Friday, May 2, 2003

May 02 2003

About a week ago, I finished listening to a book-on-tape of The Ten-Minute Internet Manager, a very helpful little book about how to run a dot-com. I was particularly struck by one piece of advice: answer e-mail less frequently, but answer all your e-mail whenever you check your inbox.

I’d heard this advice before, but hadn’t heard this particular spin on it.

These days, we expect quick replies to e-mail. If you e-mail somebody about something, how soon do you expect a reply? If I’m e-mailing a business, I expect a reply within twelve hours. Twenty-four is acceptable, but three business days is just plain rude.

If I expect that from a business, how much better should I treat my friends? Shouldn’t I get back to them as soon as possible?

Basically, we often check e-mail whenever it’s convenient to us, but may not have time to actually reply to whatever e-mail we get. As a result, e-mail sits uncomfortably in our inbox, neglected. The author suggests a new paradigm: Whenever you check your e-mail, make sure you have the time to actually reply to your e-mail. If you need to, check e-mail only when you have a block of time.

The author points out that, in the digial age, if you have an e-mail that takes effort to reply to, it’s better to reply quickly and write an imperfect e-mail than wait to gather everything and compose the perfect reply. You can always send another e-mail with more information later.

Obviously, one shouldn’t go overboard with this idea or make it an ironclad rule. Particularly, if you’re engaged in an emotional debate, you can compose a reply but wait to send it. Let that message cool off. But compose *something* write away.

I’ve implemented it myself; I check my personal e-mail address three times a day on weekdays, and once a day on weekends. I always reply to any e-mails that require response, even for e-mails that I would otherwise sit on.

Ironically, one negative side effect of this is my heightened expectations; I get slightly more frustrated with people who don’t respond to my e-mails within a day. I don’t hold it against them, but it is frustrating when people can’t take the time to be more organized about their e-mail. Except that I was just like that a week ago.

“You should check your e-mail at least once a day, you know. It’s best that way.” — Alice from serial experiments lain

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