Re: E-mail

The Globe&Mail dedicated half a page of the Report on Business section to managing your inbox today. People who work with me know that

  1. if you want to get ahold of me quickly, E-mail is not the way to go
  2. if you want a thought-out, thorough response, E-mail is the way to go

I check my E-mail twice a day — three times at most. E-mail from VIPs (my wife, my dad, clients — some, not all) takes precedence, then bills, then support requests, then other requests, then everything else.

I allow myself two working days to respond, if I decide to respond at all. I do not respond to

  • informational messages
  • uninteresting messages
  • chit-chat & chatter
  • anything that doesn’t interest me enough to respond

I don’t see it as impolite to not respond to E-mail: E-mail is by no means equivalent to a hand-written letter — it’s often more like a lengthy tweet, and I routinely ignore tweets — as I’m sure you do too.

I do respond to anything that gets through the filter: new correspondents that have genuine questions (and are real people), people that made it to my VIP list, etc. will get a response — within 48 hours, not counting Sundays1.

This means that if you want to get ahold of me quickly, E-mail is not the way to go: this may be frustrating to some of my colleagues sometimes, but I am usually available through several IM services, SMS, Skype or phone (if you do phone me and I don’t pick up, or if you IM me and I don’t answer, I’m probably in a meeting. Leave a message or try again later. Only VIPs are allowed to declare emergencies, and know what to do to declare one).

Should I choose to respond to your E-mail, don’t expect a novel: if a single word suffices, that’ll be it (maybe followed by a “Regards, rlc”) — after all, anything more would just take you longer to read, and would therefore waste both our time.
If, however, you’ve said something really thought-provoking, or you very obviously have no clue and genuinely need help, I will sit down, get out an actual computer, and write a complete response with real sentences.
Regrettably, lately, E-mails that warranted real sentences have mostly fallen into the “genuinely need help” category, which is when the nice guy in me takes over…

If your E-mail is your first communication with me, please include a means to IM you (if you have one). It’ll allow me to get back to you more efficiently — which tends to be better for both of us.

I really am a nice guy, open to communication. I just have been trying to avoid the G&M’s “five mistakes” for a long time now.

  1. I have no obligation to always be available — and neither do you
  2. it is not ill-mannered to not reply to E-mail: it is ill-mannered to not invest an effort in a communication that is proportionate to the effort invested by the other party — none is proportionate to little
  3. short E-mails are not rude: they’re efficient
  4. urgent and important trumps important. Important trumps urgent.
  5. The fifth pitfall, not using your inbox as a TODO list, is up for discussion: I tend to flag E-mails that I need to get back to — but I don’t see it as a TODO list (more like a “read this again sitting down” kinda thing).

    A clipping of the newspaper article that prompted this is here

    1. by my grandmother’s definition: any Christian holiday is a Sunday []

About rlc

Software Analyst in embedded systems and C++, C and VHDL developer, I specialize in security, communications protocols and time synchronization, and am interested in concurrency, generic meta-programming and functional programming and their practical applications. I take a pragmatic approach to project management, focusing on the management of risk and scope. I have over two decades of experience as a software professional and a background in science.
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