better ?

I’m talking about…


What’s that? Simple, really:

Keep your company emails to 140 characters or less.

Now let me tell you a little more about this.

It All Started with a Tweet

I trade tweets with Jennifer Leggio (@mediaphyter). Well, one morning we had this exchange:

Hutch: Are you a long form twitterer? I often hit 140+ characters in my tweets, and spend time cutting them back.

Jennifer: Yup. I think it’s made me more succinct in other mediums, too.

Hutch: You’re right about Twitter making us more succinct. You know where I’m seeing it most? In my emails, of all things.

Jennifer: I wonder if I should challenge myself to only send 140-character emails in 2009? hehe

Hutch: That’d actually be a great challenge. Make your emails max out at 140 characters. Recipients would be thankful.

Jennifer: Let’s do it. In some cases (i.e. work emails requiring tons of back-up) it might be hard, but I’ll shoot for 50 percent.

From that conversation, Jennifer wrote Micro-emailing: The 2009 email brevity challenge on her ZDNet blog Feeds. As she says there:

We understand that some emails need to be longer than 140 characters (I’m not sure my boss would appreciate it if I sent her multiple 140-character emails when she needs a detailed project report). For the rest of the emails, however, we’re going to try and give our co-workers’ weary eyeballs a break. More than that, we are going to start logging these communications and tracking monthly the average number of a characters we use in our sent work-related emails. I’ll post monthly reports here on this blog.

And there you have it.

Reducing Our Dependence on Corporate Email

Consider this little resolution another strike against our overreliance on email. IBM’s Luis Suarez has been quite an advocate for reducing the volume of emails inside companies (see Giving up on Work e-mail – Status Report on Week 46 (Living without Email – One Man’s Story. Are you Next?). He has an ongoing quest to eliminate email in his daily job. He actually did that during Christmas week, as he reports:

It has taken me 46 weeks, but I have finally made it! I have finally been able to prove the point that you can go by a week without using e-mail, but social software, and still get the job done!

And upon seeing this challenge for email brevity, he offered this:

@bhc3 Absolutely! And more than happy as well to help promote it as part of the continued weekly progress reports s haring further insights

If you’re forced to be briefer with your emails, there are a couple outcomes. First, those epic emails are reduced. That probably is welcome news to a lot of workers. Second, it highlights the proper place for many email discussions: wikis, blogs, Yammer, forums, etc. You can use email more for notifications and links to the place where the longer form thinking/discussion/collaboration is occurring.

To participate in this initiative, you only need to do three things:

  1. Add a comment to Jennifer’s blog post
  2. Keep tabs on the character count of your emails (I’ll probably paste ’em in Word, run a character count)
  3. Keep it light, low pressure. It’s an interesting experiment.

I particularly encourage you to try this out if you’re interested in Enterprise 2.0. What better way to put into practice what we all see as the future of social software inside organizations?

And drop me a comment if you’ve got any other thoughts or suggestions.


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