Get things done, don’t just generate correspondence

Seth Godin recently asked on his blog if the speed shortage has been averted, by which he means “do we need to keep improving our response times to customers and colleagues?” when it’s now so much better than ten or twenty years ago (when delivery of written responses could take days). Maybe we’re as fast as we need to be. I think he’s right – people are falling over themselves to respond so quickly that we’re now routinely prioritising acknowledging requests rather than acting on them. When I look at my email inbox, especially when it comes to emails from colleagues, half of the correspondence seems to be “OK, I’ve received your message, I’ll do something about that”. Many of those emails arrive within minutes of sending a request, far more quickly than is necessary. But we assume by default that anyone we’re emailing might be out of the office, and therefore never expect a response of any kind on the same day. Instead of an email within minutes signifying nothing other than receipt of message, which I can take for granted, what I really want is a message saying that the recipient has acted on my request.

There’s also a disincentive to act on someone’s email request if you’ve sent them a response saying that the request has been received. I bet that people who routinely try to acknowledge requests within moments subsequently take longer to actually do something about them. I’m going to confess to failing in that respect. If someone sends me a question, I reckon they’d prefer one email in 24 hours with the answer, to getting two emails: a useless one straight away and the useful one 48 hours later.

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