do I respond to emails too quickly?

A reader writes:

I’ve always found it easy to focus, keep my work and my time organized and switch between tasks without losing track of what I’m doing.

I like to keep my email inbox neat and use it as an organizational system, so whenever an email comes in, I typically stop what I’m doing to read it. If it’s easy to answer, I am tempted to respond right away. However, I usually decide to go and finish whatever I had been doing before responding so as not to appear psychotic.

Still, my average email response time is probably under an hour. Does this send the wrong message? I am afraid people who work differently will think that I must not be busy/must be sitting around twiddling my thumbs/must not be important.

No, you’re fine. You’re just very responsive over email.

I too am bizarrely fast over email, and that has been the case no matter what my workload is and no matter how senior my job. I’m just … fast over email. Like you, I use my inbox as an organizational system, and I’m in email ALL THE TIME (I’m even writing this blog post in a draft email message, as I do with all my posts). And like you, I generally find it easy to task-switch without losing track of things. I also like minimizing how many to-do items are hanging over me, even small ones like emails, to the point that I won’t feel quite settled when there are outstanding things I need to respond to.

A lot of people are evangelical about only checking email during certain hours or not leaving email open throughout the day or not task-switching in general, because that makes them more productive. And for a lot of people, that works. But if you’re finding this works for you, I believe you because it works for me.

And assuming your work and productivity are both good, people won’t take your fast responses as signs that you’re just sitting around or don’t have anything important to spend your time on. Mostly, they’ll appreciate that they can rely on you for fast responses. If your work is not good or you’re not on top of projects, then as your manager I’d talk to you about prioritizing where you’re spending your time — but assuming that’s not the case, you’re fine.

That said, there are some times when you should be more thoughtful about not rushing in with a response. In a past job, I realized at one point that when I was one of multiple people included on an email, I needed to hang back and not answer right away — because otherwise I’d always end up answering before other people had an opportunity to, which is frankly annoying. Also, as a manager, it’s good to give your employees room to answer things themselves, rather than you always jumping in.

Additionally, in some work environments (not all), you need to be aware of what you’re training people to expect from you. If people learn they can always count on you for fast answers when they email you at the last minute, sometimes they’ll put less effort into giving you more notice even when they could (or when you’d prefer it). That doesn’t mean that you should deliberately delay important answers — you shouldn’t — but it’s useful to consider as you’re thinking about this.

{ 186 comments… read them below }

  1. Wakeen Teapots, LTD*

    Um. I typically answer emails in under a minute, 5 minutes is pretty much as long as it goes. If I can’t answer fast for whatever reason, I respond with an estimate of when I can answer.

    SO. Hmmm.

    Well, it works for me.

    1. AnotherAlison*

      Something I read once was that you should answer anything that takes 5 minutes right away. If it takes longer, it goes in the to-do queue.

      1. New Job So Much Better*

        A big part of my job is to answer employee emails quickly, so it cracked me up when Microsoft’s Analytics told me I answered too quickly and to focus on other things. Um, no, that’s my job.

        1. TardyTardis*

          Mine was pretty much the same. (I always laughed when I read time management stuff about delegating and closing your office door. I was always the one delegated to, and who had an office?).

      2. charo*

        It’s similar to the idea that “you shouldn’t handle a piece of paper more than once” or whatever the saying is.

        If you can dispose of it fast it’s not hanging there for later.
        If it needs more thought, then save it.

    2. RobotWithHumanHair*

      I’m glad I’m not the only one like that. If I see an email and I’m not knees deep in something else at that moment, it gets responded to immediately.

    3. Not A Girl Boss*

      Yep. An unread email leaves me with such a deep level of agitation I just cannot not read it…
      And since usually it takes no time to respond to an email once I’ve read it, I just do.

      Weirdly, IMs do drive me up the wall. I’d way rather receive an email than an IM, even though my response time to both is similar. Of course, it’s also tougher to categorize and store IMs for later. Half the time I copy them into an email and save as draft.

      That said, I recently tried a week where I force myself not to read emails except for 3 prescheduled time chunks in the day, and learned that I’m not nearly as good at multitasking as I thought I was. So this is just gentle encouragement for LW to try it the other way too and at least make an informed decision about what’s best for her.

      1. Peace and tennis*

        SAME! I think the thing with emails is that if I truly am busy, I can read it and respond it to it later if it requires more thought. Or, I can read it and if it doesn’t require my response, I can file it away. But with IMs, it’s like someone poking my shoulder saying “Pay attention to me now, I demand your attention now.” It’s so annoying!

      2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        ” I’d way rather receive an email than an IM”
        Yes! On the in-house IM , project managers used to ping me with a quick “can you take on some work?” – well it was quick for them, but a loaded question for me. If “some work” then turns out to be something that’s not at all my sort of thing, that’ll take me twice as long because I hardly ever do that stuff, I’ll regret saying yes. So I’d end up saying, “depends, what for?” and getting the info bit by bit “right, and the deadline?”, “right and the wordcount?”
        Whereas in fact as per ISO process they had to send me an email with all that info in it, and I had to reply to that email to give my formal consent, so why couldn’t they just do that straight off? I ended up never logging into the IM system.

    4. L*

      Same here. I don’t get many e-mails but the quicker I respond, the quicker whoever needs that information/data/etc has it and I can get back to doing things that are less quick to deal with.

      1. Prosaic*

        Same for me. 95% of my e-mails are easy to answer, and I hate thinking that I’m the one holding up an action item.

        The other 5%, I still usually respond back ASAP with an acknowledgement and an estimated timeframe on when I’ll back to them.

      2. TardyTardis*

        Ditto. For one thing, when I help people out in the Iowa office, well, they’re usually very happy when I need help, too. (thinking back to Night Court, and the Samoan guy rushing in with “Mac, here’s that file”. You sort of got the feeling that clerk was the Radar O’Reilly/Klinger of court clerks).

    5. Dr. Doll*

      Ooof, 90% of my emails demand serious and considered attention. That’s why I can’t have them popping up all day long.

      1. Wakeen Teapots, LTD*

        I think this is why “how emails should be handled efficiently” topic is so controversial. Obviously if I had to stop to research, think, compose, respond, I couldn’t shoot emails off all day. So the nature of your work demands one process and the nature of my work demands a very different one.

        I’m usually answering questions about immediate events, also. Someone quoting a customer on a large order right now can’t wait for an answer three hours from now.

        Interesting conversation.

    6. midnightcat*

      I personally don’t appreciate immediate emails with an estimate of when someone will answer – as you’ve just wasted my time with a totally superfluous email when you could have just waited to reply.

      1. Teapot Librarian*

        I agree with this to a point, but I appreciate when the email is like “this is going to take me a while, but I should get back to you by the end of next week”…that gives me a sense of when I should follow up if I haven’t heard back. And also manages my expectations. On the other hand, if it’s “I’ll respond to you by 1pm this afternoon,” yeah, that’s annoying.

        1. Kikishua*

          I find that BECAUSE I am generally quick to reply, I get chased up more quickly – including on the same day as the original email (even when it could wait). That is a bit irritating.

  2. AGD*

    I’m like this too. If I keep up with my email as it comes in, no problem. If I let it sit for 18-24 hours without peeking in and only then open it, I feel super behind and spend way too much time trying to figure out what to do in what order.

    1. Kimmy Schmidt*

      This is me too. I tried the “sort it into folders” method and then I forget to check the folder or what I called the folder or where to stick stuff.

      1. Junger*

        I do like the foldering for proper archiving or sorting out automated info emails (which I got a lot of in my last job).

      2. Not A Girl Boss*

        I have started using folders but only once it’s dealt with. So anything in my inbox is “to be dealt with” and I’m pleasantly surprised at how well it’s working as long as I do take time to keep up with sorting.

        I used to rely on unread vs read, but sometimes I’d accidentally mark things as read and forget about them.
        And I tried using the task flags, which I love in theory, but I always forgot to clear them and then they became meaningless clutter.

        1. Kaizzam*

          I also use folders for “Done with this” and my inbox for outstanding tasks or things to follow up on. My main system for keeping my inbox tidy is categories! I set one up for every major project and a “catch-all” for random things. Anything new comes in without a category, I find it also helps with Vacation Inbox, I’ll categorize everything before I read any of it so I can be methodical about which project I get up to speed on.

