I’m A Recovering Ghost Emailer

Photo of unopened emails by Stephen Phillips on Unsplash.com

Earlier this year I wrote about ghosting: Job Search Ghosting and Email Ghosting. In those articles, I gave perspectives on what it’s like to be a ghost and a ghostee, and what can be done about it in order to be more respectful to others in a business, school and personal setting.

I’ll tell you my very personal reason for why I wrote those articles and what I’m trying to do about it: because I am the ultimate ghost! My perfectionistic personality wants me to reply to each e-mail as thoroughly as possible, and my procrastinating self sees that I don’t have enough time to respond.

A Bad Habit

Since I first started using e-mail back in 1996 (!), I have created a habit of opening my inbox, reading all my e-mails to see who wrote me, and then procrastinating on responding. Eventually, my inbox grew to intense proportions, and I have been apologizing for late replies for decades with every personal e-mail and in nearly every job I have held.

I am the ultimate ghost, but it isn’t because I don’t want to reply. On the contrary: I love reading and receiving e-mails and want to pour my heart into the replies! I want to do a good job in responding, that’s all. I never imagined that there was a person on the other end of that e-mail who really wanted to get my reply, even if it was brief.

Inbox Zero…?!

I have been listening to a lot of business-related podcasts for the last few years, and came upon a concept called Inbox Zero. The first time I heard that I thought it must be impossible for anyone to accomplish. I mean, how could I possibly get my exploding inbox to anything remotely manageable? On top of that, I would be faced with the reality that I have let so many people down, whether work-related or personal.

At the end of 2019, I decided that enough was enough. I had nearly 800 e-mails in my personal and work e-mails combined, and it was getting depressing. I decided to get as close to Inbox Zero as possible.

My Inbox Zero Journey

I’m still not there yet, but here is what I accomplished:

  • Personal e-mail: I removed myself from any mailing lists that were not contributing to anything. There were a bunch that I enjoyed reading, but they were more of a time suck, and I was really not getting too much out of it. The current number is 178, and I have many friends who believe I’ve fallen off the face of this planet to still get back to. (I’m getting there! I promise!)
  • Work e-mail #1: This one is related to the running of my website and to-do’s that I filed away for next steps. It is currently at 224, and I foresee it getting to at least half in the next 1-2 months.
  • Main work e-mail: This is what I decided to focus on because it was the most important. I am proud to say that as of March 2, 2020, I accomplished the goal of Inbox Zero, and have been fairly good at keeping it clean outside of a few days where I either got busy or wanted to take a longer break. It feels great to be caught up and I don’t feel so bad about being the one that people are waiting on for answers. Most importantly, I am keeping the inbox clear on a nearly daily basis, and it brings me a sense of peace.

The Results

I feel less stressed because now the incoming e-mails are manageable. I also realized that sometimes an e-mail only requires a brief reply (and definitely less time than I imagine it to). Further, I see that I get to resolve issues/projects quicker with each completed e-mail string and don’t have so many open items left to bother me.

What’s Next

I still have 2 inboxes to go, which I have allowed myself to get to slowly and surely as I focus on other business goals. I definitely have a ways to go, but for the moment will find satisfaction in having Inbox Zero for my main e-mail address on a daily basis. The end goal will be to respond to e-mails within 24-48 business hours, and if I go on vacation or know that I won’t be able to reply in a timely manner, that I will have an out-of-office auto-reply.

I also want to focus on connecting with others via social media channels. I might be old-fashioned because I prefer moving the conversations to email, but it’s because it feels more personal. Plus, I save my emails so I can remember what I discussed with others, and I cannot do that on social media because I don’t actually own that data.

My Promise

I’ve been ghosting people my entire adult life, and I promise to not do it again. I don’t want anyone to think that I don’t care about receiving their message, because I do – very much! I don’t want people to think that I am belittling their request by not responding.

Also, I’m sick of apologizing for being late in responding… it’s actually rather rude, don’t you think? I think that deep down, we all dislike excuses… it’s either you do or you don’t.

If you truly don’t have time to respond to all e-mails, then you need to do something about it because others may begin to think you are unreliable or rude. That was me… I decided that I needed to stop feeling bad about it, and I got right down and focused solely on my inbox. (Of course, having my own business allows me to make such time.)

Come join me in becoming a respectful person. No one wants to be ghosted!

Photo by Stephen Phillips on unsplash.com

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