The Single Sentence Email Project

Photo: C.S. Whitman, courtesy of The Library of Congress
Photo: C.S. Whitman, courtesy of The Library of Congress

It takes me until mid-day to clear my inbox. I type fast, act decisively, and maintain inbox zero. My problem is that I worry about being clear and polite.

These are bad impulses. I respond to things I shouldn’t. I choose words too carefully. I even use emoticons to avoid seeming snarky. (My hunch is that you have an equally unhealthy relationship with email.)

To lead a deliberate life, we need to overcome these instincts. Let’s admit it: few of us have such an abundance of time that we should be word-smithing these messages.

Were it productive work, fine, but our collectively-held email habit is getting in the way, and begs to be addressed. So, I’m calling it quits today, proposing a more sane course of action, and sharing it with you.

If you’re tired of email sucking the life out of your day, I ask you to place the following text in your email signature. It will help explain why your responses have become more brief, and perhaps encourage others follow suit:

Join the Single Sentence Email Project:

Then, concentrate on learning a new habit: brevity. Respond to emails with as few words as possible. Aim for a sentence, but if just a word will do, use it.* It will take practice, and some might dislike it. I argue that this is a fair trade for getting more time to work (and live) productively.

* Mom, I’ll still send you emails that are longer than a sentence.


  1. We definitely need to spend less time on e-mail. I’m working on a tool InboxInstant which makes it easy to get through you’re e-mail and quickly reply without the formalities or spending too much time on it (helping you use GTD’s two minute rule). Sign up at or drop me an e-mail if you’d be interested in discussing it more.

  2. This is fabulous. I really like this. It has only one disadvantage and it is cultural and organizational, you have these people who are writing hundreds of word for a simple thing, which can be said in 3-4 words. Maybe if we include a tagline “I’m a Finn (half Finn)’ they will understand. Finnish people don’t waste words.

  3. Cheeky, inventive and I love it! You solved many peoples problem and at the same time drive traffic to your blog. Win win.

    (Although it’s my mom, who mostly gets the single sentence emails.)

  4. Nice idea, but by writing one sentence and pasting a standardised piece of text explaining your brevity, you are telling your recipient exactly how much of your time you believe they are worth. If it’s going be so short, then just call them on the phone.

    1. Not necessarily. Many of those who know me also feel the strain of too much email, and understand. Additionally, I already spend plenty of time on the phone (or in person) talking with my friends/colleagues, so that isn’t much of an issue.

      As for those I don’t know, I can only spare so much time. My feeling is that a short, thoughtful response in these instances is still much better than no response at all.

  5. It is appreciable as an objective, but does not quite work as a directive. Emails like all other human communication has its own logic. Familiar contacts can be sent one liners without the customary ‘Hi’s and ‘Thanks’. But first responses, mails to seniors or group mails still have to stick to the etiquette.

    It is also necessary to understand that emails are part of the SMS environment too. So, the nature of mails will change. Thankfully, I have not come across many people who carry over their messaging grammar over to mails.

    1. It isn’t intended as dogma; instead, it’s an exercise in becoming more conscious about our habits. (If you cut just 20 minutes of email out of your day, you gain 5 days a year for more important things.)

  6. Given that many of the commenters above failed to formulate their comments in single-sentence form, I am a bit skeptical about the success of your project. For my part, a limit of five sentences seems more reasonable: Unfortunately, I am too tired right now to add another two sentences to this comment, or delete two of them.

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