I recently came across a simple idea that is having a positive impact on productivity. That idea is to not reply to everything. While this can be applied to social media broadly, I’m focused on email management here.
For me, not replying is more difficult than it sounds. I am a personality type that doesn’t like loose ends. I like to meet other’s expectations, and have them think cuddly, happy thoughts about what a swell person I am. I know that when I send an email, I hope to get a response. Therefore, when I receive an e-mail, my natural inclination is to respond.
Now, I don’t feel I overly waste time on replying to email. I’ve improved my response technique over the years. I bring an e-mail thread to a conclusion as rapidly as possible by anticipating and proactively answering questions. That’s more time-consuming than a quick, lazy “back to you” response, but saves time in the long run.
However, an advance on the proactive reply is never replying at all. Not responding is the ultimate way to bring an email thread to a conclusion.
You’re So Rude
On the surface, ignoring inbox messages seems rude. However, I don’t think that’s necessarily the case.
- People who email you are asking for your undivided attention. What is your relationship to that person? Do they merit such attention from you? Family, co-workers, customers, managers, etc…potentially, they do. Someone who might only know you because they stumbled across you through Facebook or the wiki server at work? Not really.
- Time spent answering email is time spent not doing actual work. Most email is not actual work, even though it seems like work. Distinguishing between time-wasting email and actual work is admittedly hard, as email is woven into the fabric of many organizations. But like project status meetings, email is too often a poor substitute for getting actual work done.
- Email almost never results in a product. Email is not a tool used to make anything. Design doesn’t happen in email. Creation doesn’t happen in email. In fact, email often doesn’t result in much of anything but time ticking off the clock.
Let’s Not Get Too Crazy
You might be pondering your specific company, and just how much of your workflow is tied to email. Obviously, it’s not possible to completely ignore all email. But how many email threads that you get CC’ed on really require your input? How many silly things are sent to you in an email simply to get an LOL? How many inbox messages are, in actuality, pointless?
As my quest for email control continues, I’ve realized that most messages that land in my inbox do not require a reply from me. I like to reply to messages and instinctively want to reply. But I don’t actually need to reply many times.
When I choose not to reply, I’ve removed a distraction from my day.
How To Decide What To Reply To
Choosing which messages to reply to is a personal matter. I make my decisions in the context of time.
- I do not respond to messages that are ultimately a waste of time.
- I do respond to messages that directly benefit the things I need to get done. Those messages are not a waste of time, because they are tied closely to something I am trying to achieve.