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New Rule: After Three E-Mails, We Talk

Yes, it's time to move beyond e-mail.
Mar | 6 | 2015

Mar | 6 | 2015


I’m not a huge fan of his show, but Bill Maher does make me think, especially when he lists his new rules.

While I don’t concur with all of Maher’s suggestions, I love the concept of codifying new—and better—behavior in light of new events, knowledge, and trends.

I’m not exactly ambivalent about why so much business communication and collaboration sucks: we use far too much jargon and send way too many e-mails. Over the past few years, I’ve developed my own new rule:

After three e-mails, we talk.1

It’s in every message I send. Here’s my current e-mail signature:


Yes, there is life beyond e-mail.

I abide by this rule and am not shy about invoking it. It has saved me a great deal of time and frustration. To be fair, though, not everyone likes it. I invoked it a few months ago and a perennially “busy” friend of mine promptly responded with, “I hate you.”

I’d love to see the rule adopted in every organization in the world. Sure, I can imagine legitimate exceptions, but it’s time to change the default means of communication from e-mail to something else—or somethings else.

Yes, there is life beyond e-mail.

And, yes, this rule applies to Slack DMs as well.


What do you think?

For the longer version of this piece, see this Business Insider piece.


  1. Either in person, on the phone, or via Skype.

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  1. Elizabeth @ GirlsGuideToPM

    Hi Phil. Do you mean 3 per conversation thread or 3 forever? We have something similar: when there are 5 emails in the chain, the chain stops and we convene.

    • Phil Simon

      Per thread. I’m not that draconian. Do you find that other people resist your rule?

      • Elizabeth @ GirlsGuideToPM

        No, not really. By that point there are so many bodies involved it’s worth avoiding any miscommunication by jumping on a quick call.

  2. Mike

    This is great! There are considerations that I don’t think we all realize around email in organizations in 2016, especially multi recipient threads.

    1. Levels of personal relationship with email. This is somewhat generational but not entirely. Everyone has a slightly different view of the communication mechanism based on their history. The more people on the thread the larger the differences might be. the use of capital letters, exclamations or short-hand are areas where the same characters may be interpreted differently.

    2. Receipt Circumstance. with remote teams I am often thinking about an email that is going to someone just before lunch at the same time someone might be just getting their morning coffee. Or someone is just getting back from lunch and others are going home. (this assumes we all eat lunch). We don’t work internationally but that cause more circumstantial differences. Apart from timing I think weather affects mood and interpretation. If I am in sunny South Carolina or Southern California and emailing someone that is in the north and spent minutes or hours clearing snow or ice the circumstance of receipt is different.

    3. Recipient technology: this is often a problem with Microsoft office attachments that are referenced in an email. Recipients that are often not at a desktop may have trouble viewing office documents as friendly. .pdf works much better and I try to send both attachments to mitigate viewing “issues”

    I would somewhat say that the number is really trivial compared to the relationship of sender and receiver, the situation and the message (sounds from the above comments you agree). I will be publishing your comment to our whole team.

    I was in a leadership meeting last week and our VP of marketing had a slide that noted “email sucks!”


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