          Double benefit is that I use the categories in my calendar too so I can quickly see how much red/blue/green my week is and know exactly how much time to expect from each project. (Or which vacation emails to read first!)

          1. Project Manager*

            My problem is I have multiple roles and interact with the same project in different ways from each role (think being the manager of the new Swiss chocolate teapot that is just going into production but also being the lead responsible for all spout-pot integration (and yes, I have been late on a delivery to myself. In my defense, I had requested a last minute software update from myself)). I finally gave up on trying to decide if a given email fits into bucket A or bucket B and just created a single archive for all technical emails. Makes sorting things out way faster.

            1. Not A Girl Boss*

              I definitely think it doesn’t work if the categories get too narrow, that’s a trap I fall into myself. I make liberal use of the search tool and try to keep my sorting files to 5 ish.

    2. Quill*

      Same but also I have a terrible problem of ALSO having to deal with a sharepoint system that is… dense and hard to work with at best. And though I sympathise with everyone else on my team who has to look at the site with their own human eyeballs, the majority of my questions about it can be boiled down to “can you PLEASE check the sharepoint for this item before you ask me if I’ve ordered it yet / recieved it yet, I cannot find this item quickly as you seem to think with the way our filters are set up. Tell me the ordering details, not the project name, project name is unsearchable!”

    3. TardyTardis*

      I used folders for ‘which plant wants something’ which helped me look up multiple things for the same people at the same time.

  3. Jennifer*

    Yeah, as long as it’s not disruptive to your day it’s not weird. I just couldn’t get any work done if I had to stop my work every time an email came in, so I’m one of those “leave it for a certain time” people.

    1. Krabby*

      Me too. I clear out my inbox first thing in the morning, right after lunch, and again before I log off for the night.

      I’d go insane otherwise.

    2. It is a big deal.*

      I kinda want to shake my fist at anyone who can be doing an intense task, quickly switch to email, and switch back to the intense task without missing a beat. When I have to switch too much, I just get really confused and waste a lot of time sitting around in a daze.

        1. Quill*

          And during covid I seem to get my brain doing the error 404, previous thought not found, with the mere flicker of a notification.

        2. Peace and tennis*

          Well, I am one of those people that responds quickly, and I ALSO am one of those people that when I return to the intense task, says “What was I doing? Why is that document open? Who am I? Where am I?” lol.

    3. allathian*

      Yeah, me too. If something’s truly urgent, the sender will IM me to say that there’s an urgent email. This happens once a month or less, so my response time seems to be good enough for my internal clients.

  4. Jennifer*

    Alison’s point about training people to expect super-fast answers from you is also something to think about. You may not always be able to send responses this quickly. When people get spoiled this way, they seem to melt down when things change. I’ve noticed sometimes people also always go to the lighting-fast email people for things they could easily do or figure out themselves.

    1. MsMaryMary*

      I am pretty quick to respond to emails, but there are a couple clients where I’m careful not to respond too quickly. It’s a way of managing expectations. I’m not always at my desk and able to respond immediately, so I don’t want to condition them into thinking I can always answer their email in 5 minutes. Of course, I work with tons of reasonable people who don’t read into my response time! But there are those needy people where you need to build up boundaries.

      1. Nonprofit Nancy*

        This could also be a schedule-send opportunity. I do it with a creepy client who is always too up in my biz, but I don’t want to forget to reply, either, so I schedule my response for the afternoon when he may have chilled out a little. If I respond too quickly he often instantly replies and tries to draw me into email chatting :(

        I wish you could schedule send a text on my phone for the same reason.

        1. Ashley*

          Schedule send is awesome for problems like this. I also use it alot for people that work different schedules where because I am still in the office at 5 that doesn’t mean that I want them responding that night, but it frees my brain capacity of the nagging to do item. I have even scheduled send emails a week out for a project someone is starting but sending the information when I know who is assigned the project is to soon.

        2. Not A Girl Boss*

          I have an app on my phone for scheduled sending! It’s perfect because my husband can’t really text during the day except for emergencies, but sometimes I want to remind him to pick something up on his way home or ask him to call on his lunch break.
          I also use it when I’m working out alone, I set it to text him that there’s a problem if I don’t cancel it within X minutes.
          I have an Android and the app is “do it later” I don’t know if there’s an apple version

        3. Gray Lady*

          Schedule send is also great for those times when you want to make sure you get something done by an early deadline, or want to respond to a social interaction when it’s on your mind, but don’t necessarily want people to know you’re on your computer/phone at 2 a.m. (for reasons of your own).

    2. Alianora*

      Yes – I used to be like the OP, but my workload dramatically increased and I wasn’t able to reply to things as quickly. Some people didn’t react well to that, so now I let most emails sit for a bit before replying in order to manage expectations. Only my immediate coworkers who have proven themselves to have reasonable expectations get the super-quick replies.

      I also discovered it’s a lot more efficient to batch similar tasks instead of interrupting myself to reply to emails all the time, so now I have dedicated “email times.”

    3. beancat*

      This happened to me before in a previous job. I got very quick at turning around the Starfleet requisition forms – I could often get them signed by the appropriate Captains and returned within a few hours when they normally had a hold time of 24 hours. This meant that when things got busy and we were under attack by the Romulans I couldn’t get the forms out as quickly. Some people sending me the forms would get angry they wouldn’t be returned within a few hours like they were used to with me, though it had always been meant to be a waiting period of one business day. I was directed by the Captains to remind people of that and told that I could wait a while before returning the forms.

      1. Jessica will remember in November*

        You rule. I have been swamped lately and have so many emails I need to do something about, and right now all I want to do is set up an autoresponse explaining that I’ll get back to people when I can but right now we’re under attack by the Romulans.

        1. SarahBeth*

          This is amazing and I cant stop laughing at it.
          Maybe I’ll be under attack by the Romulans the next time I’m OOO.

        2. Quill*

          Too bad my boss hasn’t watched Star Trek because I’m tempted to respond to the next request for a status update with “I’m givin’ her all we’ve got, Cap’n!”

        3. limoncello day*

          About a year ago, when I first started at my current job, one of our PMs was OOO and sent me a heads up msg that read something like, “Helping my pet llama’s broken leg heal,” or something to that effect. The people who knew him got that it was a joke, but I was under the impression this guy had a bleeding heart for llamas and like maybe ran a farm or something… till a few weeks later when he also had an OOO msg saying : “I’m out of the office undergoing experimental surgery to become the world’s first Centaur and will be returning on Wednesday 09/04/2019”

          Talk about an “Ooooooh” moment as a newbie..

    4. CSD*

      This! I am also very quick with email – and I’ve had to rein it back for some clients to manage their expectations of what is possible. It’s also to set some boundaries against when I could or would want to reply, and to level things out for the rest of my team when they are covering for me or managing a more technical part of the client reply. As long as the rest of your work is handled, and you’re not creating more work for yourself by being the first to reply or replying too quickly for another perspective to be considered, I think it’s fine!

    5. Saberise*

      I guess if one is concerned about this and have the the ability to they could add a rule to the email program that outgoing mail is delayed by X number of minutes with a exception. That way you could still answer it right away but they won’t know you did. I have a 2 minutes delay on mine more for those times I forget to add an attachments, change my mind about sending it, etc Built into the rule is that it will send out right away if I have my initials separated with periods like S.A.S in the body of the email.

      1. Hello, I'd like to report my boss*

        I use the 2 minute delay but sometimes I want things to go at once (eg very short email, end of the day). I’ll have to look into a rule to make it send instantly if it has a particular sign off of similar – great idea!

    6. Moose on skates*

      I am VERY fast to respond to emails… so I schedule them to go out in a couple hours. It helps set the expectation that it isn’t always an instant response.

    7. Stormy Weather*

      Exactly. It’s about setting expectations. This is why I will write my answer right away and and schedule the delivery for an hour in the future.

    8. TardyTardis*

      “Captain, it’ll take me five hours to fix the engine!”–Scotty did explain how to manage expectations on the Enterprise on the episode where he showed up in NextGen.

