After writing about the main reasons I don’t pick up my phone, I was eager to author a separate breakdown of why I dodge scheduled meetings (and what makes asynchronous work more bearable).
But due to the evergrowing influx of emails or direct messages across a dozen platforms, a rationale behind delaying replies appears to be a more timely piece. On a regular business day, I receive about 350 direct emails and dozens (or sometimes hundreds) of direct contacts across social networks or IMs (excluding work communication).
Without further ado, here’s a list of possible causations on why you haven’t received a response to an email you sent over.
1. I Haven’t Received The Email
Unlike a direct message on Twitter or a PM over LinkedIn, spam filters and forwarders are likely to skip a portion of the emails that hit my inbox.
Also, I happen to maintain a complex matrix of forwarders across multiple email accounts – and sometimes conversations get lost.
Statistically speaking, it’s really unlikely – but it has happened. I also try to (quickly) skim through my Spam folder every other day to ensure I don’t miss anything obvious.
2. I Still Haven’t Read It
It’s quite possible I haven’t thoroughly read your email (yet).
I monitor my inbox closely and usually spend about 3 hours a day in my email account. Even with that schedule in place, I manage to process my priority inbox for the most part, but I push back certain activities for various reasons (and I press “mark as unread” to revisit later more often than not).
I also use Boomerang to send mail back to my inbox when I’m swamped – 4-12 hours later, next day, or past the weekend if received on a Fri evening.
Thus, I’ve probably acknowledged the email already but haven’t read it properly.
3. Gmail Is Playing Smart
Most of my accounts reroute to a “master” Gmail account where different profiles get consolidated.
I use about a dozen emails (through my companies, personal emails, brand ambassador accounts, my formal teacher email, etc.)
Gmail tends to be pretty smart (usually) but I’ve had several conversations with my CTO flagged as spam even after sending tens of thousands of emails between ourselves for the past decade.
For instance: I bought some office equipment last month and the vendor’s email was flagged as “spam”. I added the email account to my contact list and created 2 separate filters to “never flag as spam” and “always mark as priority”. Despite these forced rules, Gmail thoroughly refused to push them to my priority inbox and displayed a warning box on top of every email I got from the vendor (17 in total).
Sometimes tech beats whatever rules you’ve been trying to enforce.
4. The Response Depends on Other Parties
Here are several patterns that your email possibly includes (which would require me to coordinate with other parties):
- Can we handle 2x the traffic during the show next week? I would need to sync with my tech team and the hosting vendor to ensure we can scale without a problem.
- Can we schedule a time for a demo of our X product? Honestly, probably not, but I’ll forward that to someone else on the team if it looks interesting, they have to research it and decide if it’s worth testing.
- How much would X cost? It’s probably a combination of multiple factors involving several people, and I also have to confirm their schedules, and the vendors’ availability (and the list goes on).
- UI suggestions – I’m not a designer so I’ll need to confirm this one myself.
- “Let’s set up a new payment processor account” – I went through 3 different massive transitions in that department that took months. Setting up new companies, new CPA firms, new contracts to process through the legal team, making sure we’re compliant with VAT across the EU, even flying across the world to meet with bank managers or payment processor team leaders to ensure we’ll accommodate the business requirements without messing up. While it may appear to be a “simple integration” on the surface, if it involves accounting or legal, it probably takes time.
Even a simple meeting request may require confirmation with my family schedule plus other scheduled meetings and other possible events I may need to preliminary book time for (from webinars through project launches to soft meetings that aren’t confirmed yet to travel appointments).
5. I Need More Time to Think It Through
Considering I’ve read your email, it doesn’t necessarily mean I can get back to you affirmatively in no time.
- If estimates are involved, I probably have to discuss this thoroughly with the team.
- When a conference attendance is needed, I may not be the right person or I’d need to confirm travel availability.
- If a large project is coming my way, I may be unaware of the expected resource allocation I have to commit to.
There are tons of lucrative opportunities on the table – but 95% of them are impossible to deliver (throwing a random ballpark here).
I probably want to say “yes” to a collaboration with you – but I may lack the time to fully commit and contribute to enough recognition or involvement for you.
Or I want to accept your speaking gig but not before I ensure I am able to deliver a talk that covers everything I want (which is, of course, time-consuming).
Oftentimes, your email simply requires more time to handle. If you need a video for an upcoming seminar, I have to look swell, sort out light and audio settings, prep some notes, run a few test rounds to get this recorded.
While I always appreciate interview opportunities, filling out a document with 15+ questions simply takes 30 to 45 min on average. I’m thrilled if I can get a solid 20-minute break at work (which happens rarely anyway).
6. I Lack the Mental Energy To Process
I’m writing this paragraph at 1:45am on a Saturday night after responding to several follow-ups from emails sent earlier this week, and a text “reminder” received just an hour after an email.
And that’s what last week looked like in a nutshell:
Plenty of emails require the right setup, time, attitude, and focus to process fully. As we’re just launching last-minute changes for an event happening across the world, my mind is preoccupied with support matters instead and I can’t fully grasp the meaning of the pending emails.
Or while working from home with my family (and our toddler), I’m not paying enough attention or get distracted too frequently to fully process a batch of emails.
Or after 12 hours at work and 6 hours of calls and meetings, I do acknowledge the existence of emails but don’t necessarily possess the focus required to process the queue.
And maybe I just didn’t get enough sleep and simply need to push through the day 🙂
7. I’ve Focused on a Different Batch of Conversations
Similarly to #2 and #6, I spend hours a day sifting through my email – but I don’t necessarily process it in chronological order.
For instance, I collect invoices every 7-10 days and handle them at once.
Or I block out several hours for content work on a Sunday to push 3 drafts for Publishing Executive, YEC, Recruiter or Enterprise Magazine.
