Instant Response


Instant Response

A colleague complained the other day that she felt that it was expected that she respond instantly to texts and emails. Not only business missives, but personal ones, too. If she didn’t, she felt guilty and it was bugging her.

I asked her what happened say 30 years ago when she got a phone message or a letter or even, gasp, a fax. How did she react to them.

She told me that she responded when she got around to it, probably within a day or less. I asked her if she felt guilty for taking so long to respond. She said, ‘no, why should I.”

I think we get caught up in the medium. If its slow, like a letter or a phone message, we can respond in kind, but if its instant, like email, or text, there seems to be an expectation that we respond the same way we received it, instantly. And therein lies the problem.

We have trained ourselves, and our correspondents, to expect instant response. And by giving it, we reinforce that tendency. But is instant response always the best. We don’t really have time to think about the response, we just give it. Is it possible that the ‘instant response’ could not clearly express our intention? Or maybe we said ‘yes’ when we really meant ‘maybe’ or frankly ‘no.’ Now you are really in trouble.

You know when an ‘instant’ response is needed. When Shelly asked if there are any more changes to the magazine before she sends it to the printer, I know that I’m holding up the show if I don’t respond quickly. If its 10 AM and my 11 AM meeting changes the time to 1, I need to let her know that I got the message. If my wife texts to pick up a quart of milk on the way home I damn well better tell her I got the instruction. But these are exceptions.

If I have time, I read and consider a text or an email when I get it and respond. But mostly I clear them all off before I go home at the end of the day and that’s it. Frankly most of the emails I get, maybe 75% are delete fodder anyway. Just like all those letters you get from unknown insurance companies or folks wanting to help you sell your house.

If you just can’t stand to wait, give yourself a particular time to check emails. Say on the hour, or half hour. If there is on needing immediate attention, see to it. If not leave them until a time you have set to answer them.

My colleague asked if I had ever received an email asking why I hadn’t responded to a previous email, and except for a few that I had lost in my email list, nope. It seems most people have more patience that you do.


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John Van Horn

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