Why I Never Answer Straight Away

Post from the Productivity category

Coffee table If you’re reading this, chances are you might probably be waiting for an answer from me.

It might be an email, an overdue payment, a whatsapp (yes, I read your whatsapp right when you sent it) or your message on Facebook/Twitter/Hangouts/Skype/Swarm/Runkeeper/Last.fm/Tinder/LinkedIn/Instagram/Microsoft Excel.

Wait, you probably did not send me a message through Microsoft Excel, but you know you’d try in those days I seem to ignore all your messages.

What if I told you there are many reasons to do that?


First and foremost, we’ve adopted immediacy as something normal.

Remember when we had to wait until 6PM to connect our flatrate internet connection and check our email? Remember when we paid for SMS (well, in Spain we still do, as ridiculous as it sounds) so you had to carefully choose your words? Communication was way slower then. It was, too, way more meaningful.

Nowadays, we are assuming that the other person will be slacking off on the couch, waiting for people to contact them and chat for a while. We also can safely assume that if the other person lives in a big city, she’ll have 4G or at least three or four available wi-fi connections nearby to rely on, so she will get the message and reply right away.

Conversely, when that doesn’t happen — that is, when the person we’re trying to talk to does not reply within a minute — , we start thinking something might be wrong: “he might be in a meeting”, “maybe he’s got no battery”, or even worse “might be he’s upset with me”, “he’s ignoring me” or “perhaps something bad happened to him”.

I, for one, have my share of reasons why I do not answer right away:

1. I don’t like canned responses

Sure, I could answer right away “Ok, checking it now” or “Got it, will reply asap” but I’d be lying. Nothing hurts more than receiving answers like these which end up unrequited.

Some months ago I started adopting this small trick at work that is increasing my productivity: reply ASAP, deal with it later. Simply put, when you receive an email, you can reply with something like this:

Dear [NAME],

Thank you for your email. Right now I can’t deal with this. Is it a problem if I come back to you in a week with an answer?

Kind regards,

Àlex

Believe me, most people will be grateful for your honesty. Nothing is THAT urgent. Also, do not fail to deliver. If you promised a week, a week it is.

2. I want to check all my sources

Immediacy creates often times uncomfortable situations. I’ve had situations in which someone got mad at me because of an email they read incorrectly. But their problem is that I was not replying back. You see: instead of reading the email a second time to double-check the message, they thought it more appropriate to bomb my inboxes.

In that very case, I remember I wanted to check what my email said before engaging into the conversation again. Turns out for whatever reason, I took some time to find a place to sit down and check it, but no longer than 10 minutes.

The bottom line here is: if I don’t reply, it might also mean I am checking my sources, verifying statements, analysing data or double-checking all the facts. I value your time, and I want you to focus on important stuff rather than on calling back and forth while I collect all the information needed in the conversation.

3. Priorities

Everybody has got priorities. Some things I value more than others. Right now, for instance, I try to keep a perfect balance between work, sport and social life. If something else appears, it will most likely not be a priority for me.

On the other hand, I do not have family time high in my priority life like most people do, and most of you know it. But I understand that you do, and I respect it religiously. And like family time, I could name dozens of other time-consuming endeavours that I will only deal with in my spare time.

4. It is not really urgent

Chances are, if something is urgent, you will call me. And if it’s really critical, you’ll make sure you contact me. Then I will take action.

Most of the things we deem urgent are not urgent. We regard them urgent because we want to cross them off our to-do task right now. But in most cases, they can wait.

At last Peter learnt his lesson, that if you always tell lies, people will eventually stop believing you; and then when you’re telling the truth for a change, when you really need them to believe you, they won’t. — The Boy Who Cried Wolf — Traditional.

In fact, when all your tasks/projects are urgent, none of them really are.

If you waited for 9 months to come to this world, you should be a little more patient.


Hope you got to know me a little bit better. However, I want to get to know you better.

How do you deal with these situations?