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Email is a great way to get what you want. With the right language, a clear call to action, and an engaging personal style, you can turn your correspondence into a powerful productivity tool.
The trade off, of course, is efficiency. You can write brilliant emails that get you results every time, but that can just as easily become a full-time job. For many of us, it is.
Last week I sent 150 emails. Nearly all of them were on business days Monday through Friday, so that’s about 30 emails per day. Being an efficient email writer can mean the difference between one hour and five hours of email each day — and that’s, like, eight episodes of Key and Peele right there, so it’s obviously in my best interest to be quick.
In that spirit, here is a handy guide to one of my favorite productivity hacks: the email template. If you use email templates the right way, you can become a master communicator while slashing the amount of time you spend in your inbox.
Why Templates Are so Important
When you’re faced with a blank email compose field, you need to make a huge mental effort to get started writing.
But most of the time this effort is unnecessary, because chances are you’ve already written an email like it before. Look closely and you’ll notice that many of your emails share a common salutation, a typical ending, some basic points, and a regular call-to-action (CTA).
So why write an email from scratch when you can use a template?
Email templates help you avoid reinventing the wheel for the emails that you send most often. It’s the same reason why residential home developers use basic blueprints for similar homes in a neighborhood. Sure, they can eventually customize each one to be unique, but they’re not going back to the drawing board for each basic structure.
You want to become the architect of your most common emails, including:
How to Create an Email Template
Any specific email that you write over and over can be templatized. A salesman might templatize a query letter, an event organizer might templatize speaker invitations, and a program manager might templatize sponsorship requests. The emails worthy of templatizing are up to you.
So first, take a particular email that has worked for you, replace all the specific language with a placeholder space or bracket, and just like that, you have a working template. If you find yourself using that template more than a few times, there’s a good chance it belongs in your email repertoire.
Then, store all of your templates in a document that’s easy to access. I paste my favorites into a running Google Doc. For each email, I create an easy-to-remember title that I then format as a heading. This allows me to make a table of contents in just two clicks, which automatically lists and hyperlinks all the template titles at the top of my doc, so I can quickly jump to the template I want. This comes in handy once your template document gets long.
Not only do templates get you from zero to 60 much faster, they also lower the chance of human error. If all the key elements of your note are already in place, you don’t need to worry about forgetting one. And if you cut down on the number of words you need to write from scratch, you proportionally reduce the opportunity for typos and grammatical errors. Copy and paste is your best friend.
Then, customize the note as needed. Personalization is where your email packs its punch. Spend your precious time on making your note special for the recipient, rather than recreating the functional guts of the email. Just like that, you’re creating tailored communications without multiplying your workload.
Using Other People’s Templates
The ultimate goal is to develop your own unique set of email templates, but you can always start with other people’s templates. And if you already do have your own, consulting other templates out there will help you improve yours.
Plenty of bloggers publish templates within their areas of expertise. Ramit Sethi is one of my favorite email-template publishers because he’s so focused on what the reader needs. Check out his scripts to help you network your way to your dream job or his templates to get better results from your virtual assistant.
Marsha Shandur, a guest on the Art of Charm Podcast (listen to her episode, Saying Yes to Networking), released a bonus page just for AOC-ers with three free email templates to help you network naturally: how to follow up with a “nice to meet you” email, how to ask a big shot for a favor, and how to write your hero to say thanks.
Another good source of templates is colleagues or people in your industry. For those of us who are consultants or own a small business, time really is money, so it’s a smart move to find and develop scripts to have on hand for managerial situations. Ash Ambirge’s Love, Business Owner template collection helps small business owners address many issues using email, from customer refund requests to harassment to a flaky subcontractor.
Many templates are free, and you find great stuff out there without paying a cent. Others cost money — I’ve seen template packs range from $35 to $300. If you consider buying, check out testimonials and reviews of the product, and use your discretion. No matter how much or how little you pay for a set of templates, remember that the writer is just a human, and they don’t know everything, so your improvements to a template are totally valid. In fact, your tweaks are part of what makes a purchased template valuable.
If you’re new to an industry or job, other people’s templates can also clue you in on how they do business. You can model them or avoid their habits accordingly. For example, you might notice that one person’s tone is really engaging, and borrow snippets from their emails. At the same time, you might discover another person who sounds so abrasive that you don’t want to borrow anything from them — but it’s good to know they exist and understand how your personal brand compares.
Researching email templates also helps prepare you for a situation that you haven’t encountered yet. Let’s say, for example, that you email someone an important request, and they don’t respond. If you’ve already read a couple templates that instruct you on how to gently follow up, you’re mentally prepared to handle the silence, and you already know exactly how to do so, because you have a blueprint for your process.
Building Your Personal Template Library
Your own, personalized templates are the best because they reflect your style, needs, and experience.
No matter how much you love someone else’s email template, you must put your own spin on it. Your salutations and closings should sound like you, and the tone of the body should never sound like a mass email. You can avoid that “template syndrome” by focusing specifically on the reader’s experience, and injecting your personal style. As you personalize an email and apply it to different situations over time, it’ll evolve into correspondence that’s distinctly you.
The beauty of templatizing is that it doesn’t take a lot of work and can be done on the fly. Whenever you find a good template online — or receive an especially good email from someone else — you should already be storing and adapting it to fit your needs. The next time you use it, you’ll improve it a little more, until you think, “Wow, that was a great email. I better hang on to that one.” As you write hundreds of emails over your career, you’ll skim the best ones off the top, and that will become your personal library.
So start building it now, and happy templating!
Lead photo by Didriks