Is your inbox extremely full? Mine is.
How about — is your inbox full of apologies that probably shouldn’t be there? Mine certainly is.

I have many inboxes with tons of messages from people I want to stay in touch with — multiple emails [see note 1]. I’m always reaching out to people from my past to reconnect or to people I’ve met more recently who I want to get to know better.

I’m not interested in small talk so quickly our messages can become long and empathy-filled. These messages can take time to respond to. Do I expect people to drop what they’re doing and immediately take the time to write paragraphs back that both empathize with what I shared and catch me up on their own experiences?

No.

But alas, everyone seems to think I do. Nearly every direct message in my inboxes includes an apology for the time it took to respond. It doesn’t matter whether it took them 3 months or 5 hours, most people seem to feel the guilt.

Now, I’m not saying that there aren’t cases where prompt responses are important! If you’re on a team planning a timely project, you can really hold people up by not responding. It’s up to you to figure out the policies or culture surrounding email at your work or to establish expectations among the people you’re working on time-sensitive projects with.

But don’t let your brain convince you that the email exchange catching up with your old college roommate should give your neurons the same anxious energy [see note 2] as does an email from a colleague about a deadline coming up tomorrow.

So, here are miscellaneous thoughts [see note 3] for retraining your brain so that every new online interaction doesn’t cause you unnecessary guilt.

Remind yourself that someone reaching out to you does not create an obligation for you to instantly respond.

Yes, if someone approached you in person and talked to you, it would probably be rude to not respond. But that’s not the situation facing you when your phone vibrates. Smartphones have changed the game but our brains haven’t quite caught up. Almost anyone can reach out to you at any time and we have to adjust our expectations accordingly.

You have to prioritize based on your own needs and the needs of those you’ve committed to help.

Think about how many spoons you have and value your mental energy.

If you feel guilt about the time it’s taking you to respond and that you can’t reach out to the person again until you respond in appropriate depth to what they wrote you, you’re less likely to respond! Let’s keep our friendships low pressure and keep things fun.

April 30th is Email Debt Forgiveness Day. This holiday was created because of the rampant issue of people not responding to emails because of their awkward feelings about the time it’s been since they feel they should have responded.

So, what shall we do to get away from this shame we all seem to feel about the rate by which we responded to our messages?

[To read about advice for feeling less guilt in our interactions, check out the rest of this piece.]