Responding to Every E-mail

November 5, 2014

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A recent article in the Harvard Business Review on The Rise of the Rude Hiring Manager had an interesting side comment:

During the last decade, it became acceptable behavior to simply not answer e-mails. But that’s the worst kind of ego-sucking, demoralizing power play imaginable. We’re all busy. That’s no excuse for disrespect.

I don’t know the percentage of my unsolicited e-mails that get a response (less than half), but I don’t take it personally. Interestingly, the writer of the article, Anne Kreamer, wrote the book It’s Always Personal: Navigating Emotion in the New Workplace .

As Anne points out, it’s acceptable **not **to respond to e-mails. In fact when I personally don’t respond to e-mails, I usually get a “Jay, I know you must be really busy since you haven’t had a chance to respond…” It’s a burden to respond, right? I’d be up until all hours of the night letting people know that I’m not interested.

I’d like to think I’m not ego-sucking. Unfortunately, it’s acceptable. I’d like to change that.

The 30 Day Challenge

There is no way to understand the burden until you try it out. For the next thirty days, I’m going to respond to every e-mail. Here are the criteria:

  • It has to be personally written. Auto-responders, mailing lists and mass e-mails don’t count. If someone is taking the time to write me, I’m going to take the time to write them back.
  • The response time should dictate the urgency of the e-mail but it should take no more than 3 business days to respond.
  • At least a full sentence polite response for each e-mail. (“No thanks” doesn’t count.)
  • Closure to the thread. So I’ve already started this exercise. Responses beget responses. After a ping-pong back and forth, you can’t leave the conversation dangling. Close it up and let the writer know you’re done.

Measuring the Challenge

There are two things I’m looking for in trying this out:

  1. How hard and how much time does it take to respond to every personally written e-mail?
  2. And most interesting to me, how many of these responses actually turn into an action by me? That is, are there missed opportunities by not responding to the e-mails.

There has to be a balance between the two. If it takes 2 hours a week to respond but I only get one missed opportunity a month, the exercise may not be worth it. I’m guessing that it will be the opposite. I’ll spend 30 minutes a week responding and find one new opportunity each week.

The clock has started.

p.s. Some of you reading this have my personal and work e-mails addresses. I’m guessing you’ll add to the e-mail pile to see if I respond. Thanks in advance.