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How to Respond When You're Too Busy to Respond

By David Ackert on October, 8 2015

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David Ackert

man-at-computer-email-overloadSomewhere in Hollywood, a screenwriter is writing that scene in which the cheating husband gets caught with his pants down and blurts out the classic line, “Honey, wait… it’s not what you think.” And yet, for all its popularity, the cliché response never seems to work. I have yet to see the scene in which the wife earnestly responds with, “Oh thank heavens! I was worried for a minute there…”

So, what is it that makes us think that we can ignore our referral sources for days or even weeks when they send us an email, then excuse our non-responsiveness with a “wait, it’s not what you think” explanation about how busy we’ve been and still expect them to send us a client referral at some point? Haven’t we just communicated to them that our responses are unreliable, or at the very least, slow?

I’ve been on both sides of this scenario, and for me, clients get first priority—which means that sometimes other emails sit in my in-box longer than I’d like. But I also know that when I ask a question of one of my colleagues and they take a long time to respond, it erodes my confidence in them. How do I know that when I send them a referral, they won’t be just as flaky with their new client?

The best practice is to respond to all emails within a given time frame (24 hours if possible), even if the response is, “I’m swamped right now but I will get back to you. Please give me a few days to compose a thoughtful response.” If you’re experiencing workload overwhelm to the point where almost all emails sit in your in-box for a while before getting answered, establish an auto-responder with some version of the language I just suggested, then click here to find out how to better manage email overwhelm. But whatever you do, don’t sit on your referral sources’ emails. It only breeds mistrust, and once that’s gone, even your best excuse won’t repair the relationship.

Authored by David Ackert

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