Why I didn’t answer your email

Do you know that personality characterization called OCEAN, openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism? It is supposedly much more supported by research than the simple extraversion-introversion espoused by that Quiet book, and is not as random as the Myers Briggs test some like, that was not particularly scientifically founded. I score really high for conscientiousness, probably too high, because I like to be responsive to others, to finish things on time, and generally not to be the person that let the ball drop. I may not do as thorough a job as some, but I answer.

There are few things I like less than people that just don’t answer email. I try not to be a pest, so if I email you, please answer. Students need letters and help, so they email. Editors need referees, so they email. It doesn’t take long to answer an email. So just do it! If I am working, a check on the email every now and then keeps it from building up. Longer things go in the To Do folder. Some things I just do immediately.

But these days the email seems to have become overwhelming. If I go in the field, I will come home to a hundred emails. If I am gone for two days on a seminar trip, it could be double or triple that. Many of the messages do not need an answer, but many do. Just dealing with this email is a significant part of my work day. It is generally the scientific responsibility side of things, so I try to be conscientious. But I’m reaching a limit. I bet you are too. After all, I got into this business because I love science, nature, evolution, behavior, critical thinking, mentoring, you know.

All too often I scan the email, not opening everything, just trying to see if there is anything needing an answer. If not, it goes into the Random folder. I find by searching not by categorizing. I can’t even imagine how long careful categorizing might take.

So, if your email is important and I don’t answer within about 3 days, you should send it again. I know this means even more email, but it also means I might have shoved it straight into random along with some other stuff.

I’m going to have to be more diligent about those holiday warnings too because I’ve worked so hard lately, I have some serious vacation in my future!


About Joan E. Strassmann

Evolutionary biologist, studies social behavior in insects & microbes, interested in education, travel, birds, tropics, nature, food; biology professor at Washington University in St. Louis
This entry was posted in Managing an academic career, Organization of a scientist, Social interactions and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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