Illustration: Oscar Ramos Orozco

Email Is For Setting Expectations

Unread—or read but not replied to—email takes a toll on your happiness and productivity at work. It’s hard to stay focused on your important long-term goals as the emails pile up, and you know in the back of your mind that you’ll have to get to them “one of these days.”

This is particularly true if you work in an environment where there is an expectation that you will reply to email in a timely manner while still getting creative projects done.

On the surface, it seems like you have a no-win choice to make. You can either spend the entire day responding to other people’s priorities and getting none of your own completed, or you can get your own projects done and make others frustrated because they haven’t heard from you.

If you often fall into the latter category, a natural temptation is to further avoid communication when people get annoyed at you and work even harder. However, this tends to exacerbate the situation. When you don’t speak up about what’s reasonable or not reasonable and your colleagues don’t know what’s happening or not happening, they feel disrespected and ignored and you end up feeling overwhelmed.

When you don’t speak up, your colleagues don’t know what’s happening. They feel disrespected and you end up feeling overwhelmed.

Fortunately, there’s a third alternative that can reduce stress and increase understanding: Send a prompt initial response that still gives you control over the priorities for your day and sets expectations for your workload in general.

If you find yourself in the situation where your inbox messages and stress levels are constantly on the rise, you can use these email scripts to reply back and stake a claim over your time by setting expectations from the jump. In many cases, complex projects are a chain reaction of tasks. Most colleagues would much rather get realistic assessments of deliverable times then be ignored or receive stuff late. Save these responses as draft emails or text expanders so that you can access them quickly and then edit as necessary for a more personal touch.

When you need more time to write a thorough response:

Thank you for your note. I’ll be in touch with a full response soon.

When you need more time to make a decision: 

Thank you for your email. I’ll need to think through your proposal and get back to you with a decision. 

When you feel badly that you’re sending a delayed response:

I know it’s been a while since you sent this note, but I wanted to follow up with [my thoughts, a reply, the information you need].

When there are multiple steps required to complete a task:

I wanted to acknowledge that I’ve received your request. I have reached out to [Name] about [____] and also done [____]. I will follow up [date*] with an update.

*Make sure to put a reminder in your calendar so you follow through on your promise.

When you’re working on something but haven’t completed it yet: 

Thank you for your follow up. I’ve done [____] and am planning on doing [____]. Please let me know if you need any further details on the status.

When you don’t know if you can take on a new project:

I wanted to acknowledge I’ve received your request. I need to check on my other commitments and get back to you about whether I have the capacity to take this on right now. 

OR

Thank you for your message. It sounds like you have a great idea, but I’ll need to talk this through with my team to see if we have the capacity to add this to our project list right now.

When your boss asks you to do an additional project without providing additional resources:

Thank you for sending on this information. It seems like a great new initiative. However, if I do [____], then [____] will be delayed. Are you comfortable with that prioritization or would you like me to focus my efforts in a different manner?

When you need to ask for a deadline extension:

Hello [Name],

I wanted to keep you informed on the status of [____] project. Due to [____], I will need to get it to you [a few days later than we initially agreed OR by ____] Thank you for your understanding. Please let me know if you have any additional questions.

When someone sends you feedback you disagree with who you don’t have a personal or professional relationship with:

Consider deleting the email without a reply.

OR

Thank you for your feedback.

When someone sends you feedback you disagree with who you have a personal or professional relationship with:

Thank you for your feedback. I appreciate it and will consider it.

When someone wants to meet with you sooner than you have time to meet:

I’m booked for this week. But, I am currently available [date and time] to meet with you. Will that work for you?

When you don’t feel comfortable responding through email:

Thank you for your email. I would be happy to discuss this with you. Are you free for a phone call in the next few days? I am currently available [dates and times].

Do any of these work for you? If so, please name your preferred day, time, and phone number. If not, please suggest a few other days and times. 

Over to You:

What email responses help you set expectations?

More insights on: Email Strategy

Elizabeth Grace Saunders

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Elizabeth Grace Saunders is the founder of Real Life E Time Coaching & Training and author of The 3 Secrets to Effective Time Investment: How to Achieve More Success With Less Stress. Find out how you can accomplish more with peace and confidence at www.ScheduleMakeover.com.
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