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Should You Respond To Every Email?

So much communication, so little time. The result: Email guilt. But should we really feel bad about not responding to every email?

Inbox zero is no longer a goal, it’s a mirage. Instead, we have email guilt – otherwise known as the condition of having so much email you couldn’t possibly respond to it all, but you still feel like you should. Or should you? That’s the question we are posing here today: “Should you respond to every email?”

Seth Godin /// Author, Blogger, Marketing Guru

“No, you shouldn’t. But many people do, because there doesn’t seem to be a great alternative. It’s asymmetrical, and productivity loses to politeness.”

Scott Belsky /// CEO, Behance

“No, but I still try. I don’t respond to emails with “FYI” in the subject line, unless I have something valuable to add. But the majority of other emails from people – quick questions, unsolicited inquiries, or articles from friends – deserve a response. I try to be quick, replying with 3-5 words when possible. My thinking: email may drive us crazy, but it is still a form of communication with people, and communication helps build relationships.”

Simon Sinek /// Leadership Expert & Author, “Start With Why”

“Emails are like rabbits, they reproduce at an exorbitant rate. The more you send, the more you get. So many people complain about all the emails they get, my question is, how many emails do you send?Sending one email to 5 people could produce 5 emails back. Overwhelmed by all the emails I would get, I decided to stop sending as many. Now, when I have something to ask or tell someone, I pick up the phone and call them. Not only has it significantly reduced the number of emails I get, but it actually saves me time also. A five minute call replaces the time it takes to read and reply to the original email and read and reply to their reply… or replies. And I no longer spend 20+ minutes crafting the perfect email – no need to.

The number of emails I get has dropped so dramatically, in fact, that I no longer feel I need to sleep next to my phone or check my emails when I wake up in the morning – something I used to do even before I brushed my teeth or showered. We don’t need to figure out a strategy on how to deal with all our emails if we are able to significantly reduce the number that come in in the first place… and the only way to do that is to start using the phone again.”

What Do You Think?

What’s your take? Should you respond to every email?

More Posts by Jocelyn K. Glei

A writer and the founding editor of 99U, Jocelyn K. Glei is obsessed with how to make great creative work in the Age of Distraction. Her latest book is Unsubscribe: How to Kill Email Anxiety, Avoid Distraction, and Get Real Work Done. Her previous works include the 99U’s own bestselling book series: Manage Your Day-to-Day, Maximize Your Potential, and Make Your Mark. Follow her @jkglei.

Comments (67)
  • Sarah Nodelman

    To me, this goes back to the old addage, “Treat others the way you would like to be treated.” Wouldn’t you want a response???

  • Dan Peck

    No way! Take a break with –  DigitalSilence – Lite – 3hours without technology. Get focused get organised #getstuffdone!

  • Graham Stinson

    If you actually read your email, it will become apparent when you should respond. And if in doubt, yes, respond. It’s easy: the little button is right there when you’re reading the email.

    Simon Sinek’s assertion that phone calls save time is interesting, considering that it’s quite possible that his phone call completely derailed the momentum of the person he called. If we care about time at all (ours or others), we need to care about interruptions. And avoid creating them unnecessarily for others. Don’t get me wrong – I really appreciate Simon’s insights, but I think we need to realize that in our quest to manage and maximize our time, it shouldn’t be at the peril of messing with someone else’s.

    Conversations are also untrackable, and cause massive ‘he said, she said’ issues unless you confirm via email… and now whoops, you’ve just caused the problem you tried to solve with the phone call.

  • Kizthewhiz

    I liked the idea of reducing mail by calling but it’s not always convenient. Good idea though. 

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  • matthewsnyder

    I don’t respond to every email. I like this approach I heard years ago, although I don’t remember who coined it: do, defer, delegate, delete, or file. I only check my email 3-4 times a day and refuse to spend more than 30 minutes in it each time. I apply this process and it works beautifully…

  • Jeffrey Davis

    I agree with Graham.  Whereas certain interactions are must better served by the nuances of conversation, email is a time-shifting communication option, whereas a phone call is a time-blocking one.  Many busy execs I know will let an email thread among several people play out on its own rather than respond reflexively.  More often than not, in an hour the issue has been resolved without having to jump in.

  • Amanda Soehnlen

    The only problem is that people have a reason to not trust verbal information or confirmation – having things in writing gives you the ability to CYA, whether it’s in a business meeting, or in court.

  • Thomas

    As owner of a company, agree… Totally 😉

  • List Brokers

    I liked the idea of reducing mail by calling but it’s not always convenient. Good idea though.

  • djjess

    Really?! We have the choice to answer a phone or not, just as we have the choice to reply to an e-mail. Call-screening is a valuable management tool. Turn off the ringer, put it on “do not distrub, and let voice mail pick up. Respond on your own schedule, but within a few hours. Many of my clients appreciate the personal touch of a phone call. I’m also quick to tell “urgent” e-mailers that I download e-mail only every 3 hours, so a phone call is the best way to get me in that situation.

  • Shay

    Getting Things Done by David Allen. Excellent book!

  • Tertius

    I would imagine only to respond to emails which request action or feedback. Am I totally missing the boat?

    • Sean Blanda

      Some folks feel compelled to answer EVERY thing they receive, lest they seem rude. There’s people in both camps here.

  • ransom

    I think it’s common courtesy to at least let the sender know that you at least received their email and that it didn’t wind up in cyberspace or junk. A simple thank you is enough. Especially if its a manager etc.

  • Frank Thousand

    Nobody should have to deal with email anymore. Loved to read all the answers you gathered here, Jocelyn. I had the same feelings but I decided to act for my own enjoyment and everybody else’s: I created Intentdo, it solves it. Instead of sending emails, and feeling locked by its abhorring thread-like structure, with Intentdo I send Intents rather than emails. For the first time ever, the recipient has total control over when to ‘welcome’ an Intent. This means I cannot read the Intent unless I welcome it. Another powerful feature is the format: I have to state my intention and add up to four supporting actions. I’ve got 250 characters to nail it. It encourages clarity; perhaps the best part is how responding an Intent works. I pick green, yellow or red for a yes-maybe-no response and have the choice to type a quick response to each action. With my heart saying loudly that we need more clarity, more time for ourselves, more respect for our time, more integrity and more fun in our lives, I stopped everything I was doing to create Intentdo. It’s my gift to all of us. We’re just launched and it’s a per invite still, but I’d love to invite yourself, your friends and the readers here to join with the code “the-way-of-intent”. Also you’d love to know personally how you’re liking it at ^founders (intentdo addresses carry a caret sign). Happy intending!!!

  • mozartian

    No, you should not reply to every email you get. I do not understand the etiquette that says you should. What would we have in our inbox if everybody replied to every email they get? We would have emails that go on forever and added to daily. I tried to prove my point to a friend who is a compulsive replier. I replied to every single email I got from him. After a week, there were twenty emails going back and forth between us because neither of us stopped replying. My friend got upset because he had too many emails to reply to every day but he still did not see that he should not reply to every email. Some people will simply never see the light. It is us who do that must stop the replying. Put a disclaimer at the bottom of your emails – HELP STAMP OUT EMAIL CLUTTER – DO NOT REPLY TO THIS EMAIL.

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