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How do you make a habit of responding quickly to an email?


ShropshireLad
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Hey all, 

 

I answer back quickly to emails that are simpler/easier to answer to, and more slowly on emails that require more thoughts. I suppose it is pretty normal to do so. 

However, I really want to be someone who have higher rate of answering right away to email as soon as I read them, even if it is just something along the line of "Thank you for your email, I need to give it some thoughts but I'll get back to you as soon as I can, ” to be more ”professional” as a graduate student from upcoming Fall. 

Do you guys have any tips or comments on how to establish such a habit? Is it an unnecessary worry of one neurotic person? Did anyone of you struggle with the same problem? Thanks.

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I think it is a good habit to ensure you respond to emails in a timely manner. To me, this means within a few business days, unless the circumstances of the email require a quicker response. In order to achieve this, I use a system to sort my emails (it's not very elegant....I just use a Gmail label/tag and star it and every morning and after my lunch break, I check my starred emails for things I can respond to). Sometimes, I make a to-do list or set calendar reminders to ensure I get to an important email on time.

Except in rare situations, I would encourage you not to write emails like you said "Thanks, I'll think about it and get back to you.". Most academics have a problem where there are too many emails. I don't like getting emails like this because they say nothing. I don't think it's more professional at all. The exceptions are something that seems urgent (they need a response within 48 hours so you want them to know you are on the case) or when there is something that means you will have a longer than typical response time (i.e. more than 1 week). In these cases, it is helpful to let the other person know you're thinking about it. But don't write something like this if you are going to follow up with the full answer in 3 days or less.

Finally, since grad school, I have been purposely delaying sending some emails. I try to avoid sending emails after 5pm and before 8am as much as possible. But I do enjoy the flexible academic schedule, so sometimes I do work in the evening and take time off during the day for things like less busy grocery stores or doctor appointments. However, I don't want to set the expectation that people can reach me at a moment's notice and get an instant reply from me (and now that I am supervising students, I don't want them to feel like they need to do that either). So, I often write emails in the evening and save as draft. I don't send them until the next morning. I am pretty sure my advisor did this and they set a great example for the group to have a work-life balance, and I am trying to do the same. I think keeping email to work hours only is actually more professional! 

(Of course, exceptions when there is a really important deadline and everyone is working extra hours. But that is the exception, not the norm.)

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I don't know what your workflow is but basically I set myself a "work day" and I try to have an empty inbox by the end of that day.  Right now its 10pm. I make a point of answering anything that is in my inbox by 10pm. When it is a complicated email or I need time to think about it, I have a 24h limit.

Another tip would be to devote 5min of each study or work session to emails, typically at the end so you can "trim the fat" more regularly.

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11 hours ago, ShropshireLad said:

However, I really want to be someone who have higher rate of answering right away to email as soon as I read them, even if it is just something along the line of "Thank you for your email, I need to give it some thoughts but I'll get back to you as soon as I can, ” to be more ”professional” as a graduate student from upcoming Fall. 

I don't think sending a pointless email makes you look more "professional". In fact, I would recommend NOT answering emails right away because then people may start to expect that. I set aside a couple of chunks of time each day (like 30 min in the am and another 30 min in the afternoon) but otherwise do NOT respond to emails. Why? It interrupts my workflow and productivity to try to respond to emails as they come in. Also, people are generally not expecting an immediate reply. If they were, they'd call you.

IMO, part of being professional is setting clear boundaries with others. Like @TakeruK, I don't reply to emails outside business hours. In fact, I try to keep my inbox closed (it's not on my phone so that helps) outside of business hours. The expectation that we should be working all the time as grad students or faculty is unacceptable to me. I know of faculty who have an out of office reply for evenings and weekends to let people know not to expect a reply outside of working hours. While I don't do this personally, I am very clear with colleagues and students that I don't check my email at night or on the weekend, not even when an assignment is due the next day. If I do make an exception to my personal rule, I typically don't tell people about it in advance.

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