The average person spends a staggering 28 percent of the workweek in email. For the majority of us, most of that time would be better spent elsewhere. But how do we reclaim our time and escape the constant pull of email?
By now, you probably know our stance on filtering out your bacn, unsubscribing from of annoying mailing lists, and bulk processing your incoming messages. There’s another bad email habit that isn’t talked about nearly enough, and that’s what brings us here today.
Stop responding to every email you receive.
Yes, we’re talking about legitimate emails, not spammy messages from Nigerian princes or daily deals from Groupon. Stop responding to every one. Just because you receive an email from a real person does not mean you need to respond to it, at least not right away.
Here are six times when this is true.
1) It’s going to take you longer to respond than it took the person to send.
This can happen when the sender writes an overly convoluted email or when the questions being asked require an overly complex answer. The reason doesn’t matter. When you realize that writing back will take a significant amount of time, stop writing and pick up the phone. Alternatively, shoot a quick email back explaining that both of your time would be better spent with a quick call or face-to-face meeting, then send along a link to your calendar.
2) It’s a cold (sales) email.
I used to respond to these because I thought it was rude to ignore real people who had taken the time to send me an email. The truth is, it’s oftentimes that person who is committing the rude act, particularly when they aggressively follow up after you say thanks, but no thanks. Just because I’m in X role at Y company does not mean you should find my email address on LinkedIn and write me repeatedly to tell me how I can’t live without your product. When this happens, take a step back, understand that the person is doing his or her job, but realize that it is probably not part of your job to reply.
3) The email is an FYI.
So many sent emails are simple FYIs (“for your information”) or reminders. Don’t waste your time or clog the sender’s inbox by drafting a “Thanks, got it!” response. If you think the person needs reassurance or if you want to make sure the sender knows you received it, then write back, but include an FYI of your own: “Thanks, got it! Also, FYI, if you don’t need me responding to emails like this in the future, please include FYI, NNTR (no need to reply), or NRN (no response necessary). This way, I’ll know it’s okay to not spend the time writing back, and you’ll get one less email.”
4) You’re in the CC field.
These emails tend to fall into the FYI category. They weren’t addressed to you specifically, but someone feels you need to be aware of what’s going on. Do not reply to emails you’re CC’d on unless
a) something has been specifically asked of you
b) there is a point in the email that only you can speak to
c) you realize something has been overlooked in the email and needs to be addressed.
If the sent email meets one of these criteria, then think carefully as to whether everyone on the thread needs to be included (i.e. you need to Reply All) or if you can remove some people. Remember, if there are five people on the thread, that’s five potential responses right off the bat, and with each response, the snowball continues to grow.
5) You’re not in a sound state of mind, or the sender isn’t.
Whether upset or impaired, rattling off emails in an unsound state of mind is rarely if ever a good idea. If you’re feeling heated about something or had one too many at the work happy hour, walk it off and distance yourself from email for a bit. If you’re the recipient of a belligerent email, also practice patience. Give the person time to cool off. Ideally, s/he will make the next move and follow up before you even need to respond. If not and you feel that a response is necessary, then reply a few hours later or the next day.
6) The email isn’t actionable right now.
If you get an email that does require a response, but not at this moment, then don’t reply now. It’s an extra email for you to write and it’s an extra email for the sender to read. Instead, snooze (defer) the email until it is actionable.
Remember that every email you respond to eats your time both now, as you craft the response, and also in the future when you get a response to your response. Before you hit the Reply button, ask yourself, is this the best use of my time?
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