5 Sentences To Freedom (or How To Start Living Outside Of The Inbox)

Today, I’d like to do something a little different.  One of my favorite destinations is Karol’s Ridiculously Extraordinary blog.  The other day, I read his post about a technique he uses for email management.  I thought it was great and I wanted to mention it in my Sunday series.  But I also noticed his link that simply said this: Steal this Blog.

Basically Karol has no copyright on his material.  He allows you to reuse it – Even completely rip off his stuff.  Now, there’s no way I’d plagiarize the hard work of others, but I thought this is a pretty ingenious idea.  So today I’m going to include Karol’s article about minimalizing your email correspondence.  This is definitely something I’m going to apply in my own life…

I’ve written about sending short, succinct e-mails in the past (Fear of Competition Is Bullshit), but I’ve never delved deeper into the subject.

Managing Email CorrespondenceI’ve been utilizing the 5 Sentences E-mail Rule for a while now. I first heard about it a long time ago in Leo Babauta’s The Power of Less, but I never thought it was possible for the majority of my communication. In October of 2009 Leo published The Art of Brief E-mails and I decided to give it a shot. Although it took me a while before I felt comfortable using it for almost every e-mail.

I don’t follow a lot of what Leo writes in that article. For example, when I get an e-mail without a subject line I get a weird feeling of anxiety in the pit of my stomach. Kind of a “What the hell is this?” That’s probably just social conditioning.

The most important part of Leo’s article, to me, is the section on Editing:

Edit. I know, you want to write it and send it and forget it. Well, that’s rude, to the recipient. You’re saying they don’t deserve a good email. I’m not saying you need to spend hours making every email perfect, but if you can take 10 seconds to go back over an email, remove unnecessary sentences and words, you’ll be doing your recipient (and yourself) a favor.

At first it was a struggle for me …

“But there’s so much back story! This person needs to read the back story before I can get to the question/reason for e-mail!”

When you first start utilizing the 5 sentences rule that will probably be your biggest challenge. You’re convinced whoever is reading your e-mail needs every single extraneous bit of information before they are able to respond.

That is simply not true.

What I’ve found when I receive really long e-mails (not everybody respects the 5 sentences rule) is that usually right at the end there’s the golden ticket.

“So what I’m getting at is … [insert question].”

Everything after the “So what I’m getting at is” part is usually all that is necessary for an e-mail.

Example E-mail

“Hey [Person]!

Thanks for rocking. Quick question: [insert question]

Thank you so much,


Mission complete!

Questions or proposals never need a back story. Never.

I Love To Help

No joke. I love reading e-mails, I love getting to know you, and I love answering questions. I love to help. The problem is, the more this blog grows, the more e-mails I receive and the more difficult it becomes to respond in a timely manner. By putting these rules in place now it will be much easier in the future as this movement continues to grow.

I ask you to utilize the 5 sentences rule not just for me, but out of respect for your fellow Freedom Fighters. They have questions and want answers as well. If you send short, succinct e-mails, that means I can more easily help more of you. Woohoo!

Practice and Social Conditioning

The only way to get better at this is to practice. Start sending very short e-mails to everybody.

More words does not mean higher quality. Unfortunately we’ve been conditioned to think the opposite. In school you had to write a “10 page essay” when 5 pages would do. In blogging an article over 1,000 words is “high quality” while an article of 500 words is “thrown together.” We need to change that because it’s simply not true.

Two of my favorite blogs are by Derek Sivers and Seth Godin. You will very rarely find them writing posts longer than a few hundred words. Interestingly, they both also respect the short succinct e-mail. Coincidence? No.

The One Situation Where You Should Never Break The Rule

Break rules, except when you need to follow them.

The 5 sentences rule can be broken and I do break it myself. I would say 95% of the e-mails I send are 5 sentences or less and the other 5% are of varying length.

Here is where the 5 sentences rule should never be broken: initial contact.

After the initial contact, you might be asked to go into more detail on your question/comment/statement. In that case, fire away!

It boils down to what Leo mentioned: respect. Sending a busy person (in other words, everybody) a 500 word e-mail is disrespectful of their time. Send them a short e-mail and they will love you for it.

Steve’s Note: The five sentence rule is something I’m going to do with my correspondence.  To be honest, I waste too much time on email.  Time that could be spent on stuff that produces results.  So I’m glad that I came across this post.  Anyway, I’d definitely check out Karol’s site.  He has a lot of great information about online businesses, lifestyle design, minimalism, and life hacks.  It’s definitely worth checking out!

Take Action. Get Results.

21 thoughts on “5 Sentences To Freedom (or How To Start Living Outside Of The Inbox)”

  1. This would be challenging for me, I am likely to bang out a couple of paragraphs in less time than it would take me to boil everything down to 5 sentences, depending on the circumstance of course.

    One of the problems with email is that there are no audio or visuals by which to gauge a mood, making some email seem somewhat snippy if the person doesn’t know you very well.
    Having said that, any method for spending less time processing them deserves a good look. 🙂

    I’m pretty good at keeping them short most times, but a sudden change with some long-time friends and associates will likely have them wondering “what’s up with him”? LOL
    Interesting approach that I’ll keep in mind.

    • Jimi,

      Sorry for the late reply.it is been a busy couple days I agree it can be quite difficult to boil down the mountain five sentences. I do struggle with this myself sometimes. When you are able to do it does make things so much smoother.

  2. Steve, I hadn’t heard of the 5 sentence email rule, but it is a good one. A long time ago when I was a consultant, and computer monitors were a lot smaller than they are now, I remember being taught that corporate emails should never fill more than half the screen, and there was a lot of interesting evidence to show that when an email is longer than that it is either repetitious or likely to be ignored. I’m not sure half a screen is the same as five sentences, but it was pretty short.