And I go through a dozen different threads the day before a client meeting – confirming and collecting everything from design, my research team, billing notes, research, and spreadsheets I have to study.
And while I try to respond timely to my newsletter subscribers or regular blog readers, emails tend to pile up and it’s easier to process them as a batch, too.
8. I’m Not The Right Point of Contact
Let’s face it: there are so many salespeople who directly fallback to CEOs during outreach.
Email gathering tools often scrape the wrong email to reach out to.
Business developers almost always look for the CEO. I’m yet to have anyone pitching a continuous integration tool or anything tech to our CTO or VP of Engineering.
And with multiple companies and a dozen emails for various reasons, it piles up really quickly.
Even if I forward the wrong email to the right party in-house, chances are it is a part of a long email sequence. So while someone else on my team is handling this request, the email automation tool will keep spamming me 7 to 10 times unless I block the email altogether.
With about ~10,000 emails that hit my inbox monthly, this happens more often I care to admit.
9. I May Not Be Interested
Especially valid with cold pitches, I probably don’t need a product or I don’t have the time to go through a migration process (or simply don’t want to).
With link building pitches, that happens quite a lot – 30 to 40 link building requests weekly (excluding stuff that goes to my teams instead).
With cold outreach, there are sales pitches, meeting requests, filling out random surveys, helping out in various initiatives, asking for free help, university gatherings, last minute speaking invitation requests, pitches for sponsorships, webinar invitations for things I don’t really need – anything and everything.
If in doubt, feel free to follow-up, but if I’ve ignored your first three emails, I probably won’t be able to help out.
10. The Email Appeared to Be Spammy
In some cases your email may:
- Look like an automated, automatically generated email (yet another email blast)
- Appear to be a newsletter (especially if I’m subscribed to your email)
The latter is quite common. Experienced marketers and entrepreneurs I follow don’t use HTML templates for their newsletters – and every email looks authentic and hand-crafted.
If I can’t tell an email blast from a personalized email, this may have caused some troubles. There are a couple of partnerships that almost fell through the crack until I received follow-ups through a separate channel, confirming the legitimacy of the requests.
And “too good to be true” is also a possible outcome!
11. I Have to Block Time For a Meeting
When I was invited to Troy Dean’s WP Elevation podcast, I was honored and genuinely excited.
There was a slight problem though – Troy being based in Australia meant we’re scheduled for a 1am call (or anything prior to 6am). Yikes!
This means that I have to sort this out with my family – and head back to the office (or just stay the night) to handle this. If I have a morning meeting the same day (or the coming one), scheduling both days adequately means a full rework of my weekly agenda to be as effective as I can.
Sales calls may require other people to join – probably even busy vendors or partners. Scheduling that across multiple time zones takes time as well.
And let’s not forget every “this meeting should have been an email“. It’s much more likely to receive an email back.
12. I Deal With Family/Work Emergencies
My availability will be limited if I’m dealing with emergencies at home or work.
Being sick (or a sick family member), handling outages, dealing with emergencies from 3rd parties are just some of the reasons that would prevent me from dealing with the email backlog.
Sometimes these get prolonged and sometimes, they stack up.
When we moved to our new office a couple of years ago, we spent nearly 3 months with construction engineers on the renovation, interior design decisions, furniture, tech equipment, and a lot more. Creating a new intranet and a suitable fallback ISP solution with sufficient access across the entire floor.
New vendors. New RFID cards to check in. New security cameras. New food delivery vendors (or contracts).
It was a massive project that required high-level decision making in the long run (including the allocation of team members across separate rooms based on dozens of factors).
Even while undertaking smaller initiatives, handling emails timely may be impacted.
13. I’m AFK
AFK stands for “away from keyboard” – and while smartphones and tablets offer virtual keyboards, it’s not the same when you have to send over a 3-page email response.
I’m 3 to 5 times less productive (slower) when I handle responses on mobile. It’s fine for a quick Slack DM but stacks up when I have to deal with something more massive.
Some emails require a thorough review of a slideshow or a spreadsheet. Not as easy to follow through on a small screen while traveling.
I may be attending a meeting or a conference. While being connected and reachable most of the time, I don’t always have the capacity to clean up my email backlog and respond.
14. My Week Is Shorter Than Usual
Sick leaves, bank holidays, or instead – scheduled initiatives that require my presence outside of the office (speaking at an event during the week or transferring bank accounts).
This used to be a major blocker during event season back when I was traveling for work every other weekend. With flights and business meetings in-between, it spans across two shorter weeks.
15. I’m Going Through a Large Restructuring
I mentioned the office switch and occasionally, we have to tackle some of these either at work (or at home).
Last year, we moved to a new place (at home) with all logistical issues around settling in. We bought a new car which required some decision-making and test drives, along with all the paperwork and administrative activities required to service it fully.
I founded two new companies which again required some state-level work, founding new bank accounts, and a lot of coordination with lawyers and CPAs (and not something I can easily outsource). Once that was put in motion, this led to a new stage of setting up invoicing software, PayPal account validations, new access details and credential authorizations for our CPA firm, and setting up our product suites with our new firms.
We go through similar small-scale phases when we acquire a new product (which happens 3-4 times a year). All the due diligence, escrow management, etc. Both time-consuming and energy-draining!
16. I Thought I Already Replied
And of course – sometimes I intend to reply but either fail to (as an email bounce) or actually forget to.
I’ve found myself looking up an email to follow-up with someone only to realize that I never sent my draft.
All things considered, there are plenty of reasons I may not be responding to your email. When in doubt, follow-up. Or touch base through different channels.
And if I’m able to get back to you, email is still my most favorite communication channel in the world – so I’d be happy to respond as soon as I can.