Cal Newport, a blogger/academic I enjoy following, wrote a post recently called “It’s Okay to be Bad at Email.” Cal writes about finding deep study time and shares tips on not being distracted. I love his stuff, but I have to disagree with the being bad at email post.
1. Email is connective tissue of relationships.
Email isn’t a separate channel or category in life. There’s no wall separating it from everything else. Email is simply one of many ways we communicate with other people. If I am haphazard about reading, scanning, and replying to emails, it’s not a problem that will just affect my Inbox: it affects the people on the other end of those emails. Being someone who values relationships as a key driver to success, I don’t believe that being bad at a primary communication tool for those relationships is a sustainable approach.
2. Not all email is created equal.
Not responding to group threads, customer service surveys, and other random junk is not the same as not responding to a customer, a prospect, a close friend, mentor, investor, or other VIP in your life. You need tools and techniques to be sure that you filter up what is important to you. Not making the effort to prioritize VIPs is inexcusable.
3. Sometimes you just need to respond faster.
What does “being good at email” really mean? If you think about it hard, it will always boil down to the speed at which you respond (either by actually sending a reply, or taking appropriate action) to important messages.
Faster response to important messages = you are awesome at email.
Slower response, or no response = you suck at email.
4. Pro Tip: Being good can also include your outbound emails.
I’ve realized for my personal life that managing email successfully doesn’t just mean responding and reacting to incoming emails, but also tracking who I’ve sent emails to and if they responded or not. Having open ended inquiries is usually a cascading problem. In most cases, when I’ve asked someone a question, it’s because someone else down the line is waiting for me to make something happen. See the final point, on how I manage this!