A while ago, I posted this question on my Facebook wall: “Is answering emails promptly a requirement for white collar work?” My professional friends responded with a resounding YES. “It is, and those who don’t make everything harder for everyone else.” In your endless quest to aim for zero, this is an easy one. Not answering email makes you a clear -1 in professional realms, including veterinary medicine.
Getting an email and not answering it is almost exactly like being late to a meeting where your presence is required. What you are saying, loudly and clearly, is this: “My time is more valuable than your time.” You may not INTEND to say that. But that’s what you are actually saying with your actions. I don’t know why and, you know what, I don’t care. It doesn’t matter why. The end result is me feeling about this small.
I understand there can be an overwhelming flood of emails coming in, all needing attention. There are a variety of systems for handling them. Ignoring them is not an option if you want to be seen as a professional. Here’s how I handle them, but YMMV.
First, when I get an email, I decide whether it needs to be deleted. I get a lot of these that aren’t spam per se, just not relevant to me right then. If I don’t care about it and don’t imagine needing it, it gets deleted. (This baffles my best friend, who insists I should just archive it, but if I can’t imagine ever needing it, wouldn’t it be better to remove that data from my storage? I think so.)
Next, is it an email which can be answered quickly and in a sentence or two? Scheduling events are like that for me. These can be quickly bounced back to the sender with my availability. Others are quick replies like “Thanks” and the like. These are my favorite types of emails. Requests for working with me from this blog also fall under this heading. They get dealt with within the hour or, if I am busy on clinics, that day.
Third, if it’s not an email which can be answered quickly, how much cognitive energy is it going to take to handle? Is it a request to run statistics on a paper with which I have passing familiarity? That will be an entire afternoon project. I generally divide these into two categories: do in under a week or put off until close to deadline. If under a week, I tend to do the more cognitively simple tasks sooner. In either event, I always reply to the email promptly (unless it was automated, as with a journal decision on a submitted manuscript).
Replying to email is just one aspect of being reliable. And hoo boy, if you can get a reputation for being reliable vs. being unreliable, go for reliable. You will get better recommendations, people will want to work with you more, and your career will progress more positively. You must respond to emails in a timely fashion to be considered a professional.
So now I am genuinely curious: why don’t you respond to emails promptly?