Do not start an email with this sentence or any variation on it: “Sorry for the delay in replying”
You are busy.
Your inbox gets full.
Sometimes it takes a while to get back to people.
Sometimes you miss something and notice it 2 weeks later.
This happens to everyone. Even the person you are now replying to.
The content of the reply is what’s important.
E-mail is asynchronous communication.
The beauty of e-mail is that you can write when it is convenient for you. And the other person can respond when it is convenient for them.
Urgent issues should not be dealt with by e-mail. Ever.
Most things are not urgent, in the sense that they need an immediate reply.
Each of us contributes to the culture of urgency by our actions.
If you apologize for how long it took, you are saying that e-mail should be speedy. If you don’t you are contributing to slowing things down.
What is speedy about e-mail is the time it takes to travel from one person to another.
The medium has no necessary effect on how long it takes the recipient to process the information, craft a reply, and send it off. Nor does it have any necessary effect on the priority of the message for the recipient.
Of course some things need a reply relatively soon, and others can wait longer. Melissa Dahl has some excellent advice:
two pleas: When sending email, start including a line that clearly tells the recipient when (if?) you need a reply. And when replying to an email that doesn’t specify a response time, either use your best judgment, or write back quickly and ask. No apologies necessary. (Stop apologizing for the delayed response in your emails, NY Mag, April 18, 2017)
You get to decide your own priorities.
You get to plan your own activities.
You do not need to explain yourself.
If you need a system for dealing with e-mail that keeps you in control, I highly recommend Email Triage from Productive Flourishing.
This post is part of a series on Email Overwhelm, where I tackle a variety of practical and emotional issues around email. The associated posts are listed below.
Other posts in this series:
How to write email with military precision Kabir Sehgal, Harvard Business Review
Stop apologizing for the delayed response in your emails, Melissa Dahl, NY Mag
Sorry for the Delayed Response a bit of light relief from the New Yorker. (The last one is GOLD.)
Do you want to be known for your writing, or your swift email responses, Melissa Febos, Catapult
You don’t need to answer right away! Receivers overestimate how quickly senders expect responses to non-urgent work emails by Laura M.Giurgea & Vanessa K.Bohns
Edited April 24, 2017. Additional related posts added 13 December 2018. Broken link deleted 3 February 2020. Added to a series on Email Overwhelm for August 2021 Spotlight with related email posts.