  5. Ali G*

    Oh man i am just the opposite. I burn through emails in spurts, but if I am working on something else, I do not want to switch tasks to answer an email!
    But if it works for you, that’s cool. I would only caution one thing: I have an employee that definitely favors speed over all else (she is 2 hours behind and she feels like she needs to catch up all the time). A few times she’s answered an email, without check internally first, or without checking if there were later emails. It’s caused a little bit of problems, nothing major, but it definitely can give off an air of our org not being internally coordinated. So, as long as you aren’t missing something by answering right away, or maybe need to check on something else before firing off, you are probably fine.

    1. MsMaryMary*

      This is a great point too! Some of my coworkers are not great with email, and it drives me nuts when they respond to the first email they see without realizing an entire conversation has happened, via email, after that initial message.

      1. Respectfully, Pumat Sol*

        I solve this by having my outlook organized by “conversations” so it groups all emails in the same conversation into one thread!

      2. Nonprofit Nancy*

        I am so guilty of this if I’m getting back form being out of the office. Always feel like such a chucklehead, you’d think I’d learn.

        My least favorite is the person who responds to the first sentence but clearly started skimming after that (perhaps in an effort to “beat the buzzer” I’m thinking now) and missed a bunch of stuff.

        1. Saberise*

          My go to if I’ve been out of the office is to have the program “clean up” my inbox. That way I can first read the most recent email and scan through the prior ones to see the current status. But I’m an admin asst and often find that if I was gone for very long if it also went to the person I support they have already resolved it without me.

        2. tutsi*

          I’m with you, but I’m also naturally a slow person, preferring to double and triple-check replies. And being non-native English speaker, I know that I make mistakes. That’s the hardest part, feeling like you are not communicating well enough for the people around you. Always on my mind.

    2. NotAnotherManager!*

      My former boss used to do this – he’d be away in meetings or other manager-y level work, and we’d be minding the shop and working through incoming requests. Then, he’d come back and respond to and initial request from hours ago when we’d already responded, completed the task, and set the requester a completion notice with any pertinent metrics. We finally had to sit him down and explain why this was a bad look for everyone and ask him to knock it off. Overall, he was an excellent boss, very receptive to feedback, just with a few bad habits we had to train him out of.

    3. MistOrMister*

      I agree with your caveat that speed for it’s own sake is not helpful. There are a few people I hate emailing because, while they will respond quickly, they almost never address the issue I emailed about in the first place. It is beyond frustrating to always get a partial answer. Or one that is completely off the grid. People like that need to slow down and put more thought in their responses.

      On the other hand, I know some people like OP who respond very quickly and usually I appreciate that a lot. It lets me close the loop while the idea/issue is still fresh in my mind!

  6. Similarly Situated*

    I am definitely this person. I picked it up from my boss, and it’s served me well for the most part. It’s only awkward when responding to someone who took a while to send whatever it is I’m replying to. I always worry it comes across as passive aggressive. On occasion, I’ll write my reply then delay the email in outlook just to avoid being annoying.

  7. ducklet*

    I’m like this too! Recently I’ve been making more use of the “schedule send” feature – I write the response immediately, and schedule it to send in a day or two in some cases, when I know the expectation is not that I respond right away.

  8. Please make it stop*

    I am the fast responder in my office, both in emails and Slack. This is frequently mentioned in meetings “Please Make It Stop is your best bet if you need a fast answer”. We’re a global company, and I will even wake up in the middle of night and respond to Slack messages (my job does involve life or death situations on a daily basis, so I listen for messages closely and once I’m already awake, I might as well respond to simple questions). I just found out that new people are told by their managers when they start that if they have something that can wait they should not reach out via Slack in my overnight hours. In general, interrupting what I’m doing to shoot of a quick answer is less stressful for me than seeing that I have unread messages.

    However, I did have one passive agressive coworker that I realized had a pattern of asking me detailed questions 15 minutes after the end of my day on Fridays and almost always for things I could tell she knew about sooner, but had waited to ask. For that person, I would force myself to not respond until Monday. The one time she got huffy about not getting a response, I pointed out that it was something she had known about for weeks and letting me know then meant she would have what she needed long before her deadline.

    1. Circe*

      Many, many kudos to you for doing a job that has you on call so much of the time. Also, I cannot believe someone could be that petty…

    2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      yeah, I had clients who would definitely fall in the “give ’em an inch, they’ll take a yard” zone so I made sure never to answer too quickly. It might be that I see their email when I have an hour to spare, so I might as well shoot off an answer. But then the next day I might have a ton of other projects to handle and they get pushed to the bottom of the pile, and can’t understand why I don’t deal with it as quickly as the day before.
      One client sent something late Friday afternoon, wanting something dealt with within the hour so she could go home after checking that box. I told her she’d have to wait until Monday morning. She was none too happy but agreed. I made a start on her work, to check whether I needed her input on any of the points, and indeed, sent her a question. I saw that she had opened the email, but she didn’t bother to answer it – she had only opened it because she was hoping to see that I’d managed to fit her job in after all. She saw there was no attachment and just closed it again without reading my question. Then come Monday, she’s asking for her file, and I tell her I’m still waiting for the answer to my question. At which point she lied and said she’d never seen the question. Hmmph!

  9. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

    I’m like the OP. I respond to emails almost immediately, even if it’s an ETA on when I should have a full answer or will send the requested file. And now with remote working, I have Teams open all day too and use the chat feature frequently to collaborate. Unfortunately, I’ve trained myself to expect others to answer at least within the same work day if there’s no out-of-office or if a shared calendar or Teams status indicates they are working/available. I can’t stand those that let my email sit for days. I know that the longer it sits the lower down the inbox it goes and maybe they’ll miss it completely. I’m not socially chatty on work email so every message I send does indeed need a response.

  10. Respectfully, Pumat Sol*

    I have ADHD, I have to respond to emails as soon as I get them or I forget they exist completely. I typically respond to an email in under 5 minutes, unless I am in a meeting. Having unread notifications gives me a lot of anxiety. That being said, 90% of what I get emails about are either quick questions I can answer easily OR things I can immediately delete. The things that require more research or need other people to chime in about get flagged for later follow up and usually get a response of “Let me look into that.” I have definitely trained my team to expect quick responses from me, but in my job as a project manager that’s a good thing. I balance this by having otherwise very good boundaries. Once I log off for the day, I am off for the day and don’t check email or other notifications.

    1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      I have to respond to emails as soon as I get them or I forget they exist completely. I typically respond to an email in under 5 minutes, unless I am in a meeting. Having unread notifications gives me a lot of anxiety.

      This, this, and this. I inbox-zero – anything that’s left in my inbox means I still have to do something with it, and that makes me twitchy.

      1. MayLou*

        This is me! Yesterday I was back at work after four days off and I spent the entire day getting my inbox clear. I can’t think straight if there are emails waiting.

    2. AnonInTheCity*

      I’m the same, including the ADHD. Being cced on giant email chains that I don’t really need to take action on but should probably read and understand drives me bananas because I’m never sure when I’m “done” with them and can file them away.

      That said, I really did have to do some re-training at my last job when I went on maternity leave because I had a group of folks who were used to having their requests handled within 10 minutes, and it just wasn’t going to happen when I was out.

  11. Nessun*

    I use my inbox the exact same way – as an organizing tool and to check things off my to-do list. I flag items for follow up and collapse categories to keep it neat; if it goes over one “page” (needing to scroll to see emails other than those categorized and collapsed), I get really antsy! But it works well for me, because it keeps items top of mind at the top of the page, and I’m in my email all day. My boss needs quick responses, so this is the system I like best.

    I do agree with Alison about taking care to not jump in too soon; I’ve had to learn that with my direct reports, so I can give them time to respond. And I have one dotted-line boss who will fire off an email, then add another one with second idea about the same item, and then another email changing her mind…so I’ve learned that for her, I need to wait at least 24 hours before commenting unless she needs something urgent (and then I pick up the phone).

  12. Adminatory*

    I am the opposite type but as long as it works for you and your team, it should be fine. I would only caution to not email for email’s sake or to defend one’s position. Had my fair share of colleagues and myself replying fast without aligning, ending up with email chains when a call or later reply would be better.

  13. NW Mossy*

    The scenario where quick responses bother me are when the response makes it clear that the sender didn’t spend enough time to fully grasp what they were being asked. If you’re responding so quickly that you’re not answering the questions completely or have to send 3 more emails to add additional info or clarify a poorly articulated point, that’s an issue. But if your quick emails effectively end the interaction, you’re fine.

