Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Slow Down Your Email

I’m doing a couple of things differently in my digital life this year. You already know that one of them is to unfollow all of my Debbie Downer friends on Facebook, and I have to say that that has improved my quality of life immensely. But there’s another thing I’m doing, that I think should benefit not just me, but the people I interact with also.

I’m slowing down my personal email.

What do I mean by this? Well, I mean that unless it absolutely requires an immediate response, I’m slowing down my response time to personal email.

Remember back in the old days of letter-writing, with envelopes and stamps, that once you wrote the letter, it would take about two days for it to get to the person, then they’d read it and spend another day or two writing a response, and then it would take another two days after that for the response to get back to you? It was a nice, leisurely six-day cycle that gave you time to do other things between letters.

But nowadays [and would someone please tell my 12-year-old daughter that it’s nowadays, and not nowendays?] we’re so accustomed to the ability to get an almost instantaneous response from someone, that we get all bent out of shape if we don’t hear back from them in the next hour. And if we haven’t heard from them by the end of the day, they’ve forgotten all about us, and we’ll never hear from them again. And the pressure’s on us too, to respond in a timely manner…where “timely” means “right now,” and without really taking the time to think about what we’re saying.

And to this, I say “Stop!”

It started with a conversation on Facebook that I had decided was taking up too much of my time and effort, as I tried to respond to every post by this one person the moment it appeared. So instead, I deliberately sat and wrote my response in Microsoft Word, went back to edit it a few times, and then posted it at midnight. He got one response from me a day, and suddenly, my life seemed to be back under control. I wasn’t responding to his posts every 20 or 30 minutes. Instead, I’d take a look at what he had written all through the day, write a one-page response in Word later on, go back and look it over a few times, and then post it. It slowed the pace of the interaction down, especially since it gave me time to look things up; and I got what felt like a large portion of my life back.

And so I decided to do this with my personal email too. But here there were two reasons. The first was to slow down the pace so that neither one of us felt under pressure to respond immediately (and poorly). The second is so that we’d each have email to look forward to on another day. You know…sort of like waiting to get a letter?

It’s funny…people say that the art of letter writing has died with the advent of email. They obviously haven’t read some of the messages I send to my friends. Yes, it’s true that many of them are really the electronic equivalent of postcards…just bringing you up to date in 25 words or less…but many of them are full-fledged letters that rival anything from the old quill pen days. The difference is that now I have copies of both the letter I sent as well as the one I received.

And…I don’t have to hunt down an envelope and stamp when I’m ready to send it

But, in any event, unless it’s something that needs an immediate reply, and some things do, I’m giving myself two days to reply.

And maybe we all should.


  1. I was just speaking to a friend about email etiquette and how long can I wait to respond to an email to slow down the communication. I like the idea of halving how long a letter would take as a general rule. Now I just need a system for scheduling responses, or unsubscribe to all the lists I seldom get a chance to read so that the only thing in my Inbox is stuff I want to respond to. There's a thought ...

  2. If you're still there, there's a website called Letter Me Later (www.lettermelater.com) that lets you set up email messages to be sent out at some date in the future. I've used it quite a lot myself to send reminders out. I've also used it for this very purpose.