Email Overload: How Soon Can I Get Back to You?


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.

youve_got_mail_ver3What about unsolicited email from unknown parties with legitimate questions you may be able to help with?

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:

  1. You write a very specific, descriptive subject heading.
  2. You keep your message brief.
  3. You’re very specific and clear about why I’m the guy you thought you should write.
  4. I remember you from a pervious meeting.
  5. I know in advance that you’ve been referred to me by someone I respect.
  6. You demonstrate that you’ve spent your own valuable time looking elsewhere for help on your topic.
  7. You acknowledge that I may not be able to respond immediately, or even later on.
  8. 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:

  1. Can you answer a few short questions for me?
  2. Can you recommend a book about . . . ?
  3. I read your book about . . . and I disagree with it. What is your response?
  4. Will you please send me a complimentary copy of your book on . . .?
  5. Will you please help me build my library with books you don’t need anymore?
  6. I’d like to have an email discussion with you about . . . . (Not technically a question.)
  7. Can I drop by your office sometime to chat?
  8. 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:

Adam Grant, “6 Ways to Get Me to Email You Back”

Tim Ferriss, “5 Tips for Emailing Busy People”

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Silence Your Cell Phones—World War Z Is about to Begin


Cover of "World War Z: An Oral History of...

Cover via Amazon

What is it about zombies that makes them so worth watching? I can’t prove this, but I have a hunch . . . nothing does.

With nothing to do but watch the world come to an end, and no one to do it with, I went to see World War Z. How could I have forgotten what the ‘Z’ stands for? I had just come from a hamburger and an excess of fries at the local 5 Guys when I got to the theater. It looked like I was at least ten minutes late. I told the ticket agent (isn’t that a fancy title?) that I was there to see World War Z, if, but only if, it hadn’t started yet. I wasn’t sure he could sort out the bi-conditional “if and only if,” but this kid must have a keen mind for logic. He told me I had nine minutes; they were still showing previews. I asked if the theater was full. “There are eleven people,” he said. I wondered, Is that good or bad? I guess for a Tuesday night, that’s pretty good.

I paid for my ticket and met my old friend Ken, the guy who takes my ticket when I walk in. I always ask Ken what he thinks of the movie I’m about to see. I’ve learned to trust Ken’s judgment. This time Ken said, “I’m not much into zombie movies, but in this one they look pretty good.” That’s when I realized what I had gotten myself into. That’s when it hit me that World War Z is about zombies . . . and the world, of course. I felt stupid. What else could the ‘Z’ stand for? But I might be forgiven. Check out the movie poster. Doesn’t it bring to mind the Zorro series, this time with a faint hint of apocalyptic doom?

Usually, I don’t wait in line to see a zombie movie. In fact, if you’ll pardon the allusion, I generally avoid them like the plague. But I had paid for a ticket. And Ken had said about this movie that the zombies “look pretty good.” I had to satisfy my curiosity. What do good-looking zombies look like? Is this a movie my wife would approve of?

For those who haven’t seen the movie, here’s a spoiler alert: Ken must have meant something else by zombies that “look pretty good.”

For the record, the zombies I know (remember, I’m a university professor) don’t look or act anything like the ones in this movie. My zombies are rather subdued, almost motionless. If you tripped over them in a dark alley, you still might not know they were there. By comparison, I must say, the zombies in this movie are pretty amped up. And you certainly would never want to meet them in a dark alley. (I wonder what it would be like if these zombies and my zombies were to meet?)

I did learn something from this movie, apart from the intended message narrated at the end. If an encounter with a zombie doesn’t make your teeth chatter, hearing his teeth chatter will make you laugh. That’s how it affected 9 out of 11 people in the theater. (Silly me, there were other times when I could not restrain a mild chuckle, even when no one else appeared to be in such good humor.)

I have an obligation to tell you there are things about this movie that simply aren’t believable.

  • Israel’s Mossad figures out before anyone else in the world how to protect themselves from zombies, but they don’t know the effect that loud, screechy microphones would have on them? Come on, people! The Mossad are better than that.
  • Can you really hear the teeth of a zombie chatter through plexiglass that is so substantial that even the zombie can’t break through it? Give me a break!
  • Are we supposed to believe that an envoy from the United Nations is the best candidate for staving off the complete annihilation of humanity? I’d trust any neighbor in my cup-de-sac over the U.N. boys and girls. (Remember Benghazi and Susan Rice?)

These things just don’t add up. Fortunately, the movie’s realism is salvaged by the general plot: Savage zombies ravage the world, quickly turning the un-undead into the undead, and there’s a bona fide solution to the problem that is discovered by Brad Pitt—and just in time.

That’s the reassuring message of the film.

Or not.

But I can’t spoil the movie for you by revealing what the narrator says at the end.

If that doesn’t get you to go see this movie, then I guess nothing will.

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