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      Ugh, the I-didn’t-read-your-email people. My spouse had to take a break from work earlier this week after a few rounds of dealing with someone who didn’t read the information he sent them (and was then condescending to him about not taking basic steps to solve his own problem… when it was pretty clear from the request sent that he had and it didn’t work and now he needed someone with greater rights/expertise).

      Spouse: “Hey, I’m having trouble corralling the llamas and was hoping you could help. I tried waving my hands around at them, like we usually do, but they won’t move. Is there a different technique I can try? I also can’t seem to get the gate open – the code has changed since I last accessed it on X date. Can you send me the new gate code, too?”

      Other guy: “You corral llamas by waving your arms around. Why didn’t you try that before emailing me? I’m really busy. You should have opened the gate to give them a place to go. It’s really easy for anyone who knows what they’re doing to move them.”

      Spouse: “Sure, I can try arm waving again with the gate open. Can you send me the updated code?”

      Other guy: “You must not be waving your arms the right way. Llamas always respond to handwaving, when it’d done in the right form. I really don’t have time to hold your hand through this process.”

      Rinse, lather, repeat until my spouse took an early lunch break to cool off.

      1. TechWorker*

        Recently I had an email chain that did 3 rounds of:

        Decision maker: ‘Can someone summarise’
        Summary provided
        Lack of response
        Follow up query including one updated detail
        Decision maker: can someone summarise?
        (Rinse and repeat)

        I was a bit like yes, I have done, multiple times… this was someone on around the same level so not *so* senior that they didn’t have time to read down 2 emails in the chain..

    2. Peace and tennis*

      Yes, agree 100%. I’m totally guilty of sending 3 more emails to add additional info, so it is definitely worth it to wait a little bit on some emails to make sure I’m not forgetting anything or if I’m adding everything I need to. Ugh, I’m sorry on behalf of all people like me.

  14. Ann Cognito*

    It’s so good to hear that there are people who like to respond promptly, or at least prepare an answer right away, even if it doesn’t get sent immediately. I do this, and it’s always worked for me – my email is an organizational system! Of course, if I’m in meetings or away from my computer/phone for whatever reason, of course it has to wait then.

    Over the past few years, so many of the books about productivity say that the only way to be productive is to be rigorous about it, and *only* check emails at set times during the day. That wouldn’t work for my job anyway, since there are often urgent issues that come up, that require a fast turn-around time. But I’ve felt slightly ashamed that I don’t just check email at set times! If I don’t do it, it takes up brain space, this nagging, constant little voice humming away that I’ve got outstanding emails.

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      I think it really depends on what your job is as to whether the set email hours thing works. It definitely does not in my industry, which has a client-facing aspect. I have a coworker who very rigidly adheres to their “email hours”, and they are perceived as being slow to respond and not being able to prioritize urgent requests properly. I don’t know them well enough to give them this feedback (and they don’t report to me), but it’s going to be bad for them when a VIP emails during their non-email time and ends up waiting hours for even an acknowledgement.

    2. Wakeen Teapots, LTD*

      Yeah, I’ve read that advice “everywhere” and I think it is hogwash (as blanket advice). I’m sure it is good advice for a subset of people but it would be terrible advice in my industry (the fast paced world of Teapots) and bad advice for my job.

      I’ll challenge anyone to a productivity contest. Part of my high efficiency is settling matters quickly and not letting them drag out!

    3. Cedrus Libani*

      There are jobs where you’re meant to be on top of things. There are also jobs where you’re meant to get to the bottom of things. These require very different workflows.

      There’s a strain of Silicon Valley elitism that will tell you that “maker” work, where you’re head down, headphones on, lost in the code for hours at a time, is the only REAL work. That’s not true. People who deal with the logistics of running a business and selling stuff are also doing real work. I’m a maker; there’s stuff I just can’t do if other people can context-switch me at will, so I do need the right to ignore the world for a few hours at a time. But if your job is best done with one eye on your inbox, that’s fine too.

  15. Detective Amy Santiago*

    OP & Alison – you are my people!

    I absolutely cannot stand unread emails in my inbox. If I don’t need to take action on them, they get filed for reference. If I do need to take action, they stay in my inbox until they’re done. If it just requires a quick reply, I reply right away.

    1. Nonprofit Nancy*

      Ugh I so want to be this kind of person. I leave unread emails in my inbox forever. I am also cc-d on a lot of emails that don’t require any action from me, and I vaguely feel like I’d be wasting too much time to go through them all and file or delete them – like, that would be an hour out of my idea on emails that didn’t really need me to do anything about them. But as a consequence my inbox is messy and I have missed an email that I wanted to see in the past. I keep promising that in a future job I’ll be like you Amy.

      1. Jennifer Thneed*

        Make a folder for the month. Offload things like those cc’s out of your inbox into that folder daily or once a week or so. Do it again for the next month, and so on. Now if you need to find something, you have it handy, but it’s not in your inbox cluttering up your thinking.

  16. BridgeNerdess*

    This is completely preferential and if it works for you, great! I love a prompt response, but if I’m using email I definitely don’t expect it.

    I went the opposite way. I turned off all email notifications so I only know I have email when I maximize Outlook. It has been such an improvement in productivity and stress! Try it for a week. You don’t realize how distracting the notifications and reminders are until you turn them off. I will never go back. However, I have had to remind people that if they need an immediate answer to use our messaging system or give me call. I check email multiple times a day and whenever I’m transitioning tasks. I’ll keep email up on one screen if I’m expecting information from someone as well. I also respond to email immediately when I do read it. I follow a “touch it only once” mentality to things like email, paper mail, bills, errands, etc. Another stress reducer to keep the small things from building up and hanging over your head.

    I should mention that I’m a technical engineer, so I regularly need 1-2+ hours of uninterrupted time to focus, which I recognize isn’t most jobs.

    1. Jennifer Thneed*

      I like the little envelope icon in the corner of the screen, but I do NOT want anything that animates, fades into view, chimes, anything like that. I check my email plenty and I don’t need it nagging me — because that is SO distracting.

    2. miss chevious*

      I also turned off all of my email notifications and generally use “email hours” to go through my inbox and prioritize/respond to low-hanging fruit, but I’m a corporate lawyer and if I spent my time answering “urgent” emails and providing status updates, I wouldn’t have time to get any of the more complicated stuff done. I’m also in my inbox all the time throughout the day for the information I need for my project work, so I will generally see something truly urgent when it arises, so I don’t have much risk there. This is what works for me and my clients, though, and isn’t blanket advice for every lawyer in every field or company.

  17. Nonprofit Nancy*

    Only other comment, if you’re often emailing at irregular hours, it’s nice to use schedule-send for those emails. I do it all the time, if only because it makes me look *great* to be sending emails at 8AM (so efficient! A morning person!), versus weird and sad at 9PM haha. Just my two cents.

  18. Quick draw McGraw*

    OP here, and I am so relieved to see so many replies from people who are the same. I agree that being a fast email responder skews my expectations slightly, so I am often wondering “Why did it take someone 7 days to acknowledge a message I sent them?” (Literally, please respond to confirm receipt of this message), leading me down the path of wondering if I am the weird one…

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      Today I finally got an answer about an issue that I first reached out about FOUR MONTHS AGO. It was a never-ending email chain with people being added all the time and no one would make a freaking decision.

      I also find that some departments I need to obtain info from won’t respond until my 3rd email when I CC my director. It’s infuriating, but she is okay with being CC’d like that though I can’t even imagine what her inbox looks like. It would probably make me cry.

    2. NotAnotherManager!*

      My spouse and I compare notes on this all the time – my org expects response times like the ones you provide; his does not. His work is routinely held up by people who take a week to get back with him, and I’d be crawling the walls by then. I have one peer who is very unresponsive – you either get an immediate response or hear nothing for a week (or, my favorite, never get one) – and I just do not know how they get away with it as my boss would be having a chat with me if I routinely failed to respond in a timely manner (or at all! I mean, I cannot even imagine having THAT conversation).

    3. Grace Poole*

      One of my colleagues is a super-fast responder. We were discussing a mutual response to a project we’re working at 10 AM, and after he sent it at noon, he private emailed me to apologize for the delay. I wouldn’t have sent the thing until the end of the day. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

  19. Dream Jobbed*

    I have to answer right away, or it gets lost in the deluge and forgotten. The joys of ADD.

