Still Waiting For That Email?

So, having been sick from work for a while, I am slowly getting back in to the swing of things. As I run my own private practice, this includes responding to emails, a task which is usually reasonably quick for me!

However, I am having difficulties with my ISP (internet service Provider) at the moment (they shall remain nameless!) and some of my emails are not being sent, going missing, I am not able to pick up some emails and, perhaps the most frustrating of all, some emails I am being sent are bouncing back to clients, so I am not even getting them!

Whilst I am trying to find fixes for these (oh-so frustrating) issues, I came across this article which was from the Conference Steering Committee for the World Wide Web in Florence, Italy this year, which explains quite a lot as to the difference in responses with some of my clients and colleagues!

Have you ever been frustrated at how slowly (or quickly!) some people reply to your emails? I am one of those people who respond as soon as I am in a position to, as quickly as possible! So, when I have to wait for a response, from a friend, client or colleague, I can become quite eager to see that little red circle with a number in it appear on my email app!

I began to wonder, what is the difference in the speed of replies for emailing people? Is it based on IT skills- would a younger generation respond more quickly, being that email/messaging has been around for most of their lives, or because it plays such an important part in their lives? Or would the older generation be quicker? Seeing it as a politeness issue; non-response would be like ignoring someone? Or maybe every age group felt exactly the same?

The study ‘Evolution of Email Conversations in the Age of Email Overload’ by (Kooti et al., 2015) found a variety of answers to some questions, namely;

  • More than half of the responses contain fewer than 43 words.
  • If people are going to respond to an email, 90 percent will do it within a few days.
  • Responses on the weekends are the shortest.
  • Teens reply the fastest, shooting back a response in 13 minutes, on average.
  • It takes people, ages 35-50, about 24 minutes to reply.
  • People age 51 and older take a whopping 47 minutes to reply to their emails, on average.
  • Women take about four minutes longer than men to send a reply.
  • Only 30 percent of emails exceed 100 words.
  • People aged 20-35 are almost as speedy, sending a reply in 16 minutes, on average.
  • Half fire off a response in under an hour.
  • Want a lengthy reply? Make sure your email arrives in the morning.
  • The most common responses contain five words.

So, what did I learn from that? Well, I learned that people deal with email information (over) load in very different ways! Younger people are quicker at responding, but respond with fewer words- could this be down to the urgency of life when you are younger, or just that fewer words are needed to get your point across? What it didn’t explain, for me, was why some people respond and others don’t? No one likes to be ignored, and not receiving a reply to an email is a way of being ignored. The study also did not stress the importance that we place on emails and responses, only that we do try to respond.

As we get busier and busier, and our working lives’ get more stressful, this study shows that we do still try to answer our emails, but that we answer fewer emails and with fewer words. The main take-away from this, is that if you have an email that you really need a reply to, ensure it is there, bright and early for the recipient to read, when they arrive at work!

But how does this affect us? Does it just mean that when we arrive at work, instead of 10 emails, we are going to arrive to 100? Does it mean that we need to change the way in which we work?

What this boils down to is how much work we have on and how willing we are to prioritize our work- are you good at prioritizing you work? Do you know what is the most important work to get done?

Do you procrastinate and go to the easy to answer emails first? Leaving the harder ones to deal with as the day wears on, and indeed, you wear on? What the study found was that social importance was of higher importance than the actual importance of the content of the emails; so for example, if the email was from a friend at work, we would be more likely to reply to that, than to an email from our boss asking if our work was done. But, does this then add more pressure on us? Are we making our working lives harder?

These are all questions that need to answered by further studies, but I wonder how many of you can empathise with what the study found? Do you feel under more pressure to reply to more and more emails? Do you find that you need to answer emails out of working hours? And, if so, when does that stop?

The pressure can be different for people who run their own business, as for people who ‘traditional’ employees- I know from my own experience, working for myself means that I am never ‘off’ work. So, what can we do to limit the stress?

Well, to start with, we can learn to switch our mobile devices off when we get home from work! I have been doing this for a while now- on days off, evenings and weekends, I will not answer calls/texts/emails from my clients. I am not being rude, I just need to have boundaries that mean I get some time off too! Perhaps that could be a good starting point for you?

Do you give yourself a lunch break? It is really important, during your working day to give yourself a complete break from work; to let your mind rest and recover, to give you the energy to get through the day. It is really easy to just grab a quick sandwich, at your desk, replying to emails or answering phone calls, but are you getting a rest and do you feel like you are getting a break? If you feel that your work is encroaching into your lunch break, make a ‘lunch date’ with friends, try going out for a walk (yes, even in this grotty weather!), or what about sitting in your car for 15 minutes? Something that will mean you are taking your mind off of your work and on to other things!

What about practicing so mindfulness or relaxation at your desk? You could do this in the morning for 10 minutes, or the afternoon, or both! You could even invest in a cheap pair of ear buds, to block out the noise! Anything that relaxes you a little and helps you get through the day is a good thing, wouldn’t you say?

Some colleagues I work with go for a power walk, or yoga session at lunch time; maybe you don’t have the time for that, but at least getting up and having a walk around the office can get you moving and break that habit of sitting there all day!

Finally, what about being kind to yourself? If you get 50+ emails in one day, on top of your daily work, being honest and accepting that you cant possibly answer all of those emails. Yes, I know, it feels rubbish to do that, its like accepting defeat, but is it realistic to expect you to do all of this extra work? If it can’t fit in to your normal working day, perhaps a chat with your boss about your work expectations and the level of work you are getting is needed?

We always expect more of ourselves, but this has to be within sensible limits, doesn’t it? Life isn’t all about work, or at least, I don’t believe it should be, do you? If you are worried about your work/life balance, perhaps it is time to take a look at it. Maybe you can’t reply to all those emails in one day, maybe you shouldn’t have to? But the study above does show us that we need some better management tools to manage our emails, so perhaps it is time we invested in ourselves, our own ‘management tool’ for our working lives?

That said, it is Friday night and time for me to enjoy my weekend! I hope you all have a great weekend; step away from the phone and stop answering your emails! Monday will be here before you know it- surely they can wait until then?


Kooti, F., Aiello, L.M., Grbovic, M., Lerman, K. and Mantrach, A. (2015) ‘Evolution of Conversations in the Age of Email Overload’, Proceedings of the 24th International Conference on World Wide Web, Florence, 603-613.