Consider this response that I just received (identifying information removed) from a venture capitalist I emailed to discuss a new investment:
Thank you for your message. I apologize in advance if I do not reply.
I admit it. My email response rates are lame. I have tried many different approaches and techniques, yet I fail. I read everything that comes in, and I swear I have the most sincere intentions of replying to all of you. But, alas, I suck.
I am spending more time than ever on the road these days. Working on private equity stuff, coaching startups, giving speeches, training for an Ironman this summer, and luckily, taking some vacation. The result has me logging in to Gmail much less frequently, which may, in fact, be a healthy development.
Thankfully, what used to be well over a thousand inbound messages a day is slowing now that I am an increasingly irrelevant unemployed vagabond and no longer holding any [XXXXXX] pursestrings. Hopefully, these trends will continue until my mom and dad are the only folks left sending me notes, and even then mostly to give me updates on the weather back in [XXXXXX].
If you are curious about what I am up to, or looking for clues as to where you can physically stalk me, try my Twitter stream at:
twitter.com/[XXXXXX]. If we are actually buddies, friend me on Facebook. Though, be warned I log in over there even less frequently than here. If you are just looking for some cheap laughs, check out my brother [XXXXXX] ‘s YouTube videos: http://youtube.com/[XXXXXX].
In any event, I do look forward to being in touch with all of you. For now, thanks for your patience.
I remember the days before email. For those of you who don’t, you probably won’t understand how important the phone was as a communication device. If the phone rang, you answered it. Today, answering the phone when you are around other people is considered insulting.
The wonderful thing about email is that it’s asynchronous, meaning you don’t need to deal with it when it is first received. For me and many others, instant messaging is basically the same – I may respond to an IM instantly, or 24 hours later. The recipient generally understands that a response might be delayed, and doesn’t take offense. Facebook messages, Twitter and cell phone text messages all have similar benefits.
But the benefits of the new ways we communicate also mean there’s a lot more of it. The volume of communication requests for most people today are far, far beyond what they can handle. Few people today respond to every communication they receive. And an increasing number don’t even claim to be able to read every communication they receive, let alone respond.
I routinely declare email bankruptcy and simply delete my entire inbox. But even so, I currently have 2,433 unread emails in my inbox. Plus another 721 in my Facebook inbox. and about thirty skype message windows open with unanswered messages. It goes without saying, of course, that my cell phone voicemail box is also full (I like the fact that new messages can’t be left there, so I have little incentive to clear it out).
How do I deal with email now? I scan the from and subject fields for high payoff messages. People I know who don’t waste my time, or who I have a genuine friendship with. Or descriptive subject lines that help me understand that I should allot a minute or more of my life to opening it and reading it.
A journalist recently complained in a comment on another blog that he sent me multiple emails asking me for an interview, which went unanswered. But an email that he sent later suggesting some drama between AOL and Yahoo was instantly addressed. He was a little angry about that, which I understand. But what he doesn’t understand is that when I see an email asking for an interview, my brain says “this is not urgent, deal with it this evening,” whereas the possible breaking news has to be dealt with right away. Of course, when evening comes new fires have to be put out, which explains the 2,437 email messages in my inbox (it increased from two paragraphs ago in the time I took to write those words) that have to be responded to eventually.
The long term answer to all of this isn’t that people need to try harder to respond to communication requests. The long term answer is that someone needs to create a new technology that allows us to enjoy our life but not miss important messages. If I knew what that solution was, I’d quit this blog and go do it. Someone out there, though, has the beginning of an idea on how we can better manage our electronic communications. And he or she may someday turn that into a product and save us.
If you are the person with the idea to save us all, send me an email and tell me all about it. Actually, strike that. Drop by my house and tell me all about it. I don’t want your message to get lost in my inbox.