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Types of email and answers

After reading this interesting article about Why People Don't Respond To Emails Anymore based on this one from the New York Times, I decided to document the different types here and start answering immediately to all my emails.

In general I do a good job at managing my emails. I answer almost all of them and the majority of those in a timely manner. I spend most of my work day connected to the email box in an online mode, but, even with this effort, I still get a small portion of emails that get stuck in the Inbox. I see these emails rotting there almost every day and they produce a very uneasy feeling that I end up either answering with excuses and apologies very late or (in a very minor set) just ignoring.

I have one Inbox and one Process mail box, emails in Inbox, must be answered, discarded archived or moved to Process, so it is basically empty all the time. I spend all the time I can trying to empty the Process mail box. The number of emails in Process mail box is in the 60-120 range, normally from 80 to 100, any other numbers and you have to start worrying. It really is that easy and normally works well, but there is always a set of emails I just can't get to and normally it is for a handful or less of reasons.

So I decided to eradicate rotting emails from my Process email box by categorizing them using the ideas given in the articles and some of my own points of view and informing the people who send me emails which category they have fallen into, what is probable to happen and what they can do to change their situation.

It is probably not the answer they are waiting for but it is better than not answering.

Category A

Description

We mean to write a thoughtful response, but never find the time. “Sometimes, I don’t answer because I don’t have time to give the response I think is deserved, so I put it off until later, then forget and the message winds up being that I didn’t care enough to respond, when, in fact, I cared too much.”

What will happen

Emails in this category are important to me, for some reason or another I think the email needs to be answered but it requires time I usually don't have. I have to think it out, write it down, read it, edit it and send it to you. I will eventually get to this email and answer but you have to wait.

Emails in this category are not urgent by definition.

What can you do

Just wait, at most send me kind reminders. Since I am changing my habits and answering immediately, you already know that I have received the email, I am not ignoring you (I answered informing you this was your situation) and that I am working on an answer for you. With your reminders, which I will read and directly delete (to keep my Process email box numbers) I will get the message that you are waiting which will increment the pressure and possibly lower the time span, but there is no guarantee of that.

If you can't wait for the answer and decide to go elsewhere to find your answer let me know so I can move on.

Category B

This requires analysis and I can help This is a variation of Replying will just result in more email.

As I suppose you know, I am a computer software analyst and programmer. I dedicate a great part of my day to create software solutions to business problems. This takes time and knowledge (which also takes time to acquire) (I have a family too). The emails in this category require me to study your problem, understand it, design a solution for it, estimate the effort that is required to implement that solution and see where I can get some benefit to pay my bills.

What will happen

The email you have sent contains work that is in my line, either we have done similar things in the past or I see some special interest. We can help you and I will send a quote as soon as possible.

What can you do

The thing to do here is wait or pay. Paying creates a moral pressure I personally react to considerably. That will increment your position in my virtual queue and I will use the payment as a partial payment of the project total cost.

Category C

This requires analysis and I doubt I can help This is a variation of Replying will just result in more email.

As I suppose you know, I am a computer software analyst and programmer. I dedicate a great part of my day to create software solutions to business problems. This takes time and knowledge (which also takes time to acquire) (I have a family too).

What will happen

Stemming from the experience I have and after an initial skim/read of your email I see that it is a considerable amount of work, money and resources. I think you will probably not accept an offer for the amount of money I will be asking for so I will try to avoid spending time in the analysis and thus this email will get buried and rot.

Thus lets get right to it: I will not answer this email any further.

What can you do

The message is clear: you are asking for expensive work, a lot of expensive work, so you will have to change your expectations, change the requirements, or anything in that line to try to get into Category B.

Another approach is to make clear to me that you already know it is going to be expensive and that you are willing to take on that expense. Normally by making a prepayment. In big project we usually refund the analysis as part of the project total cost if accepted.

You could also pay. We have a 3 to 5 hours analysis product that doesn't cost much. I will design a solution for you with different alternatives, I will try to make clear why I think you are going about the solution incorrectly and propose different solutions with different prices. If you are not willing to do that then we are finished talking about this.

Category D

We are working on it

We are a very active company, we have requests to solve all sorts of business problems from all over the world, besides that we are also a company that uses the same technology to solve our own business problems, so chances are very high that what you are asking for has already been developed by us or one of our partners or that we are currently developing it.

What will happen

You caught us developing or defining the way we are going to commercialize the solution to your problem. That means that I need time to finish it and define how we are going to distribute it. I currently have no idea what to tell you. I probably don't know how the final product will work nor if it will cover completely your requirements or you will need further additions. I have no idea how much money we are going to ask for the solution nor how we are going to put it into the market. I have no idea how much time is left before we can start distributing it.

I really can't answer you yet, but I am close enough to tell the team and marketing that there is a real user base asking for the solution.

What can you do

The thing to do here is wait or pay. Paying will permit us to dedicate additional resources to the project and thus increment it's importance and reduce the time to market.

Category Z

All the others. Emails that are answered directly, that are urgent (really urgent), directly eliminated or that really require no answer.