Struggling to Write a Good Follow-Up Email? Follow These 6 Rules For Success

a woman writing an email

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Meredith Schneider for Hive
Meredith Schneider for Hive
April 19, 2024 at 10:56PM UTC
Sending and receiving emails at work can be a total stress inducer. This is especially true if you have to keep tabs on a pitch, or project, or ensure follow through on any particular communication. How soon is too soon to follow up with your boss on that item you have been circling back on for weeks? Is there a certain day of the week you should avoid communication altogether?
What exactly is the etiquette involved in sending a follow-up on that work email? Here are some general guidelines to consider the next time you’re questioning how to approach a follow-up.

1. Don’t be too eager.

Even if your workflow is dependent on the email getting addressed, following up too quickly–or living in your contact’s inbox-is not acceptable. 38% of Americans think a 2-4 day window should exist between emails, with the sweet spot setting at day 3.
Even if you are timid, the longest you should wait is around 5-7 days. Catching the receiver on a different day of the week than your initial email could help improve your chances, especially if it turns out they are in their inbox less on certain days.

2. Avoid following up on Mondays.

General rules of thumb start with a very basic reminder: Mondays are out. Many people are not functioning at their most pleasant on those days. (It’s called a “Case of the Mondays” for a reason.)
Yes, your inbox will still be filled with email after email on that day, most likely filled with questions and tasks you are not too enthused to start the week off with. This is how everyone feels. So loading your colleague’s inbox with another email will not only most likely be the tip of the iceberg for them, but there is a chance they won’t even see it when you need them to.
Perhaps blocking out time on Monday to schedule reminder emails to go out on Tuesday or Wednesday is your best bet? (Tuesday is the most productive day of the week, after all.) This way, your tasks are top of mind at the top of the week, and you are still able to give people a little bit of breathing room before launching into your ask–no matter how many times you have asked previously.

3. Stay away from Friday follow-ups.

Fridays are also not ideal days to receive follow-up emails from people. Sure, time-sensitive matters are a little bit different. But who of us is going to disagree that we really want to do the bare minimum by the time Friday rolls around?

4. Give your email the right subject line.

Email subject lines are everything. Just like the cover of a book, they give us a glimpse at what to expect from the email. If written correctly, they will pull at the curiosity of the email’s receiver, and get them to click on it right away.
If you don’t have time to come up with a clever one-liner for your subject line, feel free to write “Urgent” or “Please Reply at Your Earliest Convenience.” Another method would be to use any naming conventions your colleagues prefer in emails of importance. (This would be a question to ask when you are getting to know your team.)

5. Flag your email correctly.

If you are following up on an email and it is of utmost importance to receive a response as quickly as possible, feel free to convey that in your verbiage. While it is a bit passe to say “ASAP”–and slightly disrespectful to boundaries and timeframes–you do want to let them know that follow-up is necessary to move to the next stage in the project. In these cases, be sure to mark the email as “urgent” or flag it in your email system.

6. Add your follow-up to the calendar.

Afraid you may forget the email thread or totally space on following up? Add a reminder–in your personal paper planner or digital ecosystem – so that it has zero chance of slipping your mind.
Feel free to keep notes on the task, write down a draft of your second email verbiage, or include any details you may have forgotten the first time around. Some email providers will even let you pre-schedule your emails, so you can set a reminder to send that is contingent on if you receive a response in an acceptable amount of time or not.

How to Follow Up On a Work Email

An email to your boss.

Depending on the relationship you have with your boss, the way you approach a follow-up email could look different. For example, could be a short and sweet message like, “Robin–Nate called again. Would you like me to send over the reports now or tweak them to include next month’s statistics? Around if you have any direction for me.” Including all of your facts as succinctly as possible can be incredibly helpful.
In a more formal email, be sure to address your boss by their preferred status (Dr., Mr., Ms., Mrs., etc.) and include any details that may be necessary for them to complete their portion of the task work.
If you are emailing your boss as their assistant in some capacity, you may have access to their calendar. Throw in a couple of suggested times based on their calendar just in case your follow-up requires a meeting. This way, their response takes less time. After all, you have cut out the middle man, otherwise known as the “let me check my calendar and get back with you” excuse.

An email to a coworker or team member.

Often, when emailing a team member or coworker that you are more familiar with, you may already know their work rhythms a little more innately than others’. Your intuition and knowledge of your coworker can certainly help you to figure out when the best time to follow up with them is. Use the resources at your fingertips – like company-wide tech and open calendars – to see what their workweek looks like. This could better advise you on the day they have the least amount on their plate.
If you are lucky, a quick chat in the company project management software could look something like, “Hey Dave! Just wanted to follow up on that email I sent over last week. Need to get some approvals before I pass the work onto the visuals team.” A similar message could be sent via email, and demonstrates a bit of urgency to their response.
Checking a project management system could also help you figure out if your ask is going to be a good priority for them right now, or if you should direct the message elsewhere.

A pitch email to someone you know.

You may have a level of comfort with the people you are emailing after interacting with them a little more often. Use this to your advantage. A great way to lead into an email would be, “Hey Kristen! I saw you just got a promotion–that’s great! Are you still handling the Child’s account? If so, I’d love to get your thoughts on the email I sent last week. Details below as a refresher!”
If you are asking them for a favor, do a little research. Address them familiarly, and ask them about something specific. This can be something you remember from a past interaction or a bit of knowledge you gained from perusing their social media accounts.

A pitch email to someone you do not know.

Let’s be honest. Most pitch emails will probably be going out to people you have not interacted with very often, if at all. Cold pitches are some of the most difficult to get eyes on. You have to ensure that you have an acceptable hook in your subject line and that your verbiage is detailed, yet to the point. How in the world is that even possible?
Many times, your first cold pitch to a new contact will go completely unanswered. Do not let this deter you from following up. Sometimes, emails just get backed up in an inbox. It is very likely that they never saw your first request.
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This article originally appeared in Hive — the world's first democratically built productivity platform. Learn more at Hive.com.

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