Offices are full of all types of people. But two of the most important groups in the modern office are these – the people who reply to every email, and the people who don’t. I’m a serial email ignorer. If you’re on team inbox zero, you might shudder if you looked underneath the hood and explored the depths of my inbox.
It’s not that I don’t reply to emails. I do my best to respond to questions from readers, writers with questions about topics and colleagues who need my collaboration. But there are a whole host of emails that get either punted or deferred – and the deferral period can be significant depending upon the other projects I have going on.
If you’re a part of the cadre of people advocating for a world beyond email (don’t email me, find me on Slack, Skype, text, etc), you may see me as a modern office heroine. Don’t. I’m not anti-email. I love email. I’m too formal for text (it’s okay, call me Boomer), and there are projects that simply require an email over a text or chat message. But as much as I appreciate the medium for its usefulness, that doesn’t mean you won’t likely find yourself on the other end of an ignored email. Here are five of the reasons why.
1. You didn’t ask a question.
A lot of emails from my teammates are task-based (post this, run this, do this). So, I do it. I don’t tend to provide read-receipts. This may be rude – I haven’t decided yet. I spent a week trying to respond to all of these types of emails with something like, ‘Thanks!’ or ‘Will do!’ and, quite frankly, it was exhausting. All that to say, there are certain people I correspond with who are gloriously responsive. I love these people, and appreciate these people. I am not one of these people.
2. It will take too long to respond.
My job requires some amount of parking in my inbox – sometimes I have pitches I need to respond to quickly or posts to publish immediately. Enter the glorious world of push notifications. I tend to ‘scan’ for these messages. The messages that come in that consist of clearance policy questions I need to research or replies that will take some thought get punted below the immediate needs. How quickly I respond to these directly correlates to the next point.
3. You didn’t give me a timeline.
I get a lot of ‘my friend smoked marijuana once in Amsterdam can they get a clearance’ questions. Unless that question is followed with ‘that friend is actually my daughter and she’s applying for a State Department internship in three days does she have to list the drug use’ those emails go to the bottom. If I can tell by the email there is an implicit or direct timeline involved, I’ll respond accordingly. I am actually known to tell people “please give me a deadline or this will get punted.”
4. You’re spamming me.
It’s a fact: a big part of my inbox is spam. I have a zero reply policy to spam. I’ve written a lot about CBD oil, so I get a LOT of random press releases, media opps, and interview pitches from people in the hemp industry. Whatever bot added me to those distros made a bad choice. I am not the target audience.
5. I’m flippin’ busy.
There are many good, beautiful emails that will take me way too long to respond to. I apologize. Someday I hope to be a better person and reply to all of your queries sooner. In the meantime, the people with a real question, providing a timeline, and who have an immediate need go to the top of the pile. If you need a decisive response – I’m your girl. But if you have an existential question, or need something beyond a quick yes or no answer, it may be a good idea to do something really crazy – pick up the phone. I know, I know, I’m aging myself. But like many recruiters I speak with, there is something nostalgic and endearing about someone who needs something and picks up the phone to ask you a question (my phone number, like most people’s, is at the bottom of my signature block).
Do you work with other serial email ignorers? My condolences. For the record, you will note that the fact that I dislike you is never a reason I ignore your email. It’s not personal, it’s business. And the business in my inbox is boomin’. If you are looking to break through the static and reach the unreachable, here are a few tips:
- Make it clear you need a response (if you need one) – but use a bit more finesse than ‘let me know if you got this.’
- If context or collaboration is needed, indicate that and do your part – loop in the other parties, or provide a link to the policy document you’re referencing in the email.
- Follow-up. For the record, the best way to get in touch with me if I’ve ignored you is by following up. This may seem spammy, but for folks with crazy inboxes, and if you’ve waited a reasonable amount of time between messages, it’s fine. Just don’t cc someone’s boss when you follow up. Nark.