Email Bankruptcy (Elegant and Graceful)

I really can’t stop writing about email. I admit I am likely treating the symptoms of a problem instead of actually digging up — and dealing with — the root. But that’s a project for another day. Today, again, I’m chipping away at the symptoms ailing almost everyone I speak with, deeply, about their work.

I have a repeating, yearly calendar event that simply says “Declare Email Bankruptcy.” The idea is to send an email to lots of people and tell them, “I’m declaring email bankruptcy. Sorry if you emailed me and I didn’t respond. If the problem hasn’t resolved itself or if you need me to see something, please resend.” But every year I consider the reminder and dismiss it. In fact, I have never — not once — followed through on it. Instead, the old emails that I didn’t answer . . . simply become older emails that I don’t answer.

Recently, though, I received an email reply from a very thoughtful friend and colleague. Her opening paragraph is a subtle declaration of email bankruptcy, but it’s so elegant and graceful that I really enjoyed receiving it and had no problem accepting it.

One of (what I thought was low-hanging fruit) goals for the summer was to zero my inbox. I had a pretty long list of emails that I’d wanted to dig into and never did properly. I realize I had a lot from you that I really appreciated and saved, but never even bothered to acknowledge when you sent them…. including this one. So thank you for any inspiration you sent my way that I sat on!

As my students might say, there are good vibes all over a statement like that. I feel appreciated. My colleague and I have a clean slate for our post-summer, start-of-year communication. She likely feels relieved. And one more high performing, hard charging person in my life has finally acknowledged her human limitations. I celebrate, especially, that last part. (Maybe we’re getting closer to the root of the problem, after all…)

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