A Two-Step Approach to Managing Email

One of the challenges of being a good consultant is providing thoughtful and well-constructed responses to email. In an ideal world, we could read and formulate answers for every email we receive while staying productive and happy at the other parts of our jobs. Obviously, the “ideal world” isn’t a reality, so we have to balance a finite amount of time and mental power while handling email correspondence intelligently.

Communication Problems?

Email doesn’t have any built-in mechanisms to show the sender that it’s been read or acknowledged. Moreover, it doesn’t give the sender any way to indicate when they expect a response. This lack of communication structure creates an expectation vacuum, which leads to arbitrary expectations and some anxiety for the individual who sent the email.

A More Intelligent Response

While you don’t want to let your emails sit idle, you don’t want to drown in them, either. One technique I’ve learned from others takes a two-step approach:

  1. Respond quickly to set expectations.
  2. Follow up with a more detailed response. (In my experience, most people who correspond with you will make it clear if they need an immediate response. In most cases, it’s not urgent, and a detailed response can wait a business day or so.)

By responding to the email and setting a timeframe in which you will get back to the sender, you can show that you are paying attention, acknowledging them, and setting clear expectations. For most people (short of an emergency), this keeps them satisfied and appreciative.