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Me this week: why is this guy chasing me for a reply today when he only emailed me on Thursday?
Also me this week: how come that person I emailed on Wednesday last week STILL hasn’t replied?
We’ve all spent time hitting the refresh button on an inbox waiting for a reply to an email we’ve sent and wondering what’s holding things up. The truth is, people send urgent emails before others and if they think a reply to your email is not urgent and is going to take them ages to write, you might be waiting a really long time!
Our frustration waiting for others to reply to our emails led us to investigate which factors influence how quickly people respond to emails and whether there’s anything we can do as a sender to get them to choose to reply to us before answering someone else’s message!The results of our study of 45 people responding to 16,200 e-mails sent over a 3 week period show that when e-mail replies are not urgent, people wait to a later time to send replies rather than responding immediately. However, when they do respond they are more likely to tackle the messages that are easier to respond to (eg needing a short reply) and those that carry the greatest importance (eg when there’s something in it for the sender). In contrast, when presented with e-mails that need an urgent reply, people prioritize these and disregard factors such as length of reply.
Our results are important for all of us who use e-mail and want timely responses. Composing e-mails that clearly signal that an urgent response is needed is the best way to ensure that the receiver will deal with it promptly. If it’s not urgent, making clear that you just need a short response will mean your email gets replied to before others.
Anna L. Cox, Jon Bird, Duncan P. Brumby, Marta E. Cecchinato & Sandy J. J. Gould (2021) Prioritizing unread e-mails: people send urgent responses before important or short ones, Human–Computer Interaction, 36:5-6, 511-534, DOI: 10.1080/07370024.2020.1835481
Switching off, going dark, saying no. These are all phrases that relate to good advice about how to get things done, or more to the point, how to avoid being distracted and concentrate on the things you want or need to work on. This week I’m trying to carve out time by switching off email and avoiding other forms of digital communications so I can concentrate on the huge pile of tasks I have to get through. This thing is that I’m finding it really difficult. I mean *really* difficult.
I started off by deciding that I was going to take my own advice and try a once-a-day email strategy (Bradley, Brumby, Cox and Bird (2013) How to Manage Your Inbox: Is a Once a Day Strategy Best?). I even scheduled it in my day. Inspired by a blog post by Think Productive’s Graham Alcott (http://www.thinkproductive.co.uk/the-lemon-routine-rhythm/) I decided to dedicate the morning to important tasks , check email at lunchtime, and then use the afternoons for more communal activities such as meetings.
Just 24hours in and it all went wrong when I had to check my email first thing as was expecting to receive a file from a colleague which I needed to work on. As the 47 emails piled into my inbox I found it impossible to ignore them.
I’d successfully ignored them the previous night when doing the same thing. That time I’d used the snooze function in my GTD outlook add-in that enables you to snooze a message until the following day. But this time the snooze button didn’t seem appropriate. I didn’t want every email from yesterday to disappear until tomorrow. So it sat there in my inbox, looking at me, and it was all of 3 minutes before I started going through it (I like to keep my inbox at zero). 90 minutes later I had answered emails, added things to my to-do list, and deleted a whole bunch. What I hadn’t done was work on the document I had been waiting for!!