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Email is this funny in-between world.

A phone call is immediate. A tweet can get retweeted or responded to within moments.

Email can sit a while. You send someone an email with, what you think is, a simple question. Days go by and there’s no answer.

You wonder…

Did they get the email? Did they not understand the question? Were they offended by something you said in the email?

Last week I sent a couple of friends an email asking for advice on a gig I’d been offered. One of the friends uncharacteristically didn’t respond right away. There was no reason he should have. His time scale for the email wasn’t the same as mine – maybe I should have used a different medium.

I wrote him an email from a different email account and apologized for pinging him but I just wanted to check that my earlier message hadn’t been filtered. Oops, he said, it hadn’t been filtered by his machine but it had been filtered mentally. He’d looked at it and realized it would take time to respond to that one so he had put it away to answer later.

Great answer.

I thought about that the next day as I went through my morning email. Two of the emails were really good questions that required time to answer them. Time I didn’t have. Remembering my experience on the receiving end, I quickly wrote a note to each of them letting them know that I’d gotten their email and telling them what it was I needed to think more about and I promised them an answer that night.

You might be tempted to automate this. Don’t. A generic note would have been annoying where this specific note let them know that I wasn’t blowing them off.

If the task is too big, begin with an ack.

Whether it’s responding to email or another request, if you intend to follow through and do what’s being asked of you, let the requester know. Otherwise, while you’re taking the time to do something nice for someone else, they’re fuming that you are ignoring their needs.