    I’m not the only one, since it seems to be very hard to get anyone to answer a question at my workplace without a second e-mail.

    So fast is good! Don’t stop.

  20. Llama face!*

    I’m with you and Alison.
    I despise those unread email notifications/indicators so I will also respond very quickly- or at least mark the email as read & flag it for myself if I need to respond later. However I do have a couple of email correspondents for whom I will deliberately delay my responses (one because they annoy me and I need to mentally draft a more polite response and the other because the things they ask usually require me to exit my current work to look up information for them).

  21. Dust Bunny*

    I do most of my work on the computer and usually respond to emails very quickly, because I’m already sitting right there and might as well do it now as later. Once in awhile I might be away from my desk for awhile or I might need to ask my boss before I reply, but probably 75% of the time I respond within a few minutes.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      I don’t respond after hours, though. I could, but unless it’s an email from one of my coworkers that needs attention for logistical reasons (like, they’re telling us they have a family emergency and won’t be in the next day) I leave it until the next morning.

  22. LoneHR*

    I’m the same way. If it’s in my inbox, then it’s on my to-do list. I’ve found that it helps in circumstances when I am very busy. If i don’t respond right away, people tend to know that I’ve got a lot on my plate and respect that. My CEO always says that as long as I’m getting my work done, that’s all that matters.

  23. Mid*

    I just want to give a shoutout to Alison, because her speedy responses have been wonderful. I had emailed her about an issue that was tough, and her response was so quick and helped me a lot. I really appreciate you.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Uh oh — just to manage expectations, that is not my norm when it comes to my AAM email account! I look at messages there regularly, but those often sit for a very long time! (That account is totally separate from the rest of my email.)

      But that is nice to hear regardless!

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        And actually, the way I treat that account gives me some understanding of people who let their email sit with hundreds of unread messages in it. Nothing in there will be anything I *have* to see and respond to today, and it gets so many messages a day that it would be impossible to answer things as they come in, so it’s very much “out of sight, out of mind” except when I specifically decide it’s time to go into it. Which is the exact opposite of how I handle the rest of my email. Hmmm.

  24. C in the Hood*

    I’m the same exact way. Except yesterday, I’d received an email that TICKED ME OFF! So I decided to let it sit overnight so I could cool down & answer it professionally. I would say that anxiety/emotion provoking emails should sit a bit first.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I always answer an email immediately still when I’m heated. BUT my twist is that I let it sit in drafts for awhile. Do my walk and possibly gather more perspective. Then I go back and re-read my response, see if it’s still fitting after my “thoughts” are collected before sending.

      I have rarely ever let anything seriously rot for a day because it will ruin my entire day and make me dread the morning. No, I’ll keep all the crummy stuff within that one day, so I can sulk into a pint of cider after work and then it’s done-done most likely since things don’t tend to haunt us in our line of work. [Meaning constant things that will pop up over and over again, it’s just weird sticky situations or annoying persons as they come and then get them outta here as quickly as possible!]

    2. NotAnotherManager!*

      I had to chat with HR recently about a scorcher we both got, and I ended up handling it for a variety of reasons, but, as I told HR, that was NOT my first response. That was about my third one. (Because at no point is, “Are you effin’ kidding me with this?” an appropriate management response, especially in writing.)

      1. Quill*

        Yup, was there this week too except I’m the peon who has to find a way to tell their boss that the whole situation is bullhockey

      2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        My go to is “It’s okay, I handled it. I told them to kick rocks, but of course in a kind professional way. I didn’t literally say to kick some effing rocks.”

        But everyone here has seen me verbally dress down someone who decides they want to test us. We’re a firm believer in the “You can’t speak to us that way” mentality and my threshold for language and tone is pretty high, so they know when I’m done, it’s because they went “that far”.

    3. Quill*

      Typed “literal minded fools” into an email yesterday, quit, went to smack the printer a few times, came back, and replaced it with “our contacts at” before sending.

  25. PSB*

    I’ve always found it easy to focus, keep my work and my time organized and switch between tasks without losing track of what I’m doing.

    I just want to say how deeply jealous I am of the OP for this ability.

  26. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    My job by nature is one where you need to switch tasks relatively easily. Multi-tasks when you’re multi-hats, you could say. So I’m exactly the same way as you are, OP. I’ve had zero issues with it. If someone snaps at me on the day that I don’t respond as quickly as they would have liked, I’m also in the position to say “Your frustration is not my problem, plan things better next time, don’t expect me me to be there at a drop of a hat.”

    My ADHD works for me in this way as well, which I know is NOT the case with everyone else with it. I have to be in a real “zone” to do the certain tasks that do require limited interruptions but hammer them out in spurts, with a closed door and ear phones if necessary. If the 5 hours a week that I’m tapped in is too much for someone, they’re precious and I’m not changing for their whimsically needy ways!

    I have had maybe 8 issues with particular personalities clashing with my work processes. All of them when forwarded or told to my colleagues or bosses are met with a “Well aren’t they special, what a bizarre way to react on their part!”

    We all work in different ways. You also don’t want to be the person who drags their feet and never answers emails in a timely manner. In the end, you’ll be damned if you do, damned if you don’t in someone’s mind. Do what feels right, makes you feel the most productive and that is in step with your managers/direct colleagues expectations.

    My boss is the CEO and he also answers emails basically immediately. Nobody thinks he’s not busy, I promise you that he is not twiddling thumbs, I’m fully aware of what he does over all and feel comfortable in this assessment. Whereas other bosses, were slow to respond and certainly redecorating their beach houses on the phone with their spouse all day long. Just saying.

  27. lemon*

    I think if the emails are only sent to you, it’s totally fine to be fast. I take a hybrid approach– I respond to things that easy to take care of usually right away. But if it’s more involved, or requires some thought, I flag for follow-up, and then I review where I’m at on those twice a day– once in the morning, once at the close of the day.

    However, like Alison notes, when it’s an email with multiple people on it, it’s really annoying when my manager is always the person to answer first. I’m pretty sure that she just has ADHD and doesn’t intend any ill will, but it still makes me feel undermined or like I’m not being very useful/helpful. And it can also be confusing and duplicate efforts. We both share responsibility for a shared inbox. It’s pretty clear to me which requests I’m supposed to handle, so I try to categorize them quickly and flag for follow up, so that my manager knows that I’m going to get to them. But she still often manages to respond before me (especially because she answers email at night whereas I’m very adamant about turning off email after 6pm). Often, the only way that I can tell she’s responded is that I’ll go to write a response and Outlooks shows you that “you responded to this on X date” notice. That’s really frustrating when I spent 30 minutes researching how to solve a problem, only to find out that it’s already taken care of.

    So, just stuff to keep in mind about how it can impact others if you’re a fast responder on group/shared emails.

  28. Middle Manager*

    I’m this kind of person. I got some great advice awhile back on one of the Friday threads about group emails when I was “claiming” too many of them by being first to respond. Folks suggested snoozing them. Unfortunately, I don’t have that feature, but I created an inbox folder just below my emails for “pause emails”. I don’t let it build up, don’t let anything sit in there for more than a day or so. But it’s been especially helpful for me to give my staff to take more ownership of things they can answer, even if they may not be able to answer quite as fast as I could.

    I have a good reputation in the organization and no one would ever think I’m not doing work just waiting around for emails. Sounds like that would be true for you too OP.

  29. velocisarah*

    I used to work in public relations/communications, so an hour to answer an email sounds perfectly reasonable in that circumstance – depending on the person emailing, I used to answer within minutes for stuff like a reporter’s question or a big media release that needed to go out that-day, vs. within the hour for internal clients with complicated questions or things I needed to check with my boss about first.

    Now that I work in a less public-facing role (and a tech-y role), I’m definitely the “fast emailer” of my team. I’ve had one of my bosses email me, walk over to ask me about the email they just sent, and in that time I’ve already answered the email lol. It’s been an adjustment with some of my co-workers who don’t even have their email open unless they want to check it (which I get for certain tasks but I think that would drive me bananas to do myself haha, I have my email up on my second screen at all times, even now that I don’t get 50-100 emails a day).

    So I echo others that what you’re describing is totally within the normal bounds of email answering, though I can definitely see how job role/industry could change where the average norm lies in your organization/industry.

