I stink at email

Roe RoeI’ll admit it, it’s true. I stink at email. It will often take me days to respond to an email. Important topics tend to bubble up in conversations, texts or phone calls…so, email can wait. Also, most emails just resolve themselves with enough time.

Once, I received an email response from Matt Mullenweg six years after I emailed him. I told him that his response was six years late. He told me “better late than never”. I thought that was pretty funny.

Another time I responded to an email from Bjorg, my partner at MindTouch, five years later on behalf of my colleague Damien. Damien and I still laugh about the content of that email. Bjorg didn’t seem to think it was as amusing as we did.

I’ve been content thinking it’s ok to respond slowly to email for the last several years. People like Brad Feld, Ron Huddleston and other obviously busy people screw this up for me. These guys respond quickly. Brad in particular usually responds within the hour! I have no idea how he does this. God I love the guy, but damnit he makes me feel bad about how I respond to email.

The problem with email is that it will consume hours of my day. Hours I should spend on more productive activities. Therefore, I typically find myself plowing through email in the evenings and weekends in an effort to not expend too much of my work day. This fritters away my most productive time. This is the time I’m away from the office and working without distractions after my family has retired for the evening. Everything about this paragraph is just wrong. Read it again and you’ll understand what I mean.

Email stats for January. An historically slow month.
My email stats for January.

When I’m cranking through email I respond to those that require less than two minutes immediately. Those that deserve, or require, more than two minutes get a response later. This last week I’ve begun to respond to this class of emails with a short acknowledgement that I’ve received the email and I’ll respond ASAP. Does this improve my email manners?