In the previously
published essay, I took the position that quite often you don’t have to
reply to an email you receive. In fact, while it’s frequently a knee-jerk
reaction to reply – even if only to agree with someone – it’s also frequently
the wrong thing to do and simply clutters up everyone’s inboxes and wastes your
time and theirs.
That essay closed with a simple little statement:
So if you need a selfish argument, it’s that only replying appropriately
will, as a side effect, also reduce the amount of email you need to deal with
Here’s the gem hidden in that statement: it’s not just about
Think for a moment about how much email you send every day; not how much you
get but how much email you send. If you’ve got a Sent Mail folder set up have a
look at the past few weeks or days of outgoing email.
Chances are it’s quite a bit. Email’s become quite the ubiquitous tool, and
if you’re interested in Taming Email,
it’s likely to be an important part of how you communicate.
Now consider that each and every one of those outgoing messages is request
for a response.
I’ll be more blunt: every time you send an email you are effectively asking
the recipient to send you an email in response.
You may not be asking in the form of some text in the message that says
“please reply”, but as we’ve seen in Is a Response Really Required?, many
people will respond anyway. And if your email is being sent to a
mailing list? You’ve just asked for multiple responses to your one little
email. You’ll get more than you give, and in this case that might not be the
So the simple trick I mentioned?
Send less email to get less email.
Before you send your next email; before you even write it perhaps, but at
least before you hit that Send button, ask yourself a few questions:
Do the people who are about to get your message really need to see it? Yes,
I’m asking you to actually question the value of the message you’re about to
send. The answer may well be “Yes”, but it’s always worth thinking about it
Are you sending to the right people? Consider everyone who’s about
to see your message. Do they all need to see it, or would a subset of
recipients be more appropriate. Remember, each recipient is an invitation for
another response in your inbox.
Do you want each recipient to respond? This works in two ways – it’s another
sanity check for making sure you’re sending your email to the right person or
people, and it’s also an invitation to craft your message appropriately.
Does your message imply a response is expected? Does it need to? Would it be
appropriate to actually, specifically, say that no response is
And lastly: is email the right tool for this job? I’ll cover this in a
future article, but while email is a very powerful and flexible hammer, not
everything is a nail.
I don’t mean to imply any absolutes in that list. Sometimes your email is
quite appropriate and necessary, everyone does need to see your
message, you do need to send it to a lot of people, and yes, perhaps
all of them need to respond.
But by getting in the habit of asking yourself those questions before
sending, you’ll actually be reducing your own email load as a result.
And the email loads of others, which is also a nice side benefit.
Just recognize that sometimes that email you’re about to send … perhaps