  30. Veryanon*

    I’m usually pretty speedy in responding to emails, but there are times I’ll read through something and realize that it’s going to require a fairly significant time investment from me to respond (like if I need to research the answer or whatever). In that case, I’ll acknowledge receipt, but let the sender know that I’ll need some time to find the answer they’re requesting. I keep folders that I sort emails into once I’ve read them, and I also use flags for things that I want to be able to find quickly or need to follow up on.
    There are times when I’ll actually exit out of Outlook if I really need to focus on a project, just so I don’t feel compelled to stop and check every few minutes. But that’s uncommon.

  31. mynameisasecret*

    Agree with the last paragraph! If people always assume you’ll respond quickly, they might not give you a long enough turnaround time, and then if that’s the one time you can’t respond quickly, it might end up being a last minute rush.
    My other caveat would be if you have coworkers emailing you who you know are overworked and underwater, if they email you and you respond in 10 minutes every time, they might dread/put off emailing you because they know it will instantly be back on the top of their to-do list. Sometimes it’s nice to email someone and have like, at least a day before it’s immediately back in your inbox for your next reply. The “respond within an hour” practice means that no project can really be long-term, everything will be getting done within a day or two, and it can be harder to defend blocks of time for longer-term work if there’s a feeling of time pressure to be on email. Plus, if you reply quickly, it’s more likely to get nested on top of the sent message in a weird way that makes me not see it, or to simply disappear in my inbox. As someone who isn’t great with email when overwhelmed, slower replies do really help me out.

    1. mynameisasecret*

      Also I have the opposite problem from a few of the fellow ADHD commenters! My ADHD + billion other problems means I have almost no working memory capacity. If I respond to something, my brain interprets it as “done” so I will literally never remember it, ever again. If someone emails me and I don’t have time to respond, I can’t even OPEN it or I will never remember to do the thing requested in it. So if people respond too quickly for my workflow, I literally have to repeatedly forward it to myself over and over so it stays at the top of my inbox. Email is hard. ADHD is really hard. The only semi-solution I’ve found for myself is just telling people “If you don’t hear from me by x date please reach back out” and like, basically encouraging people to track their own requests to me.
      I sound like such an annoying employee, wow. I try to stay positive about what I am good at, and my current employer for some reason thinks I am doing a good job.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        See, I’m actually shocked that there are fellow ADHD folks here that are like me, with the anxiety “must do it right now” kind of response. I much more expected the trend to be more like your situation.

        It’s important to remember that all cognitive and medical things in general like ADHD aren’t one-size fits all. I know mostly those who don’t realize I have it because of how I seem to function and my mechanisms that work well, do not work for them :)

      2. HungryLawyer*

        Kudos to being self-aware and inviting folks to circle back if they haven’t heard from you! I wish more people did that. I always feel like I’m bugging people when I have to follow-up on a request. It would certainly ease my stress if some of my busier (and more forgetful) colleagues would proactively invite reminders.

      3. allathian*

        I don’t have ADHD but if I read an email and need to get back to it later, I’ll just flag it as unread again. Admittedly it doesn’t happen very often, because we have a ticketing system for deliverables. It’s mainly things like remembering to prep for a 1:1 with my boss or a department training day, etc. I guess it’s partly me being in denial because to be frank I’d rather skip most of them, except the 1:1 meetings. Currently I’m busy enough that I resent having to spend time at work on anything except actual work and our weekly team meetings (I’m only writing this post here because my computer’s processing a task that takes a while to do). Oddly enough, when I actually attend a development seminar or the like I can be cheerful and usually even find them at least somewhat useful. It’s just the idea of doing them that gets my hackles up for some odd reason. But I don’t show that at work, because it would get me flagged as having a negative attitude, which I may occasionally have, but it’s not a thing I want to be known for at work.

  32. LogicalOne*

    At my work, if the head of the company or any of the big wigs send out an email, many are quick to respond within a minute, two minutes, five minutes, 15 minutes or as fast as they can. Pretty much anyone that isn’t on the higher up chain that sends out an email will most likely get a response much later after it’s been sent for the most part. Makes ya wonder doesn’t it.

  33. Quick draw McGraw*

    OP again, just chiming in to add that I am conscious of not rushing to answer questions/messages on behalf of others without getting their input. But, what I do is almost immediately respond to the group email with a reply to a smaller group to confer about the answer. Overall, I am thinking I’ll do more scheduling of my emails to give folks a little more breathing room!

  34. YarnOwl*

    I typically respond pretty quickly to emails (like you, when I see one come in I usually read it right away and respond then if I can, so most of the time I would say my response time is definitely under 30 minutes), even if it’s just a “Sounds good, I will send this document back when I’ve made my revisions,” or “I’m not sure about this right now, let me find out and get back to you!”
    I mostly do it because I don’t like when I put an email out into the ether and then have no idea what’s going on with it (my job involves like 90% collaborating with others on content and it’s not uncommon for people to let bump up against deadlines), so I like to let people know what’s going on. I’ve never had anyone ever say anything or indicate that it’s weird and actually more than once had people email me and after I respond say things like, “I knew I could get a quick answer from you” or “Thank you for getting back to me so quickly.”

  35. TurtlesAllTheWayDown*

    My job is predicated on being responsive to my clients – not necessarily an hour, and I can use discretion when it comes to what needs a response/escalation ASAP and what can wait until later, or even the following day – but I’m a client manager, and such is life. To manage the clients. I admit to twinges of jealousy when I hear people who only check email once a day, but not for long because I do enjoy my job. However, part of “managing” clients IS sometimes not always jumping to their beck and call. On the flip side, an empty inbox is probably my number one goal in life!

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I haven’t found myself with any jealousy towards those who aren’t heavy email positions! I enjoy being pinged, it gives me some kind of weird satisfaction to be someone “needed” by another person to do their job. So whereas some may be all “must be nice not chained to email all day”, I’m the “I don’t want to be unchained, leave me here with my 5 email boxes to monitor, I’m fine!” :P

      This is why the one time I was salary and in a toxic wastedump of a job, it was murder on my soul to have put my email on my personal phone. I can’t not answer and it gives me anxiety to be away from my phone because I like being tethered!

  36. sdfsdfs*

    I also respond to email as soon as I receive it, will stop what I’m doing to answer emails. It gives me a nice mental break from whatever I’m currently doing, and feels good to send and check a little accomplished box.

  37. EasyPeasyLemonSqueezy*

    I’m a quick responder too because I am a BIG “inbox zero” fan. If anything IS in my inbox, it means it still has to be addressed. My boss is notoriously slow to respond and address issues, so I always have things in my inbox that I have to repeatedly ask him about. This is just one of the many contributors to my daily stress. :(

    1. WMG*

      I have a separate “waiting to hear back from others” folder so I can still get to Inbox Zero, but also keep track of that stuff.

  38. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

    I check pretty quickly to see what just triggered the little alert notification thingy. The challenge is that sometimes I ignore based on the subject line, which frequently means that if someone asks a new question instead of just saying “thanks” or whatever other no-pressure thing was happening under that old thread, they risk getting ignored.

  39. Aphrodite*

    I’m the same way as you and Alison, OP. But I almost always answer within minutes (0-10). I keep the email tab open so I can see when a message comes in, and I’d rather deal with it immediately because it doesn’t mentally interrupt me either.

  40. Gingerblue*

    Alison, I just wanted to say that I’d love to see more posts on productivity/working methods/etc. I’m finding this question and thread of people discussing how they handle their email really interesting.

  41. Phony Genius*

    I will often tend to respond quickly. However, under certain circumstances, I want the other party to think I am busy, so I will intentionally hold back, even if I can give a fast answer.

  42. KayZee*

    I answer very quickly too, but I don’t have notifications on. Nevertheless, if I’m not in meetings, I get back to people within the hour. People have come to rely upon me for all the answers, but at least they aren’t calling me on the phone or, Bob forbid, leaving me a voicemail like some kind of animal.

  43. Potatoes gonna potate*

    Wow, I never knew there was so much nuance in answering emails. I kept it pretty simple at my last job and reply asap whether it’s my boss, peer or subordinate or client.

