Phil for Humanity Phil for Humanity
A Guide for the Survival of Humankind and Helping the World, Society, and Yourself.

Etiquette to Reading and Replying to Emails

If your job is like my job, then you also heavily rely on emails. I easily get a few hundred emails a day. Most of these emails are not important, however each day I get a few critical emails that must be replied to and replied quickly too. That is why I am very vigilant with reading and replying to my emails.

However, why don't other people offer the same courtesy? So, I started asking people, who I know that are bad at responding to emails, why they are that way. Here are some of their excuses and why these excuses do not make much sense.

  1. "If it is important, another email will be sent." But if all emails are not read, then the second email may be not read too.

  2. "I have too many emails." This is by far the most common complaint that I hear. If someone has too many emails coming in every day, then they are overloaded. Either learn to delegate tasks and emails to other people, read each email quickly and decide to not respond because it is not important, or get more behind. Some people like being overloaded with work and call this "job security". I like to call this "job delinquency", because I think timely responses are just as important as good responses.
  3. "I only read or respond to emails from my team and manager/boss." So, only critical issues from outside of their team that are escalated to management get attention. That's like only doing fire fighting, and never any fire prevention. This makes it look like these people think that their team is more important than any other team. Additionally, this makes these types of people look bad in their managements' viewpoint, since management consistently only sees critical issues being escalated. Of course, some people prefer this "job security". Well, I think it is selfish, since these types of people are holding up work for other teams. As I like to say, "If there is no 'I' in team, then there is no 'U' either."
  4. "If someone else does not respond to my emails, why should I respond to their emails?" This is your job. Get over it and do it. Escalate to their management if timely responses are not given.
  5. "My mailbox is full." Apparently, some people don't know how to delete or backup emails. Saving every email that some people ever sent and received will not help if these people stopped receiving emails. I am still amazed that some people have full mailboxes for days in a row. Do they think the world is going to stop around them until they get a chance to clean their mailbox?
  6. "I have too much 'real' work to do." How is responding to fellow employees not real work? I understand that management wants measurable results from their people everyday, and management may not consider replying to emails as quantifiable productivity. However, this does make other people in the company more productive.

In conclusion, every excuse that email slackers use is not very good.. to me anyways. I think that each of us must read each of our emails, and reply to the most urgent emails when necessary.

I recommend that each of us set aside some time each and every day to go through each unread email. That's right, schedule it. I personally recommend the first 30 minutes in the office in the morning and another 30 minutes as the last task in the office every day. In addition, checking emails during meetings, if possible, helps a lot too. That may be too often for some people, so try a regular period of time with as much time as needed. And don't forget to block off your calendar time to do this.

Just a word of warning: Don't become a Blackberry addict who must check their emails every few minutes either. That is a waste of time and will quickly take over personal life.

For me, procrastinating a response to an email typically means never responding to that email. Keeping responses short and brief is an option, but detailed emails are always better.

Finally, another trick is to only keep unread email in your Inbox. All emails should be read and then immediately replied if necessary, no matter how much work it is to address that email. Then the email should be either filed away or deleted. Don't let old obsolete emails clutter mailboxes.

Thank you for reading this article.

by Phil for Humanity
on 12/14/2006

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