Have you ever sent an email (or left a voicemail message for that matter) and never heard back from the person you contacted? Then, when you finally reached them a few weeks later, they said, “Oh, yeah, I was just busy and didn’t have a chance to respond.”
It seems that we’re all so busy that we can’t even say, “I’m busy.”
Now I’m not referring to the spam or unsolicited emails we receive from people we don’t know. I’m talking about emails from people who have a reason to communicate with us such as family, friends, and colleagues. I believe we do have time to respond to these folks.
Let’s do a little test. Suppose I just got an email from you and I’m too busy to send you a proper verbose response as I have a tendency to send. How long would it take for me to hit Reply and then type, “I’m really swamped right now but I will get back to you.”?
I’ll tell you how long it takes. Twelve seconds.
Don’t you think we can find 12 seconds to connect with one another?
But we’re really busy, you say. Oh, yes, I get it. We live in a very connected world and as a result, we are inundated with emails, social media alerts, texts from our kids, and updates from our favorite sports teams not to mention the responsibility that goes with our jobs. We have more information at our disposal and as a result, we receive way too much “stuff”.
But let’s look at it another way. If you and I passed each other in the hallway at work and I said, “Hello,” you would never wait until next week to say “Hello” back. In fact, if you didn’t respond, I would probably follow you to your office and ask what’s wrong and why you don’t like me any more. In an office setting, a non-response is clearly a violation of the social code of conduct.
Similarly, if you called me on the telephone and asked if I wanted to meet you for dinner, I would never simply hang up and wait until I saw you again to say, “Oh, I was too busy to talk to you when you called last week.” Alexander Graham Bell would be rolling in his grave at my lack of telephonic etiquette.
So, why is it we think it’s OK to ignore an email (or voicemail message) for days, weeks, or even a month? Is it because these tools have become so commonplace and impersonal that we feel it’s OK to ignore the person sending them? Is it that the sheer volume has forced us to only respond in cases of national security threats? Or is it that we just need help managing our time and our relationships?
I believe that until we see emails and voicemails as representative of relationships rather than just electronic tasks, we won’t see the value in responding. When we view all of our interactions as relationships, we appreciate the value for the people behind the messages and in turn, treat them more respectfully.
When my wife worked in corporate America, she was juggling hundreds of emails and instant messages every day. The business required that she and her colleagues respond in a timely manner. If someone didn’t, they could lose their job.
When she started working with me, she was amazed at how many people never responded to a first or even a second email communication. And let me be clear, our emails were not selling anything. Instead, we were responding to someone else’s email with information they requested or asking a question related to a conversation that they had begun.
The concept of “Do it Well, Make it Fun” recognizes that everything we do is a process and that every process is made of steps. Each step has the potential of being improved and more fun. Unfortunately, we regularly get into bad habits and fail to see the opportunities to be more effective.
For example, when it comes to email, there are many good programs and systems for managing multiple emails and files. If we’re overwhelmed by volume or organization, I suggest we look into one of those.
Additionally, there are ways of automating responses or creating shortcuts so that we can respond quickly to someone rather than having to type everything out.
Since I write “do it well, make it fun” multiple times every day (because I’m that enamored with my own idea), I decided to create a shortcut on my computer that allows me to type “diwmif” and the computer knows to insert the entire phrase. This saves me a few seconds here and there but over time, it saves more than that.
The same can be done with auto-responders and shortcuts for email. A simple code like BZY could turn into this: “Thank you so much for your email. I would love to respond but I’m a bit swamped right now so I will get back to you within three days. I appreciate your patience. If it is more urgent than that, please call me.”
Remember, we’re not just sending an email, we’re maintaining a relationship. So, the next time you get a charming, witty and grammatically correct email from me, don’t keep me hanging wondering if you’ve left civilization for a secluded life in a Tibetan monastery. Just take 12 seconds to send me a quick note and just let me know that you’re BZY.
The opposite side of that coin is the folks who feel so compelled to respond immediately that they never put down their device, even when they’re having a face-to-face conversation with me.