Email is my answering machine

I retweeted this from Chris LaBossiere because it’s exactly how I feel and behave:

I’ve become that guy who responds to emails 3-5 days late. Text me if it’s important I guess. Better yet, call me.

— Chris LaBossiere (@ChrisLaBossiere) February 26, 2014

My friend and colleague Jason recently mentioned me and this retweet and we had a Twitter conversation about it. Near the end, I asserted that most issues or requests for information can be resolved by face-to-face, instant message, or a phone call. To that end I asked, “Should email be treated like an answering machine?” His witty response that internal mail will get his attention right away is on the money; given the volume of email that’s sent and received, a physical piece of mail will stand out. Funny how things come full circle. But there it is: email is my answering machine. Include your name, number, and a detailed message and I’ll get back to you as soon as I dig it out from beneath the mountain of others.

I’m going to digress here on the usage of email: too often people fall into the trap of believing that sending an email means their job is done. That somehow this absolves them of accountability or ownership of moving things forward: “Well, I sent you an email three weeks ago…” Congratulations, I’ll let 1993 know that email turned out to be a rousing success. My question is what did you do during those three weeks since sending your email? Why wasn’t I bowled over in the lobby or pursued on my way to Starbucks? If you “diarized” (ugh, someone abolish that word already) a follow-up for three weeks later, then whatever situation you were facing must not have been that serious. I’m not saying it wasn’t important – to you – but it probably didn’t rank high on my priority list.

So, coming back, I’m sure we can all agree that it’s not possible to respond to every email the moment that it hits your inbox. Email was designed to be an asynchronous communication tool – not unlike an answering machine – and, if you remember that, you should never find yourself idly waiting for a reply. Otherwise it should prompt you to connect directly and get an answer immediately. If I don’t get to your email for several days (or even weeks) and I have other things on the go, I may assume the matter’s been resolved or it didn’t need my attention in the first place. And, if you’d like, you can send me an email to let me know how it turned out.

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