If you were to send Mike Davidson an email, you’d get a succinct reply. No more than five sentences.
In his signature, you’d noticed the following:
Q: Why is this email five sentences or less?
The five sentences convention is a “low-fi solution” to the problem of email overload that Davidson introduced in 2007.
Email overload is due, in part, to the time-commitment asymmetry between sender and receiver. The sender spent moments typing their message, but it might take you a long time to reply. More recent asynchronous communication tools, such as Slack or Twitter DMs, make the issue even more prominent because of their reduced sending friction.
We can compensate for the time-commitment asymmetry by constraining all emails and instant messages to be five sentences.
This approach also helps with prioritization and stops procrastination. When every email is constrained to the same length, they’ll all take more or less the same time to write. Davidson found that this “evens the playing field between emails” and can help you tackle the important but daunting messages before the quick but low-value ones.
Hopefully, most of your asynchronous communication happens in structured systems that foster thoughtful, efficient interactions. But if you are a victim of the time-commitment asymmetry, try using five sentence emails to reclaim some of your time.