Here's how to write an email to a busy person and get a response

When you email someone busy, you might automatically assume he’ll never write back.

After all, you think, he probably has hundreds (thousands?) of unread messages waiting in his inbox that are more pressing and more enticing.

But it’s time to change your attitude. With a little bit of thoughtfulness and creativity, you can make your message stand out and increase your chances of getting the response you need.

We consulted Amanda Augustine, career advice expert for TopResume, about the best way to write an email to someone who’s super swamped. Her top tips are outlined below.

Photo: Chris Hondros/Getty Images

1. Figure out if email is the best way to communicate.

Say the busy person is someone you know, like your boss. In that case, Augustine said you can simply ask that person which mode of communication she prefers, since everyone has different preferences.

For example, your boss might advise you to reserve email for serious matters and to IM her with issues that can be addressed quickly.

If the busy person is someone you haven’t yet met, Augustine recommended asking a peer who’s worked with that person before whether email is the best way to get her attention. Augustine said she personally had a client who wasn’t responding to her emails, until a peer let her know that the client responded most reliably to text messages.

2. Keep the subject short and simple.

Augustine said your subject line shouldn’t exceed eight words, especially since mobile devices might cut off part the text.

Put the most important words right up front, and include any deadlines when relevant. If you know you need a response by a specific date, give yourself a cushion and ask for it a few days before the real deadline.

If you’re emailing someone you’ve been introduced to by a mutual contact, include that contact’s name in the subject line (e.g. ‘friend of John’). Or find something you have in common with the busy person, like a company you both worked for or a school you both graduated from (e.g. ‘fellow Harvard alum’).

‘Whenever you can find something in common, people are always more likely to warm up to you,’ she said. (Research on ‘similarity-attraction‘ backs her up.)

4. Be strategic about when you send your message.

If you’re emailing a busy person within your company, consult his calendar to see which time blocks are free. The person is more likely to be on top of his inbox during those times.

However, if you don’t have access to the busy person’s calendar, it’s generally best to email him earlier in the week — but not too early. Augustine suggested Monday afternoon, Tuesday morning, or early Wednesday.

Most people are already spending Monday mornings trying to catch up on all the email they missed over the weekend; and they may be too checked out by Thursday or Friday to pay attention to your message.

5. Follow up respectfully.

If you gave the busy person a week to respond and you haven’t heard anything from her after a few days, Augustine said you can ping that person politely — especially if she’s a coworker or your partner on a project. She might simply have missed the message.

However, if the busy person is someone outside your company whose advice or assistance you requested, you obviously can’t set a deadline in your original email. Instead, you can say something like, ‘If I don’t hear from you in a week, I’ll follow up’ and then do so.

Something as straightforward as, ‘I want to make sure you saw this; please let me know if you’d like to get together’ should suffice.

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