    It was a huge personal thing for me to make sure my inbox was clean, like seeing so many notifications and unread emails can bring my shoulders around my ears. I’d have coworkers with 1000s of emails and I couldnt’ stand that. I would check emails on my phone on vacation as I felt 5 minutes daily would prevent hours of stressing when I’d come back. When it would get too much during tax season, I’d close the browser for a few hours. We had chat and people came up to each other so it wasn’t like I’d miss anything super important.

  44. Esmeralda*

    I don’t use email for organizing (one of my mentees was horrified to see how much email just lives in my inbox) but I do answer it quickly, in general. Then it’s off my plate, and it’s satisfying to get something DONE. That’s when I’m sure-sure about the answer and when it comes to just me. If it’s to a group, I have learned to hang back because sometimes my initial response is incorrect or incomplete.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Oh yeah, I answer pretty much immediately but I only file/clean my inboxes on occasion. Usually it’s a monthly or bi-weekly kind of task that I’ll begrudgingly do. But a lot of my boxes get a lot of auto-replies that I do keep because I have had people want to jaw at me for “well we didn’t get it, this isn’t our fault.” and I’m like “I have an auto reply saying you did though, so your system is a dick, don’t make this my fault! Pay us…” ;) so yeah, I keep auto-replies and “thank you” acknowledgements for receipt-value. Just in case. Also I hate deleting things…I’d rather just keep what may or may not be relevant to others at some point in the future.

      My “Zero” inbox isn’t a “clear” inbox it’s a “everything is read and has been replied where necessary. Thanks to labels and marking abilities, it’s all being handled at any given time within moments.

      1. IEanon*

        Yes, this is exactly how I operate! I have about 75 “unread” emails at any given time, which are more time-consuming things I’m working on and need to follow-up with. Everything else is responded to in a few minutes, but I only sort or archive a few different types of emails (certain requests, recurring issues, etc.).

      2. Pam*

        I tend to answer emails quickly. If I need to review something, I leave the message open, so I remember to answer it.

  45. Elenia*

    I hate phone calls so much I try to train people to email me by answering their emails quickly and efficiently whenver I can. :)

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      This is literally why my voicemail says “Leave a message or feel free to email me @”, most people get the hint and email me, hehehehe.

  46. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    Everyone works in different ways, so I wouldn’t be too concerned, UNLESS you’re the type of person to respond without fully reading and comprehending the content of the email. I used to work with someone who would shoot off a response so fast, she missed half of what I had asked/stated, and then there would be 10 emails back and forth before I got what I needed, when if she had taken the time to read and understand it the first time, it would have saved a lot of unnecessary emails and frustration.

  47. Spencer Hastings*

    I’m the worst of both worlds: I have the urge to read and respond right away, but I obsessively edit my responses before I send them.

  48. TotesMaGoats*

    I’m like this too. When I go on vacation, zero inbox. I try to go into the weekend with zero inbox. If I can respond in a minute and clear something out (i.e. get someone to go away) then it saves me time in the long run. I also meticulously organize my emails. I learned that the hard way in one of my first jobs. If something is in my inbox that means I need to do something with it. If I’m done, it goes in a folder.

    I am known for my responsiveness and people do appreciate it. I do set boundaries though. I’m not doing much on the weekends and I will hang back if I need my boss to respond to things first.

  49. Camellia*

    It also depends on corporate culture. I always warn new people that my current company treats email like an IM – you are expected to answer as quickly as possible.

  50. Heat's Kitchen*

    I used to be like you emailing back almost instantaneously. I had a boss (who I didn’t like for the record) who commented that she sometimes thought I responded without thinking/too quickly. IMO that was not the case, but I digress. I’m at a new company, and my boss only checks email twice a day and I’ve started doing the same. I removed notifications on my phone when I was on maternity leave four years ago, and have since turned off email notifications on my computer as well. If there is something urgent, that’s what IMs are for. EVerything else can wait ~12 hours. It’s SUPER freeing!

  51. HungryLawyer*

    Totally agree with everything Alison said. My co-worker often answers “reply all” email threads very quickly…but she doesn’t take the time to actually read the previous responses! She’ll reply to address the original question after someone has already answered it. It feels very performative, like she just wants to prove that she is online and checking her inbox. That’s the only time I get annoyed by someone answering emails lightning fast, ya gotta actually take the time to read ’em!

  52. IEanon*

    I had to train myself out of immediately answering emails that my supervisor is copied on, because I was told that I am “too quick and too helpful” and it puts people off. (Translation: it looks like I have info my boss doesn’t. Which is true because I do the day-to-day data work and they’re focused on big-picture stuff.) ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    Outside of that situation, I’ve only ever been told that answering quickly is a good thing and others appreciate getting a quick response. I find that I feel inefficient if I let anything sit for too long, especially if the info is easily accessible or top-of-my-head.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Your boss seems like a jackhole who shouldn’t be a boss…

      I’d love one of mine to try but I’m also quick to just go find another job and drop a resignation letter with exactly 2 weeks notice if they want to play games with me. Most aren’t as hair trigger as me…they’re lucky and why once in awhile someone will indeed want to try.

  53. Eether Eyether*

    I respond practically immediately. But my job is very e-mail dependent and deadline driven. If I don’t need to respond immediately, I tag it with a reminder to follow up.

  54. Betty (the other betty)*

    I find that being too responsive trains my clients to expect me to always be that responsive, and they’d get annoyed if I stepped away from my desk or was out of the office. Cue repeated phone calls asking why I hadn’t answered their emails… when I was at the dentist for an hour.

    Now I usually read and reply to emails right away, but I use the “send later” feature in gmail to, well, send later. Maybe in an hour, maybe the next morning. My clients have learned that I’ll reply to them within a day or so, and I get to take breaks.

  55. Quill*

    My email is a war zone right now because I have to spend most of the morning prioritizing overseas emails (so I can catch people in europe before the end of their work day) and then in the afternoon I have to catch up on everything that is U.S. based, strafing westward across the country to try and catch everyone here before they log off.

    Also, my email is just… a war zone due to people not using reply all and then me having to loop my boss back in on the argument I’ve been having with a vendor for a month.

    OP I envy you.

  56. Jennifer*

    Also, don’t expect me to answer your emails as quickly as you answer mine. I noticed that’s also an issue sometimes with the “zero inbox” people. I may not even see your response for a couple hours.

    1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

      I had a job where half my job involved being at my desk running the llama barn, and the other half of my job involved being in the actual barn or paddock covered in mud where there’s no Wi-Fi for me to even check email on my phone.

      I would get people who’d email me and then call the barn 10 minutes later, “Did you see my email? Why aren’t you at your desk? I need you at your desk. Why didn’t you answer me?”

      I am doing my job. It’s just that half of my job, has nothing to do with your job, so cool your jets.

  57. HelloHello*

    I check my email fairly constantly, but many of the emails I get require an hour+ work to respond to, so it just isn’t possible for me to reply super quickly. Even just figuring out how long a message is going to take me to respond to would require a bit of time (I’d need to read the entire message, think through how fast the request/project in question would take me to complete, prioritize that within the rest of my pending projects, and then estimate an ETA.) and it feels sort of silly to respond to every email “saw this will get back to you at some point” just for the sake of having a super quick response time.

    I try to set a 24 hour max response time for my emails, so I’m providing either a real reply or an ETA of when I’ll be able to reply within one business day, with exceptions for obviously urgent messages.

  58. Anonymous Educator*

    I’m also a quick responder to emails. I just don’t see a reason to delay responding. I mean, in some cases, I have to delay, because I don’t have an answer yet, but I flag those emails to get to later. If I can get it replied to right away, why let emails accumulate? I’ve seen all those “I finally got my inbox down to zero” celebrations, and I can’t relate. But if I didn’t respond to emails right away… yeah, I would have a ton of unanswered emails just piling up.

    In terms of whether people may get unreasonable expectations if you email back right away, can you delay sending? I know there’s a feature in Gmail now (and some companys and schools use G Suite) to schedule a send, so you can write the email right away, schedule the send, and have it send automatically an hour from now.

  59. 653-CXK*

    Same here…if I see an email, I will answer it immediately. If it’s informational, I’ll read it and then put it in the trash.

  60. Alex*

    This is also exactly how I work, and it drives my boss CRAZY because she is always asking how much time I spend on X or Y (not for any billable hours reasons, for other reasons that don’t quite make sense). I tell her, I can’t tell you. I never spend 10 minutes in a row working on the same task. That’s just how I am.

