The Secret to Getting Replies to Your Emails: The One Hand Test

With people increasingly swamped with email, you may sometimes find that it takes a while to get responses to your emails – or sometimes you may not even get responses at all. But there’s a method you can use that will significantly increase the chances of getting relatively quick responses: The One Hand Test.

The One Hand Test

Imagine the person you’re emailing going from one meeting to the next and walking while holding her phone. Could she reply to your email while typing with one hand? Or will she glance at the email, see that it requires a longer reply than she has time to type, and set it aside for later (a later that may or may not ever come)?

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to write as many emails as possible that pass the One Hand Test. Here’s how to do it:

  • Ask a yes/no or multiple choice question. Find a way to structure your email so that the person can answer with “yes” or “no” or “C.” For instance, you might say, “I believe we should spend the money – do you (A) agree with that; (B) think we should tell them thanks but no thanks; or (C) want me to find us 10 minutes so we can discuss more before deciding?”
  • Make a recommendation (i.e., give people something they can easily say yes to). “What should I do about X?” puts the problem on your recipient. You’ll make it easier for both of you if you say, “Here’s the deal with X. I’ve thought about A, B, and C, and I think we should do C because… Does that sound okay to you?”
  • Put the reply options right up front at the top. You’ll often get a faster response if you open with what you’re looking for. For example:
    • “I need to get your quick sign-off on the plan below.”
    • “Just need a quick yes or no on the client request below.”
    • “Three options below – I propose the first – sound okay to you?”
  • Suggest a default plan. For example: “If I don’t hear from you by Tuesday, I’ll plan to go with B.” Of course, when taking this route, make sure to give the person a reasonable amount of time to respond (not, say, two hours in a non-urgent situation).
  • Provide background as needed. Instead of expecting the person you’re emailing to retain all the details you’ve talked about previously, include a simple (and yes, brief!) reminder of context or past decisions. For example, you might say something like, “As a reminder, we decided last month to skip the X campaign and just focus this piece on Y and Z. We wanted to get this out by mid-June, which means we should finalize this by next week.” 


Sample Email #1

Subject line: OK to delay gala mailing so we can include new speaker?

Hi Antonia,

Three quick options for the gala mailing below – I plan to do #2 unless I hear from you by COB Thursday.

We had planned to get the gala mailing to print by Friday morning so it can be in people’s mailboxes by July 5 (one month before the vent). Ana Perez agreed to be a featured speaker, but redoing to the mailing to mention her means we’ll miss our target mailing date. Our options:

  1. Redo the letter to include her – would push the mailing date back a week.
  2. Mention her in the insert but not the letter itself – would only push us back by a day. (This is what I think makes sense.)
  3. Don’t delay it at all, and just mention her on the website but not in the mailing.

Do you have a preferred course? Again, I’ll go with #2 unless you reply with a different choice by COB Thursday.


Sample Email #2

Subject line: Quick coalition meeting question: reply needed EOD if possible

Hi Nina,

Are you okay with me having a follow-up meeting with James without you this week?

Quick summary:

  • James is upset with us because we didn’t let him know about the presser ahead of time
  • I apologized last night but I think he’s still mad
  • I want to meet him this week to repair trust (and you’re booked solid, according to Linda)

Additional detail (if you want/need it):

The meeting last night was contentious. James was upset because he hadn’t been told about the presser ahead of time. Honestly, that was our bad – he’s not wrong to be upset. I apologized to him last night but I think a follow-up meeting with him sometime this week is important to making sure he stays on board and continues to recruit for us. Since he’s such an important stakeholder, ordinarily I’d invite you to this meeting but I already checked with Lena and you’re booked solid. I think it’s more important to have it soon than to include you, but I wanted to make sure you’re good with that.