Issues Around Email, Part One: Busy People Letting the World Know They're Busy

This is the first in an occasional series on issues around email, it’s still very inefficiently used by many.

Busy people communicate to the world that they are busy through email responsiveness, and sometimes this pisses me off but I’m guilty of it too. Since I spend a fair bit of time on the computer, and since I have a Blackberry email device when I’m away from my computer, I often read people’s emails sometimes within minutes and never later than 3-4 hours after they sent it. There certainly are emails that I need to think about, so I’ll flag them and come back to it later before responding. But for those emails that are time-sensitive in nature or just require a simple response (“Can you make a lunch next week?” or “How’d your basketball game go and when you do you play next?”) sometimes I respond right away, sometimes I don’t, even if I have time right there to do it.

In fact, I read a study recently done on this but I can’t remember where: busy people like other people to know that they are busy (they won’t miss a chance to say “schedule is tight”). If they start responding to emails within hours it may send the wrong message. So, the study said, they’ll intentionally not respond to it till the next day just so the lucky recipient doesn’t start to think that Mr. Busy Person is too available. Of course, for people who don’t know how to manage their 50 emails a day yesterday’s note will soon get lost and will never receive the response it deserved when Mr. Busy Person first read it for all of 10 seconds.

I submit that you can still be a very very busy person but also answer emails quite promptly if you manage the incoming flow the right way. With the ubiquity of mobile email devices, filters, auto-responses, etc, this is even easier.

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