Remember memos? They used to be sent around in manila interoffice envelopes, a list of names crossed off on the outside. Memos presaged their digital doppelganger, email, with “To:, Cc:, Date:, and Re:” laid out in black and white.
Difference is, you used to get a few memos a day, and when you’d scan a memo, you’d see the whole thing. So the subject line (“Re: Project status update”) wasn’t important.
Now people are receiving and scanning tens, maybe hundreds, of emails a day, and they are figuring out how to triage and prioritize them based on three fields: who sent the email, the date/time, and the subject line. Since you can’t change your name or what time you sent the email, the subject line has become the most important part of what you’re sending.
So avoid generic subject lines and summarize the email instead. Create a 140 character Tweet of your email. Be the opposite of generic.
Not “Project update.” Instead, “We’re on track for Friday’s deadline”
Not “Hope you’ll join us!” Instead, “Hope we’ll see you Monday at 6pm – tickets running out”
Not “Re: Our meeting.” Instead, “Sorry I have to cancel tomorrow’s meeting [Re: Our meeting]”
This may work better internally than externally, since externally you may not want to stand out in this way (or maybe you do). But I bet 80% of the email you send is to your 10 closest contacts anyhow.
Tweet your subject line to help them (and you!) figure out why you’re writing.