    I’ve lost count of the number of emails Ive sent since where I got an answer to one thing in the email and not to others; usually it’s the first or the last item, or occasionally it’s the item the recipient understood.

    So it’s not just a way to save time. Short emails are more effective. If you need to say more, you might find it more useful to communicate in a different way.

    And that’s one reason why I’m genuinely puzzled by the effectiveness of long sales emails. Speaking personally I hate them. Tell me what it does and how much it costs and then I might read more, but if you don’t cover those two points early, I will not read through screeds and screeds of text and testimonials. Time and time again I’m told I need to write that sort of email. There must be some very different psychology involved.
    Any ideas?

    Oh, and Merry Christmas, btw!

    • Lesley,

      I hope you had a good Christmas, I know I did. Sorry for the late replies, although fun, it is been a hectic few days.

      Have to screen on an old monitor does seem like a pretty good standard. I agree it seems like it would be about five sentences. It is absolutely true, short e-mails do tend to be more effective. if you are only asking for one thing in a short e-mail this much better chance of getting it done rather than having been a huge task or or wish list.

      For pure sales e-mails I would agree shorter is better. Sometimes though, the idea is to inform as much as it is to sell. Those e-mails are often a lot longer and contain valuable information. But those e-mails also do not convert nearly as well; they are more for building trust.

  3. I’ve been slowly slipping away from email more and more but only use it now for small messages which even msn messenger has taken over that. I much prefer skype as a way to communicate because, i can be focused on something else at the time, and you can get more done.

    Emails being short – i generally don’t get asked enough questions that deserve a full 500 words for an answer 😛

    • Peter,

      You’re probably very right, Skype probably is far better than e-mail for a lot of communication. I should probably work it trying to use Skype more often myself.sorry for the tardy reply, it has been a busy couple days.

      I hope you had a wonderful Christmas and that you have a great New Year’s to.

    • Karol,

      Thanks for making a great article. I appreciate your allowing it to be used here. Sorry for my slow reply. I really like your site, and almost everything you say.I hope you had a great Christmas and that you also have a wonderful new year.

  4. Hi Steve:

    I do not mind his email style. I rather like it. I am always thinking of the right strategies to email my little list. Email should be written this way or that way. And then again you can use the same time writing more people. Well I know every one is using the autoresponders,

    So, do you know more details about his list, response and if he is making money via Internet or not. Then you will be able to determine if it is really works in his interest.

    It is nice to know one more blogger. Thanks for writing about him.

    fran A

    • Fran,

      Glad you liked it. Karol is a fairly accomplished blogger, so I’m sure he makes very good money from his e-mails. Autoresponder e-mails many a little bit different since sometimes you’re trying to presell people and you can work on them a little bit longer. But for simply contacting other people is important to stick to as few sentences as possible to keep it simple. Otherwise you a snob only more of your time more of the recipients.

      Sorry for the slow reply it has been a busy few days. I really hope that you had a wonderful Christmas and happy awesome new year.

  5. Hi Steve and Karol,

    I’ve rededicated myself to engaging in short and punchy messages once again.

    Less is the new more. We are busy folk so why not be respectful of this fact and stick to what matters?

    Like Peter I’m not a big email guy anyway. I communicate through skype or short messages on Facebook or twitter.

    Thanks for sharing your insight 🙂


    • Ryan,

      I should probably follow the lead of you and Peter. It does seem to be a lot easier to communicate over Skype or other telephone methods rather than typing everything out. I guess maybe I’m still a little bit too conservative or old-fashioned.

      I hope you had a wonderful Christmas and have a great new year.

  6. Hi Steve

    This could be a challenge for me. I don’t even write short comments on other people’s blogs lol.

    Must admit if I’m sent long emails I probably won’t be reading all of it especially if it’s a sales letter. So I can see Karol’s point about short emails.

    Hoping to start a newlsetter in the new year so when I begin sending out emails will bear this in mind. Thanks for sharing Steve. This was a helpful hint. Will go and check out Karol’s site. See what else he has to say.

    Patricia Perth Australia

    • Patricia,
      You may have noticed I did not tend to be particularly short comments, posts or just about anything myself. Karol does make some very good points about keeping things snappy though.

      Sorry for my slow replies I’ve been a little bit busy with all the Christmas stuff. Speaking of which I hope you had a wonderful Christmas down in Australia. I bet it is much nicer there than here, where we had just about 2 feet of snow and I spent about four hours today shoveling it.

  7. Very informative post mate! will be very useful for my email correspondence in the future. Keep rocking! Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year 🙂

    • Anto,

      Sorry for the late reply but a couple busy days. I’m glad you found the information useful I hope you had a wonderful Christmas and I hope you also have an incredible new year.

  8. Thanks for sharing your struggle point of your life writing 5 sentence email marketing campaign, it was really helpful to me.

    What I was thinking is email marketing is died today, but it is not so. Having read the whole post, I’m too sure that I can also do it along with doing blogging.

    However, I’m new to these things, blogging, email marketing, web marketing so it is just my learning process now.

  9. just bought your .99 “your first $1000″; then went to get your free bonus and entered my email address…came up ” you are already registered”…no place to download…tried another area and entered my email address again and got the same response…duh!…how do I get in there?

    Thanks, Don J

  10. Hi Steve,
    A follow up to your previous email. I am considering both writing my own books and hiring out some. I am thinking to get a start I will hire out the first few books before writing my own. These books would be info books. I will also be writing fiction without a ghost writer. Is this a good strategy to get started?
    Thanks for your knowledge.
    Dave K.

    • Honestly Dave, I would do the reverse. It’s better to start by writing your books to gauge what should be included and your overall “message.” That way, you know what should be included and then you can delegate this to a quality writer.

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