Take Your Time Responding to Email

Very relaxing. Photo: Pixel_Pig/Getty Images

Imagine you’ve just written an email. The task had been weighing on you, and your sense of doom has finally lifted. For now, your job is done. There’s nothing left to do but rest with the knowledge that you’ve fulfilled your half of — fuck, they already responded, and now it’s your turn again. God dammit!

Don’t let this happen to you. Don’t let this happen to the unfortunate recipient of your message.

Take your time when responding to email.

The point of this exercise is to practice patience. And mindfulness. And, ah, it’s a response to, um, capitalism. And … it’s a protest against … the idea of working with maximum efficiency … okay fine, it’s because I hate email, and it sucks, and I deeply resent the idea that anyone can contact me at any moment. That is, I resent it except for when I need to contact someone else, or when someone is contacting me about a job, or with a compliment, or when it’s just something fun, or when it’s about how an item that I wanted is on sale. Otherwise I resent it — deeply!

I think everyone would have a healthier and happier time online if we could just, in general, chill out. One way to chill out online is by deleting your Twitter account, and another is by throwing your computer in the mud and never thinking about it again, but another is by giving everyone some space between emails. A day, maybe. Take a breath. You’re not direct messaging. You’re not speaking to someone in person, where the lack of a response would be disconcerting. You’re communicating by letter, but faster. A response is not needed right now. Relieve a little pressure: Star the message and return to the task from which its arrival took you away.

I think the best way to do this is to set an email response period in your day. Maybe 7:30 to 8 a.m., or whatever works for you. In that window, you can respond to the email from yesterday. I only sort of do this myself — I try to, but emailing is very difficult and sometimes you get a particularly impossible one, in which case you have to wait to respond until an inappropriate amount of time has passed, and then the task takes 30 seconds to complete, and you think “why did I put this off and compound my misery when it was pretty easy to just do,” but that’s life — though it does sound pretty good. Everybody deals with their email during their email window, and everyone else gets a break.

There are some exceptions, obviously. If your doctor emails you about how an organ has become available but you need to claim it within the hour, do email her back (the doctor is a woman). If your boss emails you saying, like, “email me back right now or you’re fired!”, you can send that one fast. If I have waited until the last minute to contact you and I need you to respond very quickly in order for me to fulfill an obligation, please email me back immediately. Otherwise relax, and let everyone else not feel like they’re under so much pressure from all of their email obligations.

That’s all. I think it sounds pretty good.

Take Your Time Responding to Email