A lot of times at work, I get emails like this:
Subject: Hey were is the draft you said you would send?
Subject: Can you forward me the thing again? I can’t find it from last time.
and finally this:
Subject: Never mind.
All within an hour.
I have other clients that write ones like this:
Body: Hi, there! I’ve been traveling the last two months, sorry for the wait. Where we we? Can we pick up with…
Why does this happen?
E-mail began as a replacement for mail, which is largely a passive system for communication. Now, e-mail is considered instantaneous. Remember when our mail programs would check for new emails every hour? Now, they search a more like every second. So as more and more devices allow us to keep an eye on things, people have begun to think of mail as more of a tool of instant message than that of a thoughtful missive.
What can be done?
We enter into a paradox with mail. The longer the mail, the easier it may have been handled in a conversation. The more conversations, the more you wish it could’ve just been handled in e-mail. This is known as The Cycle of (Time) Suck.
There is definitely a balance to be had between the two. The problem these days lies in our ability to always be available. Maybe waiting a little bit longer wouldn’t be so bad, and we could stop using so many ways to communicate and instead think more about communicating.
If you want an actual take-away from this conversation, it’s setting your boundaries and expectations clearly. If it were up to me, I’d leave an away-message responder up at all times that read:
I’m working on things, possibly for you, right now. I’ll return your email as soon as I can. Remember, the more time I’m working the faster you probably get whatever it is you’re emailing me about.