The 5 Sentence Rule

By March 14, 2019 Food for thought
5 sentence rule countdown for shorter emails

Hi, I’m really glad you’re here. Thanks for being curious!

You’re likely here because you clicked through from an email you received from me and are probably wondering what in the world this 5 sentence rule is all about.

Simply put, just like you, I get too much email and spend too much time managing it. The reality is, I rely on email to communicate with clients, partners, vendors, influencers, friends and family just like you. However, there is way too much of it and quite a lot of it is long, gets set aside, and requires too much attention which ultimately causes delays in response times which has a ripple effect causing project/scheduling/deadline issues.

In an attempt to reduce this problem, I have consciously adopted a 5 sentence or less rule for my emails. I really wanted to adopt a 3 sentences or less rule, but find I often need more like 5.  Of course there are exceptions to every rule and I sometimes have to provide detailed responses to lengthy emails received and sometimes I originate long-form, detailed emails when necessary. The point is, it is often unnecessary and counterproductive.

Also, I already limit the frequency with which I check email to allow uninterrupted focused time blocks to actually do my work.

I’m not nuts, there is science behind this.

A study from MIT1 suggests that “brief emails tend to yield shorter turnaround response times…” due to the processing time that longer message require. By shortening the time between query and reply, we can avoid the loss of context or added task juggling that comes with time lag.

A Boomerang study found that emails between 50 and 125 words received responses at least 50 percent of the time, whereas longer emails (2500 words) dropped below 35%.

Leo Babauta of Zen Habits and author of The Power of Less also endorses, a personal policy to keep all email responses regardless of recipient or subject to five sentences or less.

Living by Design, not by default

As smartist, I practice essentialism to accomplish more by doing less.

Author Greg McKeown says “The way of the Essentialist means living by design, not by default.”

“It is about applying the principles of ‘less but better’ to how we live our lives now and in the future. That is innovation.”

“Becoming an Essentialist means making cutting, condensing, and correcting a natural part of our daily routine—making editing a natural cadence in our lives.”

Ask yourself ‘What is essential?’ Eliminate everything else.”

I’d really love to hear what you think about all this in the comments below. (in 5 sentences or less, of course!)


1Aral, Sinan and Brynjolfsson, Erik and Van Alstyne, Marshall W., Harnessing the Digital Lens to Measure and Manage Information Work (November 16, 2010). Available at SSRN: or

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