- Four Minute University
- Think twice with time of day greetings
Think twice with time of day greetings
Start your emails by avoiding outdated greetings
I recently received an email from my kid’s soccer club. It started with a typical greeting:
“Good morning, Nabeel.”
The email included information on the upcoming soccer season. Practice dates, where to order uniforms and more.
It’s an important note and I’ll definitely reread it in the coming days.
There’s a subtle thing that many of us do (myself included) that may throw off readers.
The email was sent at 10:42 a.m. I read it around 12:15 p.m.
“Good morning, Nabeel” no longer applied. I read it in the afternoon.
Time of day greetings
You may be thinking: “What’s the big deal? It said good morning because they wrote the email in the morning!”
While you may be right, your goal in any email is for people to clearly understand your message. You don’t want to throw them off in the first line when you can easily fix it.
Time of day greetings are a small thing. But small things can be important, too.
Too often, there’s a time gap when you send an email and when someone reads it. We only read ~20% of emails in the first hour of delivery.
We assume that someone is waiting around for us to read our email right after we send it. We treat it like a live conversation.
Sometimes that’s true. Most of the time, it’s not.
Where the issues happen
Issues with time of day greetings happen in a few common places.
Don’t know when people are reading it
This is the most common situation. You don’t know when people read your email. The more people you send an email to, the more likely they read it at different times.
While there are email tracking tools, most of us don’t use them.
Imagine you send an email at 11 a.m. PT from California and say good morning. Your New York colleagues reading it are already in their afternoon (2 p.m. ET). It’s a subtle thing that throws them off for a second.
People read emails many times
Remember how I said that I’ll reread my kid’s soccer club email because it had important information in it? Chances are, you also read some important emails more than once.
While you may read the good morning email in the morning the first time, it may be the evening the next time you read it.
What about something other than email?
The focus of this post is on emails. That’s where most of our formal written communication happens, esp at work.
What about informal messaging platforms? Chat, instant messages (IM), direct messages (DM) and text messages.
We have different expectation levels when using these. We treat it more like live conversation than email. We read 90% of text messages in the first 3 minutes.
It’s fine to use time of day in these. I do it all the time. Here’s a recent exchange I had with a pest control company (I forgave them for misspelling my name):
A few tips
Use these practical takeaways to write better emails that include time.
Time of day
Avoid good morning, good afternoon and good evening. The time window is too small to expect someone to read your email then. Save this for chat, IMs, DMs and text messages.
Whenever you send an email to people in different time zones, always include the time zone when mentioning a time.
Old: Are you free at 2 today?
New: Are you free at 2 p.m. ET today?
Even better: if you know what time zone they’re in, suggest a time in their time zone. You could say 11 a.m. PT instead of 2 p.m. ET. Or you could include both time zones.
If you don’t know what time zone they’re in, always include your time zone when using a time.
When using tomorrow, be specific. Always include the day and/or date as well.
Old: What time are you available tomorrow to talk?
New: What time are you available tomorrow (Monday) to talk?
This is very important for late night emails. In this case, most people will read your message the day after you send it. They might be confused on which day you meant by tomorrow.
Is it tomorrow from yesterday when you sent the email (which is today)? Or tomorrow from today when I’m reading it (which is tomorrow)?
See what I mean? Avoid this at all costs.
Remember, be clear in your emails. Avoid anything that makes people waste their brain trying to figure out what you mean.
Be specific with things you can control
Ask for a meeting time
Can you talk tomorrow (Monday)?
Be generic with things out of your control
When someone reads your email
Good morning, Nabeel. Hi Nabeel
Thanks for reading.
Have a good evening
See you next week*,
*I use next week at the end of each post as preparation (priming) for the next issue