A friend shared with me an article that espouses "cultivating a persona of unreliability" as a way of prioritizing one's activities and bucking the patriarchy. The Catapult article, "Do You Want To Be Known for Your Writing or For Your Swift Email Responses?" made several excellent points. Author Melissa Febos encourages us to value our contributions (especially as women and people of color), to decline invitations, to honor appointments with ourselves, and to stop striving for perfection. For these points, I recommend the article as a guide for reaching your goals.
As a personal organizing coach, I ask my clients to define their top priorities and then live accordingly. I believe 100% in cutting out the excess so that we can focus on what's important. However, I had a strong reaction to Febos' first and second points, advocacating for ignoring or delaying responses to emails. As much as I believe in prioritizing, I also believe in being a good person - someone who's there for others (who deserve it!), who's reliable, and polite. I am disappointed when someone fails to respond (not immediately but) promptly and politely to my email. I am disheartened by the self-absorption apparent in some of the exchanges I witness - invitees failing to RSVP or replying "Maybe!," colleagues who don't respond to requests, those who fail to acknowledge a gift given, etc. And I think that simply writing "Thanks!" or "Sorry, I can't get to this today!" or "Got it!" is worth the extra half a second it takes to type, rather than responding "no" or "ok" - or not at all.
There are, of course, cases that don't deserve our time and attention. Some people are one-sided in their relationships, always asking and never offering, or presuming that we are always available for their needs. I send a brief note saying "no" to those people, and gently explaining why if it's someone who might actually be open to hearing the "why."
But ignoring a person's email is fundamentally disrespectful. It only takes a moment to acknowledge receipt or to RSVP. I believe in leading by example: take that moment to acknowledge another person's communication. Perhaps they will do so, in turn. A society of reliable people, who don't leave each other hanging or cause one another to feel invisible, sounds excellent to me!
There's also a practical reason to respond to emails promptly. Disorganization is a result of delayed decision-making. That's not to say that I interrupt my client time - or my personal time - to respond to every email, but that I schedule time each day to address all the email I receive. It's easier in the long run to take this moment to reply than it is to have that request sitting around for days, weeks, months...
What do you think?
- Are we (especially women and P.O.C.) conditioned to be responsive? To always say "yes?"
- Is unreliability the answer? Or can we balance our priorities with our politeness?