I am often asked:
“What is the rule for how fast you should be responding to emails?”
The short answer: As soon as you can.
The long answer: It is obvious that some emails will be more important to you than others. It also is clear that we only have so much time in a day and there will be days where you will be unable to reply to any emails at all.
So, you do the best you can to reply to everyone as soon as you can.
Email is Instantaneous
We all know that for the most part email is an instantaneous medium. We know that our email is in the other side’s inbox waiting to be downloaded or ready to be read usually within seconds if not minutes of clicking Send.
If you are so busy that you cannot respond at all (you’re there but not “away” to require an away message be in place), you are in fact deciding to ignore the Sender. Even if for the time being.
And that’s exactly what they will assume. You’ve made a decision that their email is not important enough to you, at that moment in time, or you would have responded.
The fact is there are expectations of a quick response. Like it or not. We all have to make these decisions on the fly about how to spend our time.
There really is no gray area here. Perception is alive and well in regard to how quickly you respond to your emails. (Of course, this does not include spam or irresponsible forwarders.)
When to Use Away Messages
You have the option to have a informative away message in place if you are completely unavailable. Senders will then understand if they don’t receive a prompt reply from you. This effort can help to avoid any negative perceptions.
You don’t want to use away messages to let everyone know how busy you are and that maybe, you might, if you have time, get back to them when it suits you — at your convenience. That’s narcissistic and reinforces that the Sender is not a priority.
When you are swamped or have other responsibilities that keep you from responding in detail, create a short message template. Most email programs have the option of creating templates or responses that you can insert as needed. A short message stating your situation and that you will respond in detail as soon as you can is better than not responding at all.
Just takes a couple seconds to hit reply, insert the response and click Send. This approach is even more important when it comes to your business email responsibilities.
That is if you actually care….
I’ve had folks email me stating they don’t care what the other side thinks of their response time. That’s fine. You can have that approach.
Just know that when you disregard others attempt to communicate with you, they’ll pick up on that. If you ignore them, they’ll know you are doing that as well.
Remember, email isn’t always only about you, how busy you are or what you feel is important at that point in time. It’s a communication tool. Communication takes more than one person.
There is another human being involved on the other side of your screen. They emailed you for a reason and are hoping for your prompt response.
Communicate Your Status
Keeping those you communicate with informed as to your status is a courtesy that can ensure you are a person that is looked at as a pleasure to communicate with. By thinking beyond your hectic schedule you also avoid misunderstandings and hurt feelings in the process.