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Depressurize your email with a 24 hour response time

A while back I wrote What's your maximum response time?, in which I questioned why some people don't respond in a timely manner to emails, even if it's to say "no" or "don't write me again" [1]. Due to my GTD practice I'm more sensitive to this in others and especially myself, and I've been pretty consistently sticking to a personal maximum response time of 24 hours. (24 hours is reasonable for most of my transactions; YMMV.)

However, this has yielded an unexpected benefit of giving me some mental "breathing room." Specifically, before I instituted the 24 hour policy I felt an internal pressure to respond to emails as soon as possible, regardless of urgency. This turned out to be significantly more frequently than the recommended 24-48 hour processing and organizing David Allen recommends. This caused tension, and drew me away from working my actions list.

Now, because I know I'll get to them within a day, I'm much more comfortable letting messages sit a bit, and getting other work done. This in turn has removed some of the emotional zing from messages, and has generally freed up attention for reviewing and doing.

In all, pretty neat!

  • [1] My delayed response record was recently broken: someone I met at a social event replied to my "It was nice meeting you" email four months later. Interestingly, this person became one of my consulting clients in the recent Scholarly Productivity Coaching Pilot at UMass/Amherst.

Reader Comments (10)

Matt - thanks for posting this. I've been using this principle as well and I've learned to be less reactive to email.

October 16, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterJon Pappas

Hey, Jon. I should have known you'd be on top of something like this! :-) Thanks for your comment.

October 16, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell

heh - now that you're on vacation for 2 weeks - am i to refrain from posting to your blog to ease any possible congestion?

i still stick with a 72 hr turnaround with a commitment to process my email daily. the 48 hr period gives a lot of breathing space when the going gets rough!

good to be catching up with your blog and look fwd to chattin with ya on the rebound!

November 21, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterChinarut

Hi Chinarut - 3 days makes sense, and I can see that the breathing room would be better. Thanks for reading!

(And I do appreciate your thoughtfulness re: my being on vacation - however, that's *my* responsibility! :-)

November 24, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell

I have definitely been falling into the trap of trying to keep my inbox empty but then my next actions list does not get addressed. When I try to then go and focus on the lists, my e-mail gets backed up. For reference, I get 100-200 e-mails per day (which, to me, seems like a lot). I've (just recently) tried to address this by trying to schedule two 45-minute slots in my day to process mail. So far I've been finding it somewhat successful in that I've been keeping my inbox mostly empty while also getting more things off of my lists. It definitely seems to have reduced stress and increased focus on my other tasks--so that's good. I'll need to give it a bit more time and hopefully it will continue to be helpful.

Thanks for the post.

February 27, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterGary

Hey Gary - I like your trend: Empty daily, block out time to process, "harvest" work into your lists, and *working* those lists. Well done.

Re: your volume, I like Mark Hurst's perspective that its the inbox *size*, not volume, that's the best measure. If you're able to keep up ( see [ When inputs exceed your workflow system's capacity | http://www.matthewcornell.org/blog/2006/01/when-inputs-exceed-your-workflow.html ] ) then you're in balance. But getting less is crucial too.

You might like: [ Got the email blues? Only three things you can do: Get fewer, Get faster, Get control | http://www.matthewcornell.org/blog/2007/10/got-email-blues-only-three-things-you.html ]

Thanks for the comment.

February 28, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell

I've heard more often then not that 24hrs is a good response time. I have a client that wants a response within 4hrs and with my current situation I'm unable to guarantee that but more along the lines of no more than 24hrs.

Thanks for the post.

Hi Ben. Thanks for your comment. I agree that 24 is desirable - it works well for me. That said, your point is right on: What's *possible* is a function of your promised (and expected) response times. If your client wants 4hrs, and you're willing to provide that, then clearly you'll need to monitor your inbox at least that frequently. If that's the case - and it's up to you, of course - then I'd consider charging a premium for it...

P.S. Great design portfolio - lovely work.

October 22, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermatthewcornell

It can be the email response-time expectation gap rather than the actual response-time that causes frustration. You can http://www.gertes.com (Global Email Response Time Expectation System) to set an expected response on an email (e.g. within Outlook or other email programs) before you send it. See http://www.gertes.com/pages/about/what_is/ specifically.

March 31, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMark Brownee

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