Email response times: Four ways to fight the urge to fire off a rapid reply

And, anyway, what is a realistic email response time?

...a faster reply than those dealing with email on a conventional PC or laptop.

The survey also highlights double standards on email response times. Although most of us now expect a response within half a day, almost two-thirds - some 60 per cent - of respondents admitted they only sometimes leave people sufficient time to respond to their emails and only a third - 39 per cent - of respondents think they frequently leave enough time.

Graph showing how much time people allow for responses to their emails
Image: Monica Seeley/Mesmo Consultancy

That is a worrying trend, as emails often need a substantive response. Data needs collecting, case law needs referencing and the faster we respond, the faster the other person will expect a reply.

Moreover, sometimes a delay can mean the problem is either resolved or changes and a very different response is needed.

To help reduce unrealistic expectations and unnecessary emails we need to improve our email etiquette and behaviour. We need to recalibrate people's expectations. Here are four specific strategic considerations that will help:

  1. Produce explicit response time guidelines. Clearly they need to take account of different types of emails - for example, meeting requests, helpline enquiries and order chasing.
  2. Develop tactics to manage expectations. For example, include a line in the standard signature block about how quickly to expect a reply under normal circumstances.
  3. Educate people about the alternatives to email when it's urgent - for example, encourage them to talk face-to-face, use the phone, or instant messaging where appropriate.
  4. Encourage people to think ahead and plan what information they need and by when, and then work back to how much lead time they need to give the recipient. The gap between sending the email and expecting the reply should equal the time it will take the other person to do the task, be it simple to complex.

'Respond in haste and repent at leisure' has been the mantra of many who have found their email used as evidence in a dispute. Either a wrong or unplanned response can be costly to you personally and your organisation, as many have found.

Dr Monica Seeley is an international expert on email management. She is a visiting fellow at Cass Business School, City University, and has just written her third book Brilliant Email published by Pearson. You can follow her daily email tips and hints on Twitter.

By Monica Seeley

Dr Monica Seeley is an international expert on email management and runs the Mesmo Consultancy. She is a visiting fellow at Cass Business School, City University, London, and has just written her third book, Brilliant Email, published by Pearson.