I am by choice a slow emailer, and it often takes me a week or two to respond to messages.

Sometimes longer.

I think to myself, You do not really want me to be a fast emailer.

Why do you want me to email quickly?

Do you want me to sit at my desk, furiously batting away at the stream of messages, hitting zero on a game that never ends, wasting my time on little pieces of messages that might add up to little, when I could be making work that matters?

You do not want your doctor messaging you back in between the moments while she’s performing surgery.

There are exceptions, of course.

But far fewer than we think there are.

Just because it feels good does not make it necessary.

Emailing quickly makes us feel good (dopamine, what a drug!), but it also lets us avoid, just a little longer, the more pressing matters of our lives.

We are not obligated to respond to messages.

(Even though Cialdini’s reciprocity research suggests that we feel an obligation to do so.)

Too much email (or rapid-fire response times) can reduce our capacity in other areas.

A good friend of mine put his internet out from 8pm in the evenings until 3pm in the afternoons. He found he was getting crushing periods of anxiety and fatigue around mid-morning and mid-afternoon. After testing everything he could, he finally eliminated his morning email routine.

His energy cleared up. His focus returned. He started churning out articles and essays and writing his third book.

We are always training each other in how to respond and what to expect.

The danger of a fast email is that it trains the recipient in believing they can always grab your attention quickly, immediately. And when that happens, they’ll default to sending you more email, because you respond fast, and quickly. (And often, in my case, diligently.)

It does not always feel good to be a slow emailer. Sometimes I feel the things that people feel: guilt, shame, worry, insecurity. But then I realize when I email quickly, these feelings don’t necessarily go away. Instead, they multiple, and I miss out on other things that are more important to me.

Two questions to guide you in your own inquiry:

  • Is this necessary?
  • Is it truly urgent?

And a few more questions, if you’d like to go deeper:

  • How do I feel before, during, and after?
  • Am I aware of when I start and stop emailing?
  • What happens when I set a schedule for myself instead of checking randomly?

There’s a meditation teacher, Pema Chödron, who is heard to have a policy about speaking and teaching events that I recently heard (I have not confirmed this, but I like the idea of the anecdote): 

“If you need a response faster than it takes to reply by slow mail, then I am not for you.”