Let me start this column with an apology.
For the last ten years writing for Inc., including my early stint writing for the magazine and the last seven writing for online, I have not always responded to every email.
Check that. I rarely respond to most emails.
I'm sorry, it's not like I intended on ignoring most of them. As you may know, I'm not a fan of email in the first place and prefer Slack or social media messaging. I'm overloaded constantly with hundreds of messages, and it's impossible to keep up. I've told people my job is Professional Email Processor and they didn't realize it wasn't a joke.
Yet, I also feel bad about it. I know people take the time to craft a message, some have researched my background as a journalist and inserted a few personal comments. I'm not intentionally trying to overlook anyone. I'd say roughly 15 years ago the concept of "not responding to an email equals not interested" became the norm.
For an entire week, I decided to do something different. I responded to every single new email, minus the spam messages and the mass mailings that were not specifically for me. I realize some of the messages sent to me actually were mass emailing with a "Dear John" header inserted, but I responded to those anyway. I was diligent, careful, and efficient.
I'm now extremely exhausted.
We're talking hundreds of messages here. I counted 423 of them. That's about 60 per day. I couldn't keep up (sorry again) but I learned a lot.
First, I learned that people were very surprised. Shocked, really. I guess they had started to assume I was not going to respond, which is sad. I feel like I've restored faith in humankind, that there is one person in the digital airwaves who will take the time to answer emails. I typically receive hundreds of pitches per week as a journalist. As I've mentioned many times, people I work with and know personally don't communicate by email.
This also doesn't account for the hundreds of additional emails that were dumped into a tab in Gmail and sorted that way--the mass emails I didn't answer. The 60 emails per day were meant just for me, and were from people I only know tangentially. In a few cases, the senders were people I've known for a decade or more but never met in person. Some I do know from trade shows, but I don't chat with them too often on social media.
After discovering how shocked people were (which is a sad statement by itself), many of the conversations evolved into personal matters. I explained to a Microsoft rep that I had experienced some flooding in my house. Another sender informed me he was from a town not far from me, something he could have only learned from my email signature.
In many cases, I let the sender know I was not interested in the pitch or that it wasn't in my coverage area. Many of those people then offered an alternative idea, I can only assume after reading this column more or looking up my social media accounts. The lesson for me is that starting a conversation with someone leads to new discoveries. Taking the time to let someone know I'm not interested at least sparked a side conversation.
It was also curious how often the person on the other end started offering up new ideas and emailing in a more friendly, less formal way. It broke the ice: I was letting the person know I am responsive. I'll listen and give feedback. It was incredibly hard to personally respond to 60 emails each day, and I missed the mark, but it was also rewarding.
Now for the bad news.
I could never keep up. What I've decided to do is create more canned answers in Gmail and actually start using them. It will help me a ton, although I can see where it's not really the same as personally responding. People will figure it out soon enough.
And yet, I also know I will keep a closer eye on my incoming messages. I won't be so jaded and unapproachable by email, won't keep relying on the non-answer as an answer.
And I'll report on how that all works out. Maybe I'll read about more creative ideas and companies, maybe it will lead to more interesting conversations.
If you want to join in the experiment, conduct your own research. Decide to respond to all emails for a week. If you make some new discoveries then--drop me an email about it.