I get a lot of email, and I’m guessing you do too. It is my preferred method of communication, since it creates a conversation trail and I can refer back later for details. David Lee King recently wrote a great post on managing email, but I want to add one more suggestion to his list. It’s a personal pet peeve of mine, actually.
- When you read an email asking you to do something, or explain something, or for any information at all – whether you plan to do anything about it right away or not – respond to the message.
A simple “I got your message and I’ll get back to you next week” is all that is required. If you leave the sender hanging, they don’t know if you even got the message. It is completely fine – expected, even – that it will take you some time to complete the action requested. Just let the sender know you’re working on it, or aware of the issue, or that you bothered to read the email.
As I said, for me email is a way to track a conversation. I’ve been known to ask people to email me notes of what we just said (or expect an email from me with notes of what we talked about), just so that I can go back later and remember the conversation. I talk to a lot of people about a lot of things, and email is a great way for me to keep track of everything.
#4.2 on David Lee King’s list is an important one. Do it. If you can provide the information I asked for in just a few quick keystrokes, do it! Then it is off both of our plates and we can move on with our lives. The other day I got an email asking me to choose from a lunch menu at a conference I’m speaking at. I responded “turkey and swiss on rye” within about one minute of receiving the email. The person who asked seemed surprised that I answered so quickly, but really – how long does it take to pick a sandwich from a list? Question asked, answered, and crossed off everyone’s list. Done. It’s easy to think, “I don’t have time for this” when you’re working on things that are so much more important than sandwiches, but it lingers as a question unanswered until you just do it.
So, please, do each other the courtesy of a quick response to email. You don’t have to have the answer, but if you know you are going to need a few days to get the answer, let the sender know that. Don’t leave them hanging.