  61. Zephy*

    I have to open emails as they come in – I can’t stand to see the “unread messages” icon in the tray. A goodly number of the emails I get don’t require a response, but for the ones that do, I’ll flag them so they stand out when I scroll through my inbox if I’m not able to respond right away. Sometimes it’s because I’m knee-deep in something else or on the phone, sometimes it’s because the email is a to-do list and I have to do the things before I respond (part of the terribad feedback system I’ve described here in other comment threads).

    I have a partial folder sorting system in Outlook – there are certain kinds of notifications I receive that are always formatted a certain way, so I have rules set up to direct those messages into their own folders to make it easy to see when I have new tasks of that kind specifically, and to make it faster to search through those messages to find a particular one rather than having to search through my whole inbox. If I wanted to get really anal-retentive about it, I could probably set up a few more rules and folders, but I don’t think I could do Inbox Zero. The only reason I’ve managed to get my personal email to Inbox Zero is because I don’t get personal email from human beings anymore, just ads, lol.

  62. Mary Smith*

    I’d like to respectfully offer an opposing point of view on this one.
    1) I have a former coworker who responded to everything immediately and gots anxious if she has anything in her inbox unanswered. The problem with this is, she’d push her fellow coworkers to respond to things quickly too that either aren’t a priority in the face of other things or that warrant some careful thought before responding. Her quest for inbox zero shouldn’t equal an emergency on my part. I’m not sure if OP is doing this, it doesn’t sound like it, but just food for thought.
    2) Coworker above didn’t take time to carefully read emails and thus missed crucial details, which meant more back and forth and extra work for me/her coworkers and for her.
    3) Sometimes, if there are multiple people that need to chime in on an email and what I have to say may not be received well, I’ll wait and see if it works itself out (via other people’s responses) before I chime in.

    1. WellRed*

      Hmm. Did your former coworker mean she needed fast response or did she assume that no one was responding quickly? Either way, she sounds high maintenance and impossible to please.

  63. I'm just here for the cats!*

    At a previous job we had several email boxes that we covered for customer service. One for

  64. Quinalla*

    I take a hybrid approach. I’m not a “only check my email at certain times of day” but I also turn off notifications so emails don’t interrupt me. I always have it open, but when I need to focus I ignore it without worry for hours. When I’m not doing focus heavy tasks, but a bunch of quick tasks or tasks where I start something that takes a few minutes to download or calculate, I’ll do a few emails, switch back so I get the task switching and I am good at that when it isn’t heavy focus work. Everyone I work with will call/IM if I don’t answer and it is urgent, but I do like to respond to email quickly because it is my preferred communication method and responding promptly encourages people to email me :)

  65. MissDisplaced*

    I am like the OP in that I like to respond to most emails within the hour, even if it’s just a short “I’ll get back to you on that by x day,” or at least answer by next business day otherwise.

    But I must say that at my company it seems to be endemic that many people do not reply for week or more and they are not OOO. Sometimes they don’t reply at all. I find that so unprofessional.

    1. WellRed*

      It is unprofessional. If you have time to read the email you have time to respond even if that response is you need to delay your response.

  66. Rose*

    On the flip side, I have somehow just registered while reading this that I don’t have to have my email open all the time (I don’t really need to for this job, it was just habit). Now I’m imagining a world for myself in which I check and respond to emails like, once an hour and then close out the program, and even just imagining that is bringing my anxiety levels way down. This may be a game changer for me! I’ve been working from home in a role that includes a bunch of admin-y scheduling aspects that aren’t my favorite and stress me out, and this would almost certainly combat that seeping into the rest of my day. Hurray for accidental advice!

  67. mgguy*

    I’m a professor, and in this crazy virtual world my office hours are “I will be actively monitoring my email during these times, and if you email me I will respond right away unless I’m helping someone else at that very moment.” I still get comments on the fact that I often respond to simple emails during that specifically defined time frame within seconds sometimes if it’s a simple question.

    In a broader sense, though, I’m bad about “out of sight, out of mind.” If I read an email and don’t answer it right away, there’s a chance that I will just forget about it. That’s a weakness of mine I know, but my instant-answer coping mechanism has served me well.

    If it IS a more involved question or something that will involve finding out information on my part, I usually will answer with “I need to find x out/contact y. I’ll get back to you by (day), and if I don’t please bug me.”

    I have to admit also that it serves me well at times like evenings to just turn off the sound on my phone and otherwise ignore email. Nothing is SO pressing that I can’t deal with it the next morning, but at the same time if I’m not doing something else and I see it, it comes in.

    Also, I’m guilty of using the same computer for work/personal(my job won’t provide a Mac, and that’s how I work best). Apple Mail integrates all your accounts together very nicely, I always have it running for personal email, and even work will still pop up in the upper right of my screen…

  68. I DK*

    I use my inbox as a to-do list. If I am CC:’d on an email, it goes directly to my “CC: Inbox” — if I’m not important enough to be included on the send to list, you bet your “copy” will be delegated to the ‘stuff to do later’ list.

    I leave, (or now in the time of WFH, sign off) with ZERO unread emails in my Inbox. Yes, I am a Zeroist! I have to have ZERO unread emails in my inbox before I can leave, and I’m proud of it! Email is a tool, if you use it correctly. Anything important enough for me to take action on remains in my inbox until it has been accomplished. The CC: folder is for perusal after the important stuff has been done.

    Don’t get me wrong though … if an email from GrubHub, or whatever, with a discount that expires in a couple of days, will stay there until I can use it. My inbox doesn’t have to be ABSOLUTELY clean, just mostly so. And always marked as read.

    If it’s an email requesting that I contribute to the monthly blood drive — (I can’t give blood) — I have a rule set up to delete all emails with ‘blood drive’ in them. (Don’t troll me for not donating — I can’t.)

    My inbox is sacred …. to me at least. :)

    regards ~ DK

  69. Peace and tennis*

    I’d also add – while I’m just like you (and tend to respond to emails as soon as I get them), I do find it helpful to sit on an email if it’s something that might require some thought. Because I respond to emails so quickly, I also tend to send multiple emails – say, a second email saying “Oh and also . . .”. It’s a bad habit I’m trying to break and I find I can get all of my thoughts if I just sit on an email for a few hours rather than responding right away just to get it out of my queue.

  70. Anony-Mouse*

    I’m usually waiting on answers via email in order to complete my work. So yes, I’m constantly on email, with it opened on a second monitor. I will work on what I can do without the answer, and I want to know the answer as soon as it comes in so that I fully complete with the work. So, without thinking about, I simply read and reply to emails as they come in. If I’m really deep into a task and not waiting on any answers, then I may let emails slip by for half an hour or so.

  71. Ailsa McNonagon*

    I’m totally about to be That Person, but please can we not use ‘psychotic’ to indicate a rapid switch in task focus? People who experience psychosis are often fearful of sharing their diagnosis because the media portrays psychotic episodes as ‘running amok wielding a machete and attacking people whilst stark naked, wearing a tinfoil hat and singing ‘Jerusalem”.

    Someone in the middle of a psychotic episode may be far more frightened of you than you are of them.

  72. midnightcat*

    Really disappointed to see you’ve left in the term ‘psychotic’ – psychosis is a medical condition and this is an offensive use of it.

    Please reconsider and edit the letter. Thanks.

  73. Allonge*

    My first ‘grown-up’ j0b was at a reference desk, so even if I had any issues with being interrupted before, I was trained out of that soon. This means that I also look at my email all the time and respond fast, especially if it’s an easy solution: why not just get it off my desk? If it needs thinking about or consulting with others, I flag the message. Boom.

    To be fair, I never worked anywhere where the ‘train people to expect a fast reponse’ issue became a problem. So that is indeed something to look out for, in case it’s part of the culture. But otherwise, all the considerations of how they will be unhappy that they get it back so soon and that kind of stuff is just not something I have emotional bandwidth for. I handle my email issues and others can handle theirs :)

  74. flemily*

    I’m like this too, and neat tip in Outlook you can do a delayed delivery where you set a time in an email and it’ll sit in your outbox until that time rolls around then it’ll be sent.

  75. Don't Talk to Me*

    If I don’t get to an email within an hour or 2 I’m likely to forget about it. So I respond pretty quickly in general.

    My voicemail, however, has been known to go for weeks without getting checked.

Comments are closed.