Email Overload: How Soon Can I Get Back to You?
July 17, 2013 Leave a comment
You’ve Got Mail!
Anyone with an email account gets flooded with stuff that you simply don’t care to see, don’t need to read, and can’t bear to respond to. That’s a general problem. This problem works out in different ways for different people. Whatever the scenario, it creates a challenge to efficient email management, which is crucial to general time management, which is crucial to personal sanity.
This I encounter on a regular basis. There are two basic reasons for this.
First, people learn of my interests and expertise from the books I write and the public speaking I do. I also blog and have a Facebook and Twitter presence. I write and speak about film, books, events, the existence of God, faith and reason, science and religion, kayaking, miracles, epistemology, faith and reason, motorcycling, cultural engagement, politics, and other things that I can think of right now. As you might imagine, there others in the world who have similar interests.
Second, after speaking on a topic and meeting with people to discuss their questions, I will frequently encourage them to contact me for more about a topic, for individual discussion, for reading recommendations, etc. I actually give them my email address. But I always ask them to remind me when and where we met.
My colleagues are good about checking with me before giving out my contact information, so I’m pretty much in the driver’s seat on that one. Still, my email address is pretty easily discoverable. Maybe the FBI can’t figure it out, but I’m sure you can.
Let me shoot straight about a couple of things:
- I like hearing from people with legitimate questions, perspectives, requests, and invitations to speak.
- I have to control the flow of input/output so that I can reply to worthy inquiries.
Much of this is up to me. But I have a few suggestions that may help two groups of people: (1) those who face the same challenge, and (2) those trying to get through with legitimate email messages.
Speaking for myself, it’s more likely that I’ll respond, and respond quickly, if:
- You write a very specific, descriptive subject heading.
- You keep your message brief.
- You’re very specific and clear about why I’m the guy you thought you should write.
- I remember you from a pervious meeting.
- I know in advance that you’ve been referred to me by someone I respect.
- You demonstrate that you’ve spent your own valuable time looking elsewhere for help on your topic.
- You acknowledge that I may not be able to respond immediately, or even later on.
- You’re offering me $10,000, and all expenses paid, to speak for 30 minutes someplace on this planet.
Note: If you’re a past student of mine, you get priority over all other cold messages that come my way. If I know it’s you, you will hear from me!
Here are some question types that dissuade me from responding:
- Can you answer a few short questions for me?
- Can you recommend a book about . . . ?
- I read your book about . . . and I disagree with it. What is your response?
- Will you please send me a complimentary copy of your book on . . .?
- Will you please help me build my library with books you don’t need anymore?
- I’d like to have an email discussion with you about . . . . (Not technically a question.)
- Can I drop by your office sometime to chat?
- A friend of a friend of a friend of mine suggested that I contact you about . . . . (Especially don’t do this if all of the above “friends” are Facebook friends you’ve never met.)
[I did once get an email message and a phone call from a guy in New Zealand who said he was leaving on a world tour and would like to meet with me when he was in Los Angeles. I said yes. But that guy happened to be Michael Denton, whose book Evolution: A Theory in Crisis I had read. He'd read my book on God and evil and wanted to talk about the problem of evil. We did and we became friends.]
None of this is intended to scare people off from writing me. I really do welcome email that deserves the attention and time a responsible answer would take. And if you’re reading this—and we both know you are—you’re probably one of those people who should feel free to contact me. The guidelines I suggested here will help single you out from the rest of the pack and elicit a timely response.
One More Thing . . . .
I read every comment I get at this website and I respond to virtually every comment. So keep those comments rolling in! If you have other suggestions for quality email communication, how about sharing them here?
Other Sources on This Topic
These guys helped me with ideas for this post: