Balancing Connectivity and Productivity
The battle of the inbox is waged on two sides. The ﬁrst is getting things done and making sure answering emails doesn’t take up your entire day. Depending on your position, you may be faced with a huge email problem of dozens of messages each day. This is the productivity angle, and it’s the one I’ve been covering. The other side of this war is connectivity. Staying connected with people through email and making sure your quick and dirty email habits don’t turn you into a jerk. I completely understand when someone wants to speed up their email habits. But I also have pet peeves when the way they do this damages our communication. You’ll need to come up with your own rules for communicating effectively. I’ll offer my guidelines, but ultimately, they are only based on my experiences. The types of email habits that irritate me might work for you. I suggest you consider some of these email habits and ask yourself whether they are impacting your emailing. 1. Delayed Replies. 2. Ignoring Emails that Have a Request. 3. Overusing Reply to All and Mailing Lists 4. Bad Autoresponders 5. Poor Grammar and Chatspeak
1. Delayed Replies Assuming you empty your inbox once every day or two, I should expect a response to my email within a day or two. Yet it’s common to wait more than a week to receive a reply to an email. I think it’s ironic that people who are unwilling to batch emails because they don’t want to wait are often the same people who will delay a response for over a week. The biggest reason for a delayed reply is that you: Don’t have the information to respond yet Still need to make a decision Don’t have the time to write out a full answer The rationale is that if you can’t write a perfect email yet, you should wait until you get the information you need for your reply. I disagree with this philosophy because with spam ﬁlters and accidental deletes, I’m going to be worried you never read my ﬁrst email. Instead, I suggest writing out a quick response (1-2 sentences max) explaining why you can’t decide at the moment or write a full response. At the very least this shows the other person you have read the email and they don’t need to take the time to resend it. More importantly, it shows that you are thinking about their message and not just ignoring them. If you can’t respond immediately, give them an estimate for when you might be able to get back to them. And if you don’t have the time for a full response, tell them you can’t give them a full answer. It’s better to let someone know you don’t have time to answer completely than to ignore them entirely.
This step does add an extra email to their inbox. But I feel the extra email and 20 seconds of writing time are worth the beneﬁts for communication. 2. Ignoring Emails that Have a Request This problem affects both the sender and receiver. If senders write ambiguous emails that don’t clearly make a point, any requests might get buried within the text. If receivers are sloppy with their email processing, they might ignore a genuine question for feedback. Whenever you read an email, ask yourself whether it needs a response. Look for question marks in the email as you’re scanning to pick out possible questions or requests for information. Even if you only need to send a token email, if the request is there, give a reply. If your typing skills are above average, writing a sentence will take only twenty seconds, but it helps your reputation. Once again, if you can’t answer the request fully, tell the other person. Don’t just hit the delete key and ignore them entirely. It’s better to inform someone that you’re too busy than to leave it blank.
3. Overusing Reply to All and Mailing Lists If you want people to reply, don’t send mass emails. You might save yourself some time by sending a mass mailing, but the cost is always a lower response rate. Email readers have trained themselves on what a mass mailing looks like, just as they can pick out the spam and requests for Nigerian bank account transfers. Here are a few alternatives to mass emailing: CREATE A TEMPLATE, THEN INDIVIDUALIZE. If your request is important, you can’t afford to have it ignored. When sending out an email to a dozen or more people, write out a template with the basic information ﬁrst. You can copy this information and then individualize it by adding the recipient’s name and personal details. You’re far more likely to get a response back with this approach. TARGET KEY INDIVIDUALS. Maybe you have twenty people you could email, but you really want responses from a few key people. In this case you might want to do a mass mailing with individual letters to those targeted people instead. STATE CLEARLY THAT YOU NEED A RESPONSE FROM EVERYONE. Make that your ﬁrst sentence or put it in the subject line. Many people have no problem ignoring a request that is directed at a group of people instead of at them personally. If you make it clear that you need a quick response from everyone, this will encourage feedback. Ultimately your choice to use personalized or mass email will depend on the importance of your request. When doing press releases, I made sure to send customized emails. The value of a successful press release could be in the thousands of dollars, so it is worth the two or three minutes required to modify my template. If you are asking for general feedback, you may be satisﬁed with a lower response rate.
4. Bad Auto-responders Along with spam, mass mailings and scams, most email-savvy folks can quickly detect an auto-responder. Auto-responders can be useful, but generally they are just junk. All they show is that the email has hit your inbox. They don’t show that you’ve read anything or are considering a reply. If you handle similar requests frequently, use the template approach. Have templates for different email messages loaded into your email client. Then you can drop them in whenever you get a similar response. After a few quick modiﬁcations you can have a 30-minute response written in ten seconds. 5. Poor Grammar and Chatspeak The way you write emails reﬂects on your reputation. If you write sloppy emails with poor grammar, poor sentence structure, and which lack the basics of email etiquette, people will think you’re an idiot. I can forgive occasionally missing an apostrophe or comma. Here are a few things that I can’t easily forgive: NO CAPITALIZATION. Starting sentences with lowercase letters or using “i” are inappropriate. NO PUNCTUATION. The English language uses periods for a reason. They make sentences easier to read. CHATSPEAK. If you need to deal with someone on a professional level, avoid “lol”, “jk” and “imo”. SPELLING ERRORS. An occasional slip is ﬁne. Not knowing how to spell words is not. If you feel the need to spell a difﬁcult word, type it into Google ﬁrst. That will usually prompt the correct spelling if you’ve made an error.
As a rule, if you wouldn’t talk to the person in that way, don’t write an email with the same style.