Since when did taking more than a day or two to respond to an email become something that warrants an explicit apology?
That very question occurred to me today as I was processing email. I was responding to some messages that I’d received on Thursday and Saturday and noticed my urge to excuse my delay in getting back to the people who’d written me. None of the messages were really urgent, but I noticed my own expectation that I would have responded sooner pop up.
Angela and I will often comment about normal response times and the response times we see in our networks. When she sends an email to our insurance company, we don’t expect that they’ll respond within a day or two – we count ourselves lucky if they respond in a week or at all.
But the “day or two” norm is much more common in our circles. I wish I could say it was just because we’re all hyper-effective at processing email, but alas, I think it’s also that we’re on email more and have accepted the “day or two” norm.
The problem is that the faster we respond, the faster we expect a response, and we each ratchet down the response time such that we expect an email within ever-smaller amounts of time. And if I’m honest, I’m far more likely to want my acceptable response time to be higher but to keep yours where it is. Which is really just saying that I don’t want to wait longer for you, but don’t want to feel pressured because you’re waiting on me.
If you happen to have email processing habits such that you get to zero every day or spend some dedicated time responding to email every day, that’s all good. But the pervasive low-level anxiety behind the urge to respond quickly is something to be mindful of. A slew of pervasive low-level anxieties adds up to not being able to unplug, think, work, or get perspective on the stuff that matters most. This is not a hypothetical concern, as many of my clients and other people I talk to have a hard time going dark for a few hours because they’re afraid they might miss something important in the time they’re gone.
After thinking about all of this, I didn’t apologize for the delay when I responded to those messages today. I didn’t want to reinforce the “day or two” norm for myself or my recipients.