I used to despise email. That changed, however, when my wife asked me an interesting question: “How did you feel about it when you first started using it?”
In a flash, I was transported back to my freshman year of college. My buddies and I would huddle around one of the few computers in the library taking turns sending messages to our high school girlfriends who went to other schools. We thought it was rad. And don’t get me started on how giddy I used to feel when the old PC warmed up and meowed “You’ve got mail.”
But much like our girlfriends at the time, the love affair with email came to an end. As the years passed, it became a thorn instead of a rose.
A few years ago, however, when my wife asked me about my first impression she got me thinking about all the good things it has brought into my life.
Yes. Email can be a pain.
Yes. Your inbox can be interpreted as “other people’s to-do list.”
Yes. Marketers talk more than they listen.
But it can also be a glorious tool to tighten your relationships and mobilize your career. In fact, since my family and I traded in city life in Barcelona for the Catalan countryside, email has turned into my weapon of choice and it has played a vital role in helping me become a full-time writer and career coach.
So let your hatred for email simmer for a minute and see if the 5 types of emails resonate with you. Each of them will only take you a few minutes to write but the effects of them may end up seriously improving your quality of life.
1. Send an email to an old friend once a week
The most effective way to keep your friendships tight is by making a point to stay in contact with people. In fact, according to research from the University of Notre Dame, “friends ‘till the end stay in contact every 15 days.”
This doesn’t mean though that you need to spend an hour talking to them twice a month to stay connected. A quick email here. Another one there. It doesn’t even need to be a major life announcement. You may find dropping a quick line about a minor detail of your life will do.
“I was telling my wife about all the stupid things we used to do together.”
“I just saw a movie you may like.”
“I miss you.”
These messages may sound basic. But when it comes to forming lasting friendships they’re as good as glue.
2. Send an email to a potential mentor once a week
When most people hear the word “mentor” they imagine some mega-successful person standing on top of a mountain. But this is nonsense. A mentor is someone who is simply a step or two ahead of you.
If the idea of reaching out to someone you don’t know freaks you out, don’t begin there. Instead, start smart by sending a message to someone you admire who’s already in your network.
For the last three years, I’ve done this every week and it has brought more interesting people into my life than anything else I’ve ever done — and I used to live with a gang of hippies.
Look around. Get clear on the qualities you admire in others and let them know you appreciate them. Just don’t make the mistake of overthinking it. That quiet woman in the office who consistently makes sales can probably teach you more about building rapport than any guru.
3. Once a week send a supportive email to someone
As I’m writing this article my friend Joan Garcia is interviewing the actor Viggo Mortensen and he’s a little nervous. After all, Viggo is handsome. So I set an alarm for 15 minutes before he went live telling him he’ll do great.
He replied immediately, “Gracias guy. Vamonos! Pizza tonight?”
I wish I could say I built this magic trick on my own. But in fact, Joan is the very person that taught it to me. Whenever I have something important going on in my life, like clockwork, he sends me a quick pick-me-up before it takes place and over time this little gesture of kindness has rubbed off on me. This is for the simple fact that they put on a smile on my face.
So by all means keep making your own to-do list. But don’t forget to also keep track of what the people you care about are doing and brighten up their inbox by sending a one-sentence email to support them.
4. Send a message to someone you used to work with once a week
Have you ever noticed that work opportunities rarely come from our closest friends?
This isn’t a coincidence.
In the book “The Power of Habit,” author Charles Duhigg shows us that when it comes to learning about new opportunities “weak ties” trump “strong ties.” This is because people who run in different circles are exposed to new ideas whereas people we see on a regular basis tend to have similar conversations.
“How’s the new job going?”
“Anything cool happening on your end?”
“I thought of you this morning and wanted to say hi.”
These messages take all of 12 seconds to write and they are not only a dead-simple way to stay in contact with people but they also keep you “top of mind” in case they hear of something that may interest you.
5. Send a “Thank You” email to someone every day
Imagine if you woke up one morning and after getting ready for work you opened up your email and waiting inside was a message from someone letting you know how much they appreciate you.
The beauty of the world is that we are all different. But one of the few things we all have in common is we love to be seen.
Send a message to an old mentor thanking them for their support.
Send a message to your colleague for making work less miserable.
Send one to your partner thanking them for all they do for you (this is super effective in keeping things light if you are both working from home together).
Most people receive a ton of awful emails each day. Why not give them a quick piece of candy?
Plus, a lot of people say they send thank you messages. But most people don’t. And when it comes to both your career and your life it pays to not be like most people.
Whether we like it or not, email isn’t going anywhere. In fact, today alone a staggering 300 billion messages will be sent.
Why not be one of the few people who proactively uses it to send messages people actually like to read?
Not only is it a dead-simple way to stand out. But when done consistently you may be surprised by how much it improves both your career opportunities and your relationships.
The future belongs to the thoughtful.
This article first appeared on Medium.