There are many great blog posts about managing your email. Most of them are by Merlin Mann with his Inbox Zero philosophy which will soon be available in book form. If you’re unfamiliar with it, I recommend checking it out and especially taking the time to watch the one hour video.

The nature of email, of course, is communication.

I’ve worked with people who might have scanned the subject lines for something interesting but I could never rely on them having read an email I sent. Their inboxes became a communication void.

If I wanted them to read an email I had to send them an instant message or SMS to tell them I sent an email I wanted them to read. Other times I’d send the email and then print it out and put it on their desk. It was not a very efficient way to communicate.

It might take anywhere between 30-60 seconds to reply to an email.

Sometimes the reply might only require “Thanks” and then it takes even less time.

As part of my work with Boxcutters I often have a need to email US-based television publicists. It’s becoming an increasingly futile exercise. They never reply. I may as well shout my requests across the Pacific Ocean.

If they can’t help me, then I’d at least like a simple:

I’m sorry but we don’t deal with [Australians / Podcasts / People we've never heard of].

Or even the generic:

We can’t assist you with your request at this time.

An email that requires a lot of attention could be acknowledged really quickly with something like:

Thanks, I’ve flagged this to read later and I’ll let you know my thoughts within a week.

That says a lot. It says: “I know you’re telling me something you think is important but please understand that I’m busy and I can’t give it my full attention right now. I will read it and let you know what I think in my own time.”

This is called managing expectations in email. Email doesn’t need an instant response. A lot of email only needs a response at some stage that day. Some needs a response at some stage that week. Some doesn’t need any response at all.

You need to work out your own criteria for prioritising email but be one hundred percent sure that if someone has taken the time to write to you personally, they are hoping for some kind of reply or acknowledgement that you are paying attention.

Similarly, if you’re sending an email, maybe include a line about how soon you need a reply. It will help the other person formulate their response. And please, if something is really urgent, use the telephone.

Replying to email doesn’t take very long, doesn’t cost much but works wonders to strengthen relationships.

About Josh Kinal

Josh makes things on the web easy to use and understand. Sounds simple, but it’s not. His understanding of developing engaging content comes from many years of writing for print and radio. You might have heard him on Boxcutters, his popular weekly podcast about TV or years of appearing on Triple J, Radio National and 3RRR. He also holds a science degree and in 2012 was one of Australia’s few panelists at SXSW Interactive conference in Austin, Texas