In the big online world of misinformation about email and work habits, it is refreshing to read this thoughtful article in the NY Times about the importance of responding to incoming email.
The author’s point is that workflows break down if email is not a reliable way for people with reasonable work messages to reach you. People are forced to seek you out in person or on a call, which takes much longer. He even says that for managers, email non-responsiveness has become a marker of ineffectiveness when those above you consider you for promotions and new roles—bad email habits can be career limiting.
My thoughts? It depends on the industry and corporate culture of course, but I largely agree. Here are my rules on email responsiveness that go well beyond that article:
Reasonable Response Time
Email readers and writers should assume that a reasonable response time for email is around 24 hours. If, as an email writer, you have an emergency that needs a faster response, use another medium (phone call, text, IMS, or even a walk-in personal visit). (The exception to this is for those in a quick-response help desk or emergency team where quick email response IS expected. But that’s not most of you.)
Supervisors: Don’t Demand Instant Email Response
So, as a supervisor, don’t try to use emails as your method of getting quick responses from your staff. Don’t send an email and then 30 minutes later call the recipient and say “Hey, didn’t you get my email, I need this now.” That forces your staff to be constantly monitoring their Inbox which means they will get lost in other low-priority mail all day. That will lead to them being non-productive for real work. You as the supervisor should use a phone call (or other agreed-to faster means) for urgent, quicker-than-24-hour matters.
A Quick Note Is Better than None
In general, I say try to respond to a deserving email within 24 hours, even if it’s just a quick note saying “I’ll get back to you soon on this, I am really swamped at the moment.” Flag the mail for later reply or make a task out of it, one with a reasonable deadline.
The key word in the sentence above is “deserving” of course. I am talking about relatively important mail. I am not talking about spam or bulk-industry or bulk-corporate messages. Or what I call colleague spam, where colleagues address their mail to too many people leading to mail that really should not go to you. All that does not deserve a response.
But we all get too much undeserving mail—you of course are not alone. So it’s essential that you get good at quickly filtering mail in your Inbox to identify the important stuff, mark it for action, and to move the non-important out quickly.
Consider Taking the Outlook Inbox Ninja Course
And that’s key: filtering out and removing the non-important mail quickly, and clearly marking action on the others. I think the prime reason we get behind in responding to deserving email is that when we don’t filter quickly, our Inbox gets completely out of control. When more is added to it every hour, we then just throw up our hands and we get a bad attitude about even important and deserving mail.
That’s why it is essential to get control, and that’s what the Outlook Inbox Ninja course teaches you how to do. I know this sounds like a self-serving statement, to recommend one of my paid products, but I feel very strongly about this. There is no reason to suffer with an out-of-control Outlook Inbox. Windows Desktop Outlook is full of tools that, when used smartly, can help control ANY Inbox, no matter how much mail you get, and the Ninja course shows how to do that. So really consider giving that course it a try, for your own sanity and career success.