Let's find ways to handle responding to incoming e-mail about major life events.
A listener writes:
I've noticed a recurring problem. Someone will send an important message. Because I'm busy and because I feel that their message deserves a thorough and thoughtful response, I never get around to answering. When someone takes the time to write a long e-mail about some life-altering event, it seems harsh to respond with a curt, "Sorry to hear you have cancer," or "Your house burned down? Bummer." I know it's even worse to not respond at all, and I always intend to set aside the 30 minutes it takes to craft a proper response or find the perfect card, but sometimes I never get to it. How can I get to the point where I admit the 30-minute response is unrealistic?
Well, listener, the Quick and Dirty Tip is to be gentle with yourself, keep an e-mail folder of "messages to reply to," and use that folder to help yourself stay honest. In the future, change your medium and take action immediately,
How to Respond to Important Emails
Even I suffer from this problem. In fact, you wrote this question six weeks ago and it stayed in my "great question" file until this morning. After all, I wanted to answer it thoughtfully, giving it all the attention it deserves.
And therein lies the problem. We hear something from someone we love, and we tell ourselves the most caring response is to send a letter or card, thoughtfully written, with perfectly crafted words. Maybe that worked in the 19th century, but things moved slowly then. It could take a week just to drive to the nearby 7-Eleven and back. And since they didn't have cars or driving, and the 7-Eleven wouldn't be built for another 83 years, they had lots of free time